In the news · Notes from West London

Patisserie Valerie

According to this piece in yesterday’s Guardian, “The stricken cakes and café chain Patisserie Valerie is teetering close to collapse after admitting it needed ‘an immediate injection of capital’ to survive.” My immediate thought was that, at the prices they charge, any customer buying half-a-dozen pastries and a couple of large hot chocolates would inject a significant amount of capital into the business.

My first encounter with Patisserie Valerie was in the mid-1990s (late September 1996, specifically), at their Soho branch. A friend from university had been unable to come to my birthday party the previous weekend. She suggested meeting for breakfast there, around 10am the following Saturday. We passed a pleasant hour or two. Coffee, croissants and pastries were consumed. I offered to pay, but she insisted that it was on her. I watched in disbelief as she handed over a £20 note and received around £3 in change. Seventeen quid for coffee and pastries. For two. In 1996.

Six months later, in the last few weeks of my mother’s life, I took a break from the weekend’s lengthy hospital visits. I drove towards town with a younger member of my family, to get hot chocolate, as a treat for her. We ended up at Patisserie Valerie in Knightsbridge. She was too young to understand just how expensive this place was: a hot chocolate and a cake cost way more than a meal at her favourite pasta place. She didn’t think much of the cake.

These early experiences at the “stricken cakes and café chain” have clouded my view about the place. Maybe, as the business expanded and branches started appearing all over London, their prices reduced down to something less eye-watering. Maybe there was nothing to choose between the cost of their coffee and pastries and those on offer in Starbuck’s, Costa and the rest. I never found out. We had a branch on the High Road until fairly recently. Somebody treated me to coffee there once, no idea what it cost. Sometimes I would see people sat outside, people I’ve known for a while, enjoying a coffee and a smoke. If I stopped to chat my typical greeting would be, “Patisserie Valerie, eh? Had a big win on the horses then?”

When the High Street branch closed they moved to bigger premises five minutes away, on the Terrace. It’s on the site of the old Maison Blanc, which had been empty for several months. Without that “immediate injection of capital” into the business maybe the site will be empty again soon, like the local branches of Carluccio’s and Le Pain Quotidien. They were mentioned in this piece in July and remain unoccupied.

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