Last Tuesday, I attended a lunch of mentors from the Hospitality Department of the Oxford Brookes Business School. My neighbour at this pleasant occasion at Home House and I got to discussing the benefits of cake. She told me about their wet holiday in Scotland last summer, when every day had been a challenge of how to amuse 3 young boys. One day, however, after a long and particularly rainy cliffftop walk, they spotted a cafe on the beach below. The delights of this modest-looking place swept all gloom aside. There were numerous trays of delicious cakes: chocolate, coffee, vanilla sponges with jam and cream, and fruit cake with marmalade. It was the high point of their holiday.
Cakes are the ultimate comfort food, accompanied by tea. Museums and art galleries have cottoned on to this fact, and an important part of the visit is the cafe, both for the visitor’s experience, and the gallery coffers. The perfect end to two hours of being stimulated mentally and physically, is sitting down with a hot steaming cuppa and some delicious homemade confection, while reflecting on the exhibition.
The current main contenders on the cake front in the larger London galleries and museums are Benugo (V&A and Natural History Museum), and Peyton and Byrne (National Gallery, British Library). The trick is to attractively display irresistible and accessible morsels, which look as though they are crying out for you to eat them. This may sound rather dramatic, but there is a barrier of “I shouldn’t” to be overcome, which is fortified by the cellophaned, or out-of-reach offerings displayed in chilled counters of some institutions. At another favourite cafe, the owner Yotam Ottolenghi does rounds of his four cafes to see if the food is “smiling”. This surely must be always the test for good cakes.