Lord Foster of Thames Bank, no less, is responsible for the Shoreditch building now occupied by the latest outpost of one of London’s best-known pÃ¢tisserie chains. Quite a step from the group’s humble Soho origins in 1926, when Madame Valerie, a Belgian, first began to educate the English in the delights of le croissant.
It’s not just the building, though, which is of above-average ambition: this is the first of the group’s outlet to include a fully-fledged brasserie. Not that you’d ever know: it’s hidden-away on the first floor, up a rather industrial staircase – evocatively labelled ‘Toilets’ – which is made only marginally more inviting by the presence of a few framed posters. Presumably his lordship does not get involved in the detail. Or perhaps everyone’s supposed to use the lift.
Anyhow, once you get to the first floor, you find a light, airy and quite elegant room with well-spaced tables, and – on our visit – very few people: three quarters of the tables were empty that particular Wednesday lunchtime.
Perhaps poor access and signage are responsible for the lacklustre following. It’s equally possible, however, that some of the potential punters have already voted with their feet, as the food is terrible. Bland bread (at a ‘bakery’), butter in horrid little cafeteria-style packs, boring great slabs of terrine, risotto with the feel of rice pudding, poorly-dressed and visually unappealing salade niÃ§oise’ The crimes against gastronomy continued remorselessly. Only at dessert did things even begin to look up – a bit – and the coffee’s not bad either.
A couple of months ago, a private equity fund chaired by Luke Johnson acquired the Valerie empire. We wish ’em luck with the national ‘roll-out’ apparently planned, but on this showing they’d better stick to the coffee ‘n’ buns side of the operation.