The cup cake, the donut and the cronut have all received acclaim, some deserved and some less so (I’m looking at you, sickly sweet miniature cake) and yet, the almond croissant continues to go underappreciated. Until a few weeks ago, I believed myself to be the only almond croissant champion in, well – all of England – and then like a storm on a sweltering hot summer’s day, a deluge of enthusiasm rained down, restoring my faith in the nation’s zest for excellent viennoiserie.
I haven’t always been a fan of the nutty croissant. Having made the grave mistake of eating a supermarket almond croissant - a chunk of soggy pastry filled with a potent almond essence drenched filling, almond croissants were dead to me – I wasn’t letting one of those near my mouth again. And yet, one rainy morning after an early morning London Fashion Week show at Somerset House, I found myself faced with an almond croissant.
There are those who’ll proudly declare their fashion week diet consists of nothing but air and Vitamin Water, but naturally rebellious, I was going to eat breakfast and enjoy it. It was nearly midday as I looked across the counter at my then local coffee shop, Notes, to discover my only breakfast options to be an almond croissant or – an almond croissant. “It’s really good,” said the barista as I gazed dubiously at the offensive pastry. “I don’t eat almond croissants,” I answered dully.
“You’ll like this one.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Go on, try it – I promise you’ll like it.”
“Okay, we’ll see,” I was rather hungry after this uninspiring exchange and grudgingly acquiesced.
Crunchy almonds came first, followed by layers of flakey buttery pastry and finally the sweet nutty flavour of the almond filling – this was an almond croissant quite unlike the one that had offended so very long ago, this pastry was perfection indeed. And there began my quest for equally delectable or even more delicious almond croissants.
Image courtesy of Aubaine
I dedicate this list of gorgeous almond croissants to all lovers of this nutty, honeyed, buttery viennoiserie and to those who have faltered in their journey to find a good almond croissant.
Café Colbert 50-52 SLOANE SQUARE, CHELSEA, SW1W 8AX +44 (0)20 7730 2804 http://www.colbertchelsea.com
The sister restaurant of the Wolsey and the Delauney is a favourite breakfast haunt. I love to sit at the bar, whilst enjoying a rich espresso and watching the elite of the area trickle in and out. Colbert’s almond croissant is the perfect combination of super flaky on the outside and buttery soft layers of pastry on the inside. At its centre lies a unique crunch and sticky sweet fudgy filling, one that tastes curiously like dulce de leche. Delicious.
Aubaine (various locations) +44 (0)20 7052 0100 http://www.aubaine.co.uk
The Brompton Cross branch straddles the swanky neighbourhoods of South Kensington and Knightsbridge and though the décor is faux French rustique, the clientele is indubitably polished. The bakery boasts an abundance of freshly baked breads and pastries and judging by the quality of their almond croissant, worth trying. Though Aubaine’s almond croissant looks decidedly croissant like, it’s so much more, literally. Inside are layers of sweet buttery pastry that has a fluffier texture than one might expect and a liberal mass of nutty, crunchy, cakey almond filling permeates within. A truly extravagant and indulgent breakfast pastry – best shared between two.
Cocomaya (various locations) http://www.cocomaya.co.uk 0203 667 1390
For ultimate indulgence, Cocomaya reigns supreme. The brainchild of Agent Provocateur co-founder Serena Rees, accessories designer Walid al Damirji and Joel Bernstein formerly of Liberty London, the stores are a vision of style and lavish design, decorated with beautiful breads and pastries and creative artisanal chocolates. As expected, Cocomaya’s almond croissant offering is perfectly shaped, perfectly baked and tastes delicious. The toasted almonds have a satisfying crunch and the pastry is perfectly crisp and flaky with the intoxicating taste of fine butter proudly pronounced. The slightly crunchy almond filling is sweeter than I prefer, but my fellow tasters declare it perfection.
Balthazar 4-6 RUSSELL STREET LONDON WC2B 5HZ +44 (0)20 3301 1155 http://balthazarlondon.com
Synonymous with French sophistication and perfection, this New York implant in Covent Garden will transport you to a Hollywood vision of a 20s art deco French brasserie. If Balthazar is one of your favourite NY restaurants, you’ll not be disappointed – the interior is almost identical to its SoHo counterpart. The Balthazar croissant is unelaborate in comparison to other favourites, but still rather good. The pastry is rich and buttery, decorated with toasted almonds and a smooth almond paste resides inside. The portion is just right and it isn’t overly sweet. Goldilocks would be pleased.
Gail’s Bakery (various locations) T +44 (0)207 625 0060 http://gailsbread.co.uk
Leaders in sourdough bread baking and purveyors of the finest Valrhona chocolate brownies, its to be expected that Gail’s viennoiserie too, is impressive and the London based chain does not disappoint. Toasted almonds liberally cover the top and the pastry is as it should be, flaky on the outside, with soft distinct layers on the inside. The filling is the real winner here, though; chunky almond pieces smothered in a gorgeous almond paste. I believe the chocolate almond version is to die for – I cannot say for certain as they’re always sold out…
Notes (various locations) +44 (0)20 7240 0424 http://www.notes-uk.squarespace.com
And of course, the almond croissant that started it all. Notes, which I remember to have started out as Notes, Music and Coffee has two London branches: one on St Martins Lane and the other on Wellington Street – both in my old beloved neighbourhood of Covent Garden. Worth visiting and not just for the almond croissants!