The Fleet River Bakery, Holborn
71 Lincolns Inn Fields
020 7691 1457
by Flora Ashley
There are a few things which drive me into a vicious, murderous rage: tourists who dawdle on Tube platforms; people who sniff persistently; tights which ladder at the heel after a day’s wear; Melanie Philips; and overheated university libraries. Another is cafes which don’t include prices on their blackboard-walled menus.
Why, I ask you, should a relatively low-priced restaurant not inform its customers how much their coffee, cake, soup, and sandwiches will cost? Why so coy? Surely they understand that the transfer of money from customer to shopkeeper is vital to the success of any business? Do they realise that the only person in Britain who considers references to money to be vulgar is Lady Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, and she’s a character in a TV series?
It’s because of this strange fiscal bashfulness that I haven’t been to the Fleet River Bakery for more than two years. I used to pop by for coffee whenever I used the LSE’s excellent library. But on the sole occasion that I stopped for lunch, I was so hungry that I didn’t notice the lack of prices on the menu. When I arrived at the front of the queue, I was charged nearly ten quid for a slice of quiche, salad, and something to drink. I lost my temper and stalked out.
I was so afflicted with guilt – my behaviour was ridiculous, and it was hardly the fault of the cashier that the Bakery didn’t list prices – that I couldn’t return. I skirted the Bakery for months, stealing glances at its delicious-looking pastries and lovely coffee from behind the upturned points of my coat collar.
But relief arrived a few weeks ago, in the form of breakfast with ML, a friend who studies at the LSE. I was curious about her choice of the Bakery: had her degree in economics transformed her into a proto-banker so rapacious that menu prices no longer meant anything to her? Or did she agree with my views on menu pricing, and suggested the Bakery because it had changed its policy? So brave in the belief that the staff wouldn’t recognise me with shorter hair, I returned. And I am so pleased I did. I could not recommend the Fleet River Bakery’s breakfasts highly enough.
True, these are not substantial beans-and-bacon-and-eggs breakfasts, nor do they offer porridge, pancakes, nor any of the variations of eggs Benedict. But their focus on pastry means that they produce something so close to the Platonic ideal of the croissant that one can forgive their austere attitude towards choice at the breakfast table. Their croissants are so buttery that they need only to be eaten with jam, and I was halfway through mine before I remembered to smear jam on it. ML’s pain au chocolat was as much chocolat as it was pain. The flat whites came in deep cups, and at just the right temperature: neither tongue-blisteringly hot, nor insipidly cold.
The Bakery itself is pleasingly cosy, with its wooden tables and comfortable chairs squirrelled away into nooks and corners. And ML and I talked away an hour in the basement. She’s considering a career in community radio, and approved heartily of the well-displayed prices on the menu: croissants were £2 each, and flat whites £2.60.