Cake and The City
Walking down Madison Avenue on my first morning in New York City with a cute summer dress on and fabulous shoes, I was having a Carrie Bradshaw moment indeed.
Three hours later - still walking - with shopping bags cutting into my fingers, blisters forming on my heels and a severe no-caffeine-in-36hrs headache, reality set in.
Thank God for Aussie blogs like He Needs Food, who saved me that first day with his tips for finding decent coffee in the Big Apple.
I collapsed into a booth at The Shop on Fifth Ave at about 3.30pm and fairly inhaled a latte. It was a bit on the foamy side, but strong enough. It more than did. And the chickpea, spinach and spiced yoghurt on rye was excellent shopping fuel. In a fit of gratitude, I told the barrister how much I enjoyed the coffee and he gave me a freebie to go! I definitely over-tipped him.
The Shop was a good find. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d walk straight past the black door and modest sign but it’s so worth poking your nose in. Inside, it’s a lovely space with a coffee bar (Cafe Grumpy) at the front which also sells wicked things like peanut butter and jelly doughnuts alongside cookbooks and preserves.
Behind this is a sit-down area with bright murals on one side and huge glass windows on the other, perfect for people watching. I took my partner in crime for the week, Mum, back for breakfast a few days later.
The menu was just as good as the lunch one. I had an omelette oozy with gruyere, while Mum had the Dutch pancake with berries and yoghurt. This had serious wow factor and came served in its own little pan. So. Happy.
Apart from mother-daughter girl time/shopping blitz/cocktails/sleeping in, I planned to use my visit to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world to gather research for Little Pudding.
I dragged Mum (hardly kicking and screaming) to all the top bakeries around the city, soaking up as much as I could. My tips for general shopping and refueling follow, but first up, dessert!
Here are some of the best places we found for great cakes in NYC:
Alice's Tea Cup E64th St, near Lexington Ave.
We discovered this little gem down the street from our hotel and popped in one weekday afternoon for scones and tea. Great decision. The huge buttermilk scones we shared were up there with the best I’ve ever had. They were soft and fluffy on the inside, served slightly warm with jam and whipped cream.
From the long list of exotic teas, I chose Alice’s signature blend of black tea, rose petals, vanilla and green jasmine. It was like Turkish Delight in a cup. Delicious!
I have it on good authority, well, from my friend Siobhan (Mrs Beaspoke Quilts), that Alice’s is a favourite among celebrity kids like Suri Cruise.
My tip is to go on a weekday. We went back on Saturday morning and had to fight our way inside through queues of tweens to be told there would be a 45-min wait for a table.
$12 for two scones, jam and cream, and a pot of tea.
I pitch my own business as a boutique bakery, so I personally love the idea of a cake boutique.
Lady M certainly meets the brief. It is stylish, original, high quality and pricey. The cakes are beautiful to look at and just as fabulous to eat. The cutting of each slice is a ceremony. The white-uniformed staffer takes the chosen cake from the display, places it on a slab of white marble, cuts a generous piece in full view of drooling diners and places it either on a plate or in a monogrammed single-serve box to take away.
We arrived at lunch time so we started with sandwiches ahead of cake (smoked salmon for Mum and a tomato, basil and mozzarella panini for me). Salads are also available.
This gave me time to decide what cake to try. It wasn’t an easy choice deciding between caramel mirror cake (a decadent pile of chocolate sponge, caramel mousse and toffee glaze) and the Strawberry Mille Crepes (a tall stack of delicate crepes layered with the lightest pastry cream, topped with strawberries). Mum chose the mirror cake, I chose the crepes. Good thing we had 14 blocks to walk home!
Each month, the boutique alters its selection of cakes available to taste in store. Check the website to see what’s on offer before you go. Although it doesn’t necessarily make the decision any easier!
There are eight of these iconic cupcake stores in NYC, but the one at Bloomingdales was the closest to our subway stop. I love Magnolia's philosophy of baking small batches of cakes on sight throughout the day and telling people they are meant to be enjoyed straight away. It’s how I bake for my cafes and how I would endeavour to run a larger retail store, should Little Pudding keep up its current rate of growth.
I chose red velvet and peanut butter and jelly cupcake flavours to try, while Mum tried the many-layered carrot cake. Red velvet was my favourite – moist and light with vanilla buttercream frosting. I could’ve eaten six if I let myself.
The Little Cupcake Bakeshop
I was a little bit obsessed with the peanut butter and jelly combo everywhere in the States so it was great fun to watch peanut butter being slathered on top of this cake in the window of the flagship store in Prince St, Soho.
Like Magnolia, they have all manner of cupcakes on offer plus a good selection of all-American desserts, think cheesecakes, brownies and various types of “pie.”
Dean & Deluca
This is a posh grocery store with a gorgeous bakery in the middle. Baskets overflowing with breads and bagels sit alongside trays of freshly made doughnuts and piles of cookies.
Between the bakery and the gorgeous flower display, it smelled amazing. The store also as an espresso bar at the front where you can pick up your bakery goodies to go with your coffee.
The Plaza Food Hall
There is an espresso and tea bar with delicious bakery treats in the food hall underneath the famous Plaza Hotel.
We had a sticky beak one morning after a walk through Central Park and I discovered these fabulous blue and white Neenish Tarts.
You could have a whole three course lunch in the food hall if you wanted. It has everything from a wine bar, cheese and charcuterie station, woodfired pizza, seafood grill and asian dumpling bar.
We stayed uptown at the Affinia Gardens, an apartment-style hotel on 64th St between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. We shared a one-bedroom suite which was quite roomy and had a kitchen, although we barely used it.
The hotel was in a quiet neighbourhood a few blocks from Central Park and those famous avenues: Lexington, Madison, Park, Fifth.
Food is not the hotel’s thing, so we went out each day for breakfast and dinner. Exploring is the best way to find gems like these:
The Shop, 485 Fifth Ave. See my gushings above.
Gitane, 242 Mott St, Soho. A cute little French-inspired cafe with delicious baked eggs on the menu. Sit out the front and people watch. So much fun during fashion week!
Le Pain Quotidien. There are quite a few of these cafes throughout the city. Good for boiled eggs, oatmeal and pastries. Beware, the coffee comes in a bowl. And that’s a small one!
Eat Here Now Diner. 839 Lexington Ave.
I had to have at least one diner breakfast and we found a diner not far away with a hideous name and food to match.
Actually, the pancakes were really good. Just don’t make the mistake of ordering bacon. They deep-fry it. On the plate, it brought to mind long solid strips of Bacon Bits. Weird. And don’t go there with that coffee they serve. It’s truly god-awful. Mum had (snicker) eggs Benedict, which came with a quite delicious potato hash. Don’t ask me what was in it, but it was fabulous!
Galli, Soho. 45 Mercer St, between Broome and Grand Sts.
We had a fantastic lunch here of grilled chicken, kale, blood orange, avocado and almond salad with a glass of pinot gris. Yum and healthy too! It’s also in a great part of town for people watching.
Friedman’s, Chelsea Market. Dazed from a shopping blitz in Anthropologie, we needed sustenance and found it at Friedman’s.
It’s a nice diner with a fantastic BLAT which I happily sank my teeth into. Mum had a poached chicken panini. See? Nice diner. There are dozens of fab looking eateries at Chelsea Market, including The Lobster Place where you can sit down to half a fresh lobster cooked however you like. I challenge you to choose where you’ll have lunch.
Tonys Di Napoli. 3rd Avenue, between 63rd and 64th Sts.
Old-school Italian just down the street from our hotel. Highlights were the hot antipasto plate which they topped with cheese and grilled, and the brick-sized slab of tiramisu.
I’m not usually big on creamy desserts but this was outstanding. It was a crime that we couldn’t finish it.
Fig and Olive. 808 Lexington Avenue.
We caught up for dinner at this chic Mediterranean restaurant with Siobhan (Mrs Beaspoke Quilts) who by a stroke of luck was in town the same week as us. There were cocktails to start, lots of gossip and delicious nibbles like tuna carpaccio and crostini with toppings like manchego, fig and almond. We shared the fabulous paella for a main with a bottle of smooth red from somewhere in Burgundy. Somewhere in there, I forgot to take a photo!
About 90 people told me I must eat at Balthazar when visiting New York. I know why. It would be top of my list on any return trip. I had a hunch Siobhan would like it too so I booked us all in for dinner. More cocktails and gossip, followed by one of the best pieces of steak I’ve ever had. I chose pepper sauce. Be warned, it comes with fries. Lots of them. And you will want to eat them all. I couldn’t get anywhere near finishing the steak. Pity. Dessert wasn’t an option either, for sheer stuffedness. Pity. Siobhan went back a couple of days later for brunch and skited that it was just as delicious. Put it on your must-go-here list but make sure to book ahead. And for god’s sake, don’t be a polite goose like me. Take a damn photo!
It felt as if I walked a marathon each day, so my advice to girls is wear flats or take a pair with you in your handbag.
Don’t forget a bottle of water.
I had good fun in these places:
- Anthropologie – clothes, shoes, homewares
- The Bowery Kitchen Supply – cooking and kitchenware
- There’s an entrance to the Highline nearby if you want to swap crowds for wildflowers.
Too many cool boutiques, cafes and homewares stores to choose favourites but I especially liked the Kate Spade boutique – clothes, bags, shoes and accessories.
And the Coach boutique, where I scored me a new handbag.
Saks – the shoe dept on the eighth floor has its own postcode.
GAP – great for everyday wear, jeans, kids clothes and underwear
H&M – cheap and edgy clothes
Tiffany – four floors of Tiffany trinkets!
Pottery Barn – beautiful homewares and accessories for babies and toddlers
Ralph Lauren – gorgeous, elegant store spanning two sides of Park Ave
Bloomingdales – just for the gawk factor at the labels on offer
Grand Central Station - as romantic and beautiful as I had always imagined. That roof!
Remembering 9/11 - Two of four new towers are already up.
Brooklyn Bridge - we walked over it to Brooklyn one morning and caught the ferry back. With a bit more research, I would spend the day romping around Brooklyn.