Paul, Hampstead, 14/20

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I SALUTE Paul, the bakery, still family owned, fifth generation originally started in Lille, 131 years ago, the same year they opened the Eiffel Tower. It may be a chain operating in five continents but on my experience based on the tiny Hampstead outlet, run in fact mainly by an Italian crew, it has morphed into something more than the sum of its parts, successfully deconstructing the entire notion of the French restaurant and serves everything to go. But you would be hard pushed to nominate any restaurant that hits this level of quality so consistently.

Of course, yes it is a bakery with good quality sourdough breads. And picturesque cakes. But our branch which is squeezed into a space not much bigger than your dining room table, a large kiosk really, manages, quite miraculously, to also offer baguette style sandwiches; hot toasties, doughnuts, croissants (with egg and bacon if you like), quiche and things for which you might need a phd in advanced French baking to identity and name. Plus there is coffee, fizzy drinks. Even soup. And some of it is relatively topical like a hot Reuben toastie or a vegan falafel sandwich.

The chronicle of its customers is equally diverse. On a Saturday a Japanese family huddled in a corner, a woman fed her dog over coffee, a Frenchman ordering for the weekend. The queue was round the door. Plus now with online orders there was a lady waving her phone to pick up her trio of cakes. And the motorcycle helmet boy from Uber Eats barging through to pick up another four bag haul to deliver.

Quite how the staff cope with this onslaught, I am not sure, but they do. And if you might like to know how they do it you can buy into a masterclass to learn how to make eclairs or a sourdough bread for £90, normally at Covent Garden branch. Chapeau!

https://www.paul-uk.com/

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