The Laundry and Boulangerie Jade

By Paloma Lacy

Brixton is teaming with great places to eat but the hottest of the moment for sure is The Laundry. Opened as a commercial laundry in 1904, ceasing operations in 2014, it’s left behind a legacy, fiercely protected by the new inhabitant.

Restaurant owner and chef Mel Brown has successfully mixed the old world charm of this great dame of a building, with her own new world heritage, creating something rather special.

It wasn’t until arriving that I realised I also knew the previous owner, who was a family friend when I was a child. It’s all about the terrace here, which is rather fortuitous, given the new socially distanced world we now find ourselves in. The perfect al fresco dining spot, and a chance to watch Brixton play out on a hectic Saturday night. Rubbing shoulders with fellow diners at next door Brixton Village there’s a buzz like no other afforded to this corner of South London.

There’s only really one drink to have when sitting on a terrace, a cocktail. Cucumber Margaritas were whetting everybody else’s whistle so I joined in. Fresh, palate-cleansing and pleasing, suitably boozy for a weekend, this proved a wise move. Dark Washed Old Fashioned was bold and punchy and welcome refreshment for my husband.

We skipped the wine list but a more impressive specimen you’d be hard pushed to find. No surprise, given that Mel has the accolade of wine expert in her professional armoury. She runs Specialist Cellars at nearby Pop Brixton.

Not in a small plates’ kind of mood on Saturday night, the menu didn’t quite do it for me at first appearance. It felt like more of daytime menu, just the sort thing for a girl’s lunch. But for dinner with my husband, I was unconvinced.

I put reservations to one side and took counsel from our ball-of-fire waitress Amber. She was just brilliant, nothing was too much trouble, and right about every dish she recommended as well. Amber enhanced our dining experience – if only all hospitality staff were like her. We listened and she delivered.

Croque Madame was the standout dish of the evening and the one I was least minded to try. Luxurious, deliciously rich, and so much more than the sandwich I feared it would be, it’s a must for all diners. Dishes rarely live up to the hype, simply because our palates are so very individual, but this one certainly did. Think Croque Monsieur with more heart, soul and attitude – thickly sliced sourdough, slathered with butter, gruyere, Dijon mustard and béchamel, with yet more cheese and a first-class fried egg on top. It was immensely good.

It made such an impact that my husband’s been talking about recreating it since the weekend but so far we’ve been thwarted by an inability to source gruyere cheese. Is everyone in South London trying to do the same?

We shared four small plates – smoked salmon pate with croutons, sausage roll, focaccia with olive oil and banyuls vinegar, marinated olives, and the heavenly Croque Madame. Dishes start at £3, going up to around £10, and a few beyond. I like that fact that you can tailor your Laundry experience fit your mood and budget. People will travel for a good bakery.

Unfortunately, in London these days, you have to. Last weekend, I learned people will also queue in the rain for the very best bakeries. That’s what was happening outside Boulangerie Jade in Blackheath. 20 people stood under their brollies, me included, socially distanced and bracing ourselves for the delights behind the door in front. Bakery window displays are always the most appetising on the high street but Boulangerie Jade takes it to another level, with its hand-crafted French artisan range. Delicate tarts, pastries, and cakes – it’s a visual spectacle to behold.

The baker’s commitment to Gallic ingredients is strong and it only uses French flour in its products. What’s in their bread basket? A good deal of sourdough, thankfully. Campaillette, campaillou, pain levain and campagrain. Baking wizard Christophe Le Tynevez opened Boulangerie Jade in 2002, having worked previously as head pastry chef at Quaglino’s and Mezzo, and head baker and manager at Comptoir Gascon. Boulangerie Jade operates six stores throughout South-east and east London, with hot meals served at the East Dulwich shop.

As well as baked goods to eat in, it’s livened up brunch times with le sandwich bacon – can you guess what that is? The English Breakfast has had an injection of Gallic charm with two Toulouse sausages and French beans, in addition to the usual line up of ingredients.

Lunchtime brings with it a host of salads, tartin – open-faced toasties, served with salad, as well as toasted sandwiches. A new one on me is Croque Royal – with smoked salmon and
emmental. There’s also a great range of kids meals – boiled egg and soldiers, penne served with a cheesy sauce and ham and buttermilk pancakes with berries, bananas and maple syrup.

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