318 Chiswick High Street, Chiswick, London, UK
On a business trip to London, I was staying in the Chiswick area for a few days. My explorations of the Chiswick High Street on foot uncovered the delicious looking Valerie Patisserie, which enticed with a window display full of luscious cakes and pastries, crowned by a huge piece of decorative frilliness rendered in dark and white chocolate. Amongst the mouth-watering cakes and slices in the window was a neat row of milles-feuilles, looking for all the world like classic Aussie vanilla slices, complete with the traditional drawn brown icing lines on a top of white icing.
I discovered this early in the day, on a post-breakfast walk before a day full of business meetings, and had already bought a more robust scone from a nearby bakery to serve as morning tea. So I filed the shop away in memory, to return that evening after the work had been completed for the day and buy one of the slices to take back to my hotel after dinner for dessert. The price was £2.95, and for that the lady behind the counter, rather than tossing it in a brown paper bag as would happen back home, placed it in a neat cardboard box emblazoned with the logo of the patisserie, using no less than three logo stickers to seal the box. This was then carefully lowered into a paper carry bag with handles, again decorated with the shop’s logo.
Opening the package later in my hotel room, I find a neat looking slice contained in a protective wrap of rectangular plastic sheet. And for good measure, the name of the patisserie is printed twice on the plastic sheet. Peeling it off reveals three quite thick layers of pastry, looking impressively flaky, separating two intermediate layers of mid-yellow custard, not much thicker than the surrounding layers of pastry. The icing on top is pure white, about two millimetres thick, with the aforementioned brown pattern.
On picking it up, I notice a dusting of icing sugar has been used on the plastic sheet to prevent the pastry from sticking to it. Although the pastry looks like it could separate and leave the slice structurally unsound, it lifts up neatly in a single block. The first bite reveals disappointingly that the pastry is rather soggy, with nary a hint of crunch left. It gives way softly to the bite, squeezing the custard out only a small amount, so it’s fairly neat to eat and does not generate a mess. As I progress, though, a central layer of custard and surrounding pastry slips free of its pastry layer neighbours and begins sliding backwards to the uneaten end, protruding out the back. It’s easy to clean up with a bite to the back end though.
The custard layers are creamy and smooth, but a little nondescript, with only a mild vanilla flavour. Most of the flavour comes from the icing layer on top, which dominates in sweetness, and I think is vanilla flavoured itself. The overall flavour and sensation are not really bad though. It tastes good and eating it is pleasurable, but it just lacks the finer points of thicker custard with stronger vanilla flavour, and some crispiness to the flaky pastry. I suspect if I’d bought this earlier in the day when it was fresher, the pastry might have been crisper and the overall experience better. There’s nothing really terrible about it, and I think overall it’s decent enough to hit above average.
“Mille feuille” vanilla slice: 6/10.
Coda: I discovered on returning home that the “charming local patisserie” I thought I’d stumbled across was actually one of a large chain of Patisseries Valerie that apparently can be found all over the UK. It always seems to be the way these days.