South Kensington has the largest French ex-pat community in London. So large that the neighbourhood is often referred to as Petit Paris or quite simply, The French Quarter. Here English is spoken as a second language and the croissants are as flaky and delicious as they are in the 5th. It makes sense then that this is also home to the best éclair in the city, Maitre Choux.
In 2015, renowned pastry chef Joakim Prat opened Maitre Choux a mere stone’s throw away from Le Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle. Coincidentally, this gifted pâtissièr was born in Lyon just like the éclair. His talent for pastry was obvious even at a young age. By the time he was 25, he was already the Head Pastry Chef at Can Fabes in Barcelona, the first Catalan restaurant to receive three Michelin stars. In London, he was the executive pastry chef at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.
The cheerful exterior of Maitre Choux is so inviting. The moment you see the shop, you want to go in. The décor and window dressing manage to be playful yet tasteful. Aesthetically, it’s like a refined mash-up of Sprinkles, a successful cupcake chain in America, Momofuku Milk Bar in NYC and Good & Plenty Licorice, a black and pastel candy also from The States. Inside, artfully designed éclairs are displayed in glass cases like gems at a jeweller’s. White walls decorated with neutral frames cleverly create the feeling of being in a gallery and indeed you are. At Maitre Choux the éclairs are nothing less than edible art.
The first one I tasted was called TRÉSOR À LA NOISETTE. The inside was filled with a milk chocolate crème patissiere and a praline made from both fresh and roasted hazelnuts. The distinct flavour notes of the nuts added depth and sharpness that balanced the sweetness. What’s more, it was painted gold and had a wonderfully buttery finish.
Next, I tried the PARIS-BREST which was layered with a hazelnut and praline nougatine and alternating dots of hazelnut praline cream and unsweetened whipped cream. The finishing flourish was a nougatine wafer on top. I always think flavour wise Paris-Brest is best. After tasting this, I can say that’s absolutely correct. There was a perfect amount of salt in the nougatine that left me wanting more.
The last one I had was DÉLICE ROSE À LA FRAMBROISE, which is a pink, palate-cleansing, Spanish, raspberry-filled éclair. Because of the rosy confectionery colour, I had it in my head that this would be exceptionally sweet. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The sugar was perfectly balanced. The yoghurt raspberry mousse was all fruit. I could taste the sunshine in the berries and the rosewater in the glaze brought summer to the palate. It was light and fresh and beautifully decorated.
I also ate some chouquettes which are choux pastry casings topped with pearl sugar. They were golden and crispy on the outside, yet soft and hollow on the inside. They were terrifyingly moreish and only £3,50.
Legend has it that éclairs were Marie Antoinette’s favourite dessert. They are also mine. Joakim Prat is a master. Not only because he manages to make hundreds of perfect éclairs a day, or because his flavour combinations are innovative takes on classics, but because he is giving Londoners access to luxury for five pounds. First it was cupcakes then macarons, but Prat’s éclairs make the sweets of the Noughties seem naff. There is no arguing. His are the most elegant take-away dessert in town.
Maitre Choux is located at 15 Harrington Road in South Kensington. There is also a second location on Dean Street in Soho.