The Battle of the Cinnamon Buns: Nordic Bakery vs. Scandinavian Kitchen

Central London's finest:  Scandinavian Kitchen cinnamon bun (left) and The  Nordic Bakery cinnamon bun (right)

Central London’s finest: Scandinavian Kitchen cinnamon bun (left) and The Nordic Bakery cinnamon bun (right)

In the last few years, interest in Scandinavian food has risen enormously.  It is easy to attribute this popularity to the influence of Noma, Børgen or Ikea and, whilst this may still be the case, it is part of London’s culinary history to look to other parts of the world for inspiration.  Whilst on the savoury courses, we are often divided; many, for example, happily devour the meatballs but are hesitant about idea of some of the more extreme pickled fish; the sweet dishes are another story.  The success of Signe Johansen‘s book Scandilicous Baking speaks volumes, and the opening of several Scandinavian bakeries across London has sent us clamouring for the lingonberry tarts and spiced biscuits that we could only otherwise find in the freezer section of the local Ikea.

The biggest craze of all, though, has to be for the Scandi cinnamon buns.  These are so popular that many of the London cafes sell out daily.  They are bread buns, rolled with a cinnamon filling and often topped with pearl sugar or a glaze.  Many people in my office cannot survive a week without one.

Luckily for us, we have two Scandinavian cafes within walking distance:  the Marylebone branch of The Nordic Bakery, on New Cavendish Street and Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield Street.  There has been a great deal of disagreement among those who work in the west end about which cafe makes the best cinnamon bun, so I decided to settle this with a ‘cinnamon bun-off’; a blind taste test of the two buns from which, I hoped, there would be a clear winner.  Fortunately, I was not short of volunteers for this experiment among my colleagues.

The Test:  a simple blind taste test of the cinnamon buns, purchased on the same day, from The Nordic Bakery and Scandinavian Kitchen.  Each taster chooses a winner.  That’s it.

The Contenders:

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The Nordic Bakery, 37b New Cavendish Street, London W1G 8JR
The Nordic Bakery has three sites across London: our New Cavendish Street Local, the original on Golden Square, Soho and another on Dorset Street.  These beautiful little wood-panelled cafes are designed to be “a peaceful meeting place in a frantic city” and sell a range of coffees, sandwiches and baked goods.  A cinnamon bun costs £2.40.

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Scandinavian Kitchen, 61 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 7PP
This very busy cafe, with its amusing street-front chalkboard offering, among other things, ‘free hugs’ is a Fitzrovia lunchtime favourite.  They sell coffees, a range of baked goods, sandwiches and a mix-and-match smoregsboard of various nordic delights.  A cinnamon bun costs £1.70.

The Results:

I bought three buns from each bakery, which were cut into quarters and places in two piles, each labelled simply ‘A’ and ‘B’.  12 taste testers – all cinnamon bun aficionados from my office –  tried each of the buns and gave their verdict.  Some devoured one of the pieces of bun before starting on the other; others alternated bites between the two.  There was a lot of head-tipping and thoughtful noises.  Work stopped momentarily to discuss the beauty of cinnamon buns and argue about whether tea or coffee was the best accompaniment.  One by one, they gave me their scores and, the winner is….

Scandinavian Kitchen, by nine votes to three!

The main winner for Scandinavian Kitchen was the texture of the buns – the dough was soft and almost brioche-like, compared to the more tightly rolled dough of the buns from The Nordic Bakery; most felt the latter was a little too dense and they would struggle to eat a whole one.  The panel was, interestingly, divided over what was the best topping for a cinnamon bun; some preferred the sticky glaze of The Nordic Bakery’s buns, whereas others preferred the pearl sugar topping used by Scandinavian Kitchen.  They all agreed that both buns were excellent and had a good cinnamon flavour, but the lightness of the dough was what swung it Scandinavian Kitchen-wards.

If you want to have a go at making your own, Signe Johansen’s recipe from Woman’s Hour Cook the Perfect… can be found here.

Three Good Cafes Near BBC Broadcasting House

Trying to find a moment of peace in an ordinary working London week is like trying to find a two-bedroom flat in Zone 2 for less than £1,000 per month.  You know it exists because other people have it, but it just doesn’t seem to happen for you.  Non-city dwellers find it difficult to understand the way we Londoners rush from place to place, walking faster than many can run and trying  to squeeze on to already packed tubes when another one will be along in two minutes, but it’s just because we have so much to do.  When we do finally arrive home for the evening, there is no guarantee of peace as due to the astronomical property prices, we’re all living on top of each other.  Last night my next door neighbour came home a little worse for wear and dropped his keys on the mat four times before he finally got them into the lock.  Cursing creatively each time.

This week, trying to make it to the weekend has involved an obstacle course of a full working week, two blogger events, an impromptu pub crawl with old friends and a Band of Bakers meeting.  I’ve been to almost every corner of the city and have the blisters to prove it.  Even my precious night in last night involved budget planning, wedding planning and who knows what else.  Eating dinner in front of my laptop is becoming a habit.  Friday has never felt so good.

One thing that I have been thankful for this week is the abundance of good cafes close to my office.  It’s only when you’ve worked in an obscure part of London you realise the beauty of the West End and its many eateries.  When you’re too tired to make breakfast, need a mid-morning pick-me-up or simply want to have coffee with a friend, there they are.  So this may not be useful to many of you who do not work in this lovely little part of London, but here are some cafes close to BBC New Broadcasting House that will always save the day when you’re having a tough week:

Attendant, Foley Street
This was my main discovery this week, so it warrants two blog posts.  I had often been curious about the little cafe in the Victorian converted toilet and, this week, I found out just how good it was.  It was their first birthday on Tuesday, so I popped along to have a flat white and little salted caramel brownie and enter their raffle (which, sadly, I didn’t win).  The following day, with a bit of a headache caused by necking amaretto sours in The Palmerston, I popped in again for breakfast.  It’s a great little place and, one you get over the idea of drinking coffee in a cleaned-up urinal, one you will keep wanting to come back to.  They use Caravan coffee and have a small but perfectly formed range of pastries, cakes and sandwiches.  Plus the staff are bloody lovely.

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Scandinavian Kitchen, Great Titchfield Street
There are few people who work around here that have not been to the Scandinavian kitchen and, in recent years, it has become something of a Fitzrovia institution.  Often they have a board outside offering ‘free hugs’, but don’t let that put you off.  It’s a nice change from the general soup/sandwich lunch options in the many chain cafes on Oxford Street and Regent Street – they do a lunch deal of three or five items that you can select to make up your own smoregsboard.  On my last visit I opted for egg on rye, a smoked salmon wrap and a pickled cabbage salad.  Their coffee is good and their cinnamon buns pretty damn excellent.

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Kaffeine, Great Titchfield Street
This antipodean-style cafe is one of the best-known coffee shops in London and is famous for the quality of their coffee and the experience of their baristas.  They use Square Mile beans and have a delicious range of breakfasts and sandwiches which, admittedly, are a little on the expensive side.  It is a local favourite and is always packed out around breakfast and lunch.  If you get the chance, try the Anzac Biscuits for a taste of down under.

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Attendant Cafe, Fitzrovia

I have been often curious about a little cafe behind my office that was once an underground public toilet.  Today was their first birthday, which seemed like a great opportunity to satisfy that curiosity by meeting my friend Jon there for coffee.

The former toilet that houses Attendant Cafe was apparently built in around 1890 and fell derelict in the 1960s before being converted last year.  The cafe’s owners have stayed true to its origins by keeping a number of the original features.  As you walk through the doors and down into the depths of Foley Street, you are greeted with a wall of graffiti, an amusing nod to how most public spaces are often treated.  The walls inside are lined with the archetypal white tiles you might expect from a public convenience and one of the main seating areas is a row of converted Victorian urinals complete with a (hopefully) decorative flush.

Sadly a lunch meeting prevented me from trying any of their delicious sandwiches, but I did manage a sneaky miniature salted caramel brownie (a little bargain at £1), which had the right amount of salt and sweetness.  The coffee is Caravan, which I am already a huge fan of, and the flat whites expertly made.  Being a mere three minute stroll from my office, it is very likely that this will become a regular spot.

Attendant Cafe, 27a Foley Street, LondonW1W 6DY.  @Attendantcafe

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