It was by sheer chance that boyfriend and I had the happy occasion of going to Lanka. We ended up at Finchley Road a few hours ahead of schedule and needed to find somewhere to camp out before a social engagement.
I’ve never really been to visit the Finchley area. I rarely leave the tube station when swapping the Met line for the Jubilee, or vice versa. I had always thought that Finchley Road was pretty full to the brim with chains and those standard conglomerate coffee shops. This was before Lanka.
Just around the corner from the station, a literal hop, skip and a jump is a French Patisserie and Ceylon Tea Room. However to call it a French Patisserie is selling it a bit short. The bakes are inventive, or with a Japanese interpretation.
The second you enter, it smells like a sugar sweet wonderland complemented by classical melodies that lightly plays. Lanka is bright and airy, with white washed walls and pale wooden floor. White scaffolding shelves are home to their retail Monmouth Coffee and loose leaf tea. Also there are only eight seats for customers to stay in to eat and drink. The best thing is that each chair has a wide and shallow basket for customers to put their belongings in, without dirtying them by putting them directly on the floor.
The whole space is very clean and minimalist. Consciously or not, this allows for the display cabinet full of perfectly curated, decorated and presented cakes to be the central feature. And actually the second best thing is that you can hear the organised chaos from the kitchen klaxon through the shop. Every now and again, owner/recipe developer/head Baker Masayuki Hara enters wearing a flour and sugar splattered apron with yet again another tray of perfected bakes destined for the cabinet. He places them down, where one of the ladies behind the counter individually and meticulously lays them out.
Seeing that Tom and I were faffing about takings photos and drooling, Masayuki indulged us by striking up a conversation. He advised us that we should have come earlier in the day, when we would have been witness to 25 different varieties of cakes. He and his team bake throughout the day topping up the cakes that sell out, as well as baking certain pastry or cake bases for the next day’s production. There is a constant flow of baking action. Masayuki explained that the individual cakes such as the Saint Honoré obviously take more time to assemble and pipe. But their roulades or tarts are simpler because he does one large bake and then slices it up as and when the shop needs a refill.
Admittedly this is now the best bit. He told us about how he had a former shop in Primrose Hill. It was incredibly busy and successful, with queues out the door and I assume selling more than their 500 units a day at Finchley Road. However, their site was too small and they could not keep up with demand. Instead of cutting corners, he decided to close up shop.
The popularity versus quality balance was not sustainable, he wanted to be able feel proud of every single one of his bakes. A profound action to realise that if you can’t do your best, that it’s not worth doing. And it is very much the contrary to the traditional business mindset. In the sense that if you don’t have the time and the space to offer your loyal customers the best bake each and every time, admittedly the very thing that made you reputable in the first place, then perhaps best to change tactics and move. Despite how popular you may be.
I really hope that his Primrose Hill clientele still come to his Finchley Road branch. And Lanka have definitely gained two new loyal customers now after our visit.
Also, for your reference we tasted the Yuzu Mousse Slice, Saint Honoré, Green Tea Chocolate Mousse and Green Tea Roll cake with a couple of cups of tea. It was an absolute feast and all cakes were exquisite.
|Tuesday||10:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.|
|Wednesday||10:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.|
|Thursday||10:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.|
|Friday||10:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.|
|Saturday||10:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.|
|Sunday||11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.|