HAUTE SUCRÉ: LADURÉE À HARRODS
WORDS BY TOMOÉ HILL
The riches of pleasure are sometimes sweet: stacked in multi-coloured piles of celadon green and rose pink; sunny yellow and rich cream; robin’s egg blue and soft ruby. To immerse oneself in decadence means to give in to every sense, be taken over by detail. Harrods seems a natural yet unnatural setting for this particular vice of mine. Harrods, known now for overt wealth and vulgarity – every material desire marked up to prices as sky-high as the Louboutin heel heights sold in “Shoe Heaven”, a floor dedicated to some of the most envy-inducing brands for lovers of such finery. Even the Salon de Parfums is beyond my reach: perfumes here are £400, £500, £2,000 a bottle.
But hidden away from the throng and noise, at the end of a white corridor in the Food Hall, is a pastel and gilt replica of a French salon with small treasures I can purchase: Ladurée. Velvet upholstered chairs and too-small tables that mimic a kind of elegance that, if not long gone, does not exist for most of us. Here we can play at aristocratic ladies and gentlemen, indulging the fantasy that most of us have at times to be surrounded by exquisite finery and delicacies, a charming cover for the appetites that lie within for food and for other things.
Plumes of fragrant steam rise from thin china cups; Darjeeling, Earl Grey, or the bitter darkness of rich coffee, a sip complementing each morsel.
Ladurée was founded in Paris in 1862 as a bakery and turned into a pastry shop after a fire during the time of Hausmann’s rebuilding of Paris, the Second Empire. There were new parks, great buildings and convenient mass transportation erected for the citizens, and in the midst of it all a new pâtisserie that ladies of society – the ones that would ride displayed in their open barouches in the Parc Monceau dressed in their Worth finery – and those who wished to emulate them could go to nibble on sweets almost too fine to be eaten, little jewels of flour and sugar, flowers and fruits in the shape of tarts, macarons, petit fours.
And so we, too, now sit and choose delicate macarons, light shells of ground almond pastry filled with clouds of scented ganache: rosewater and saffron; tangy passionfruit; pistachio, rich flecked vanilla bean, dark liquorice. But perhaps it will be a praliné millefeuille or raspberry Ispahan instead: the former’s ice-thin layers of caramelisation shattering under the fork, glazed fragments of hazelnut falling away, a rich chestnut-coloured filling melting on the tongue; the latter a larger version of the macaron with a raspberry shell, rosewater and syrup flavoured cream, fresh raspberries and lychee, topped with deep red rose petals.
Plumes of fragrant steam rise from thin china cups; Darjeeling, Earl Grey, or the bitter darkness of rich coffee, a sip complementing each morsel. All around there is the murmur of conversation; words that fall from the lips, satiated and sweetened. There is a reluctance to finish – the eye casts about, takes in the ceiling-high shelves full of scented products: rose and violet rice powders in cylindrical boxes, crystalline rose salts to steep in a hot bath; tinted balms so that the lips might take on the hue of rosebuds opening; rouge that look like cameos on opening the compact: shades of peach and pink – the blushes of a coquette.
There are great rolls of ribbon to wrap the boxes of sweets that people take with them: lavender and blue, yellow and green with the Ladurée logo in gold printed on them. Boxes of scented candles line even more shelves, for it is not enough to eat and scent oneself with sugar and flowers: the air itself must bear the memory of this sugar-palace. Brioche, orange blossom, smoky tea, rice powder, amandine (bitter almond) and Chantilly (cream). Pastries disappear into boxes, deftly wrapped, the ribbons a satin whirl as they are pulled and snipped – always on the angle – by shop girls who seem to know exactly how much to cut off for each sized box.
Madame, they smile and murmur, handing you a sturdy pale green paper bag with silky cords. Then a rush of air, the noise of the street, and you are left wondering if it was all a dream.
Harrods, 87-135 Brompton Road, London SW1X 7XL. Phone: 020 3155 0111