Location: Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly, London
Other locations as well.
In Paris, the first time we stopped by Ladurée was for shopping. I bought chocolate croissants for breakfast the next day, two sample macarons, and dessert for dinner double0hilly's place that night. The desserts were good, the chocolate croissants exemplary, but the macarons blew me away.
We went back for lunch a day or so later. Sunlight filtered through white fabric above us, illuminating the painted chinnoiserie which was the famous tea room's dominant feature. We feasted on salads amidst painted iron columns, highly decorative cabinets, and an extravagant painted mural of exotic trees, flowers, and birds. A dodo lurked near the entryway. A pineapple grew in the corner. A bird-of-paradise drifted on the wind. The expanse on the wall was so devoid of mammals that we felt sure that dinosaurs must lurk around each hidden tree or rock mound. And the salads? They were excellent, complicated confections which came together into a unified thought. Mine was finely-chopped crab with citrus fruits, light and refreshing. I tried their version of the Ispahan*, and was in love.
It was good enough that we went back again for lunch my last day there. I came back to England laden with croissants, caramel, and a box of sumptuous mini-macarons, all in vivid flavors. Those, and the innovative variants I brought back from Pierre Hermé inspired me to try Paul's macarons. Alas, those are pale reflections of the glory which were the ones I'd bought from the best purveyors in France.
Ladurée opened its first English branch in Harrods a year-or-so ago. It's a tea room with a menu very similar to its Parisian one. I haven't been yet, but heard the siren call of its second London branch which opened just a few weeks ago in the Burlington Arcade off of Piccadilly. Expecting a similar menu, I invited aca along to join me for lunch there.
Arriving, however, we found a rough-walled chamber painted reflective gold, a spray-painted geode of a shop, long and narrow, awkwardly designed for service. There were four tables outside, but full table service was not available. (Buy inside, they'll bring it out on a tray with silverware and glasses for you.) At first glance it seemed a patisserie only, but aca had spotted the sandwiches, modestly small, in the window. They were in the right spirit: a choice of four, each a complicated combination of ingredients, served on different shapes of rolls with the texture of French** brioche and studded with seeds. Our sandwiches arrived with knife and fork, unexpectedly, but the choice of bread meant it cut cleanly.
Dessert? Of course we ate dessert. I had an Ispahan again, but was mildly disappointed, the rose macarons not being quite as fresh and light as those I'd eaten a few weeks ago. aca chose better, going for a seriously chocolately caramel slice, with a sampler of macarons on the side. All in all, it was a light lunch, but that's no bad thing as long as go knowing the café's limitations.
I could resist the prospect of more mini-macarons, however, and, after negotiating the shop's cramped confines, came home with a dozen. Caramel, pistachio, chocolate, lemon, raspberry: I think they may be just as phenomenal here, if pricier. Each is a cloud of flavor, soft, light, and rich.
* The Ispahan was created by Pierre Hermé when he worked for Ladurée and before he branched out to found his own patisseries. It consists of a pair of rose-flavored macarons with fresh raspberries, lychee, and cream sandwiched between them. Pierre Hermé does a variety of other variants with the Ispahan flavor set. If you're ever in Paris, please bring me back a box of the Ispahan fruit jellies!
** Not to be confused with Italian brioche, i.e. jam-filled croissants.