This post is in celebration of two momentous occasions. First, the Great Cupcake Hunt album on my Facebook has hit a hundred likes. Second, it’s my birthday. Anyway, this is something I’ve been promising to do for a long time, and seeing as how I now have a breath of time between course essays and dissertation, I present:
1. THE HUMMINGBIRD BAKERY
Where: They have branches in Notting Hill, South Kensington, Spitalfields, Islington and Richmond. However, the one I’ve always been to is the Soho store (155a Wardour Street, Soho, London W1F 8WG)
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road for the Soho store
Any cupcake connoisseur trawling the streets of London will know the name of Hummingbird. It has been four years since I licked the casing of my first red velvet cupcake clean, and there has been much hype (and price hikes) since, but even so Hummingbird remains to this day at the top of the game. Its cream cheese icing is simply untouchable.
Try: the Red Velvet. Always. The Hummingbird Red Velvet is legendary and for good reason. The Carrot Cake, which uses the same icing, is a reliable second, and the Black Bottom is decent if a little heavy. The novelty flavours tend to be hit-and-miss - I remember a particularly dreadful Pineapple - so I would stick to the menu staples.
Where: 16 St. Albans Grove, Kensington, London W8 5BP. They also have stalls in both the Westfield Malls.
Nearest tube: South Kensington
One of the more out-of-the-way cupcake joints, Buttercup nevertheless manages to make each lengthy detour worthwhile. Slightly more expensive at 3 quid, they make up for this by turning out some of the largest cupcakes around. Their cake is rich without being overbearing, and they are generous with the icing.
Try: all the chocolate, especially the Chocolate Zucchini, which pops up rarely in the display but should be instantly pounced on when it does. Buttercup also handles sweet flavours like Banoffee, Maple Walnut and Rose with more flair than the average cupcakery.
Where: The Sunday UpMarket, The Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London E1 6QL. They are also on the rota at the KERB market behind King’s Cross St. Pancras Station.
Nearest tube: Aldgate East, Aldgate
Kookybakes furnished my first and last cupcakes during my undergraduate years in London, and the depth of nostalgia I feel for this name cannot be underestimated. A staple of the Brick Lane Sunday Upmarket, it has recently joined the traders of the KERB pop-up market at King’s Cross and, once a month, in UCL. Kookybakes puts the ‘kooky’ in baking, and unlike most cupcake makers, it rewards risk-takers by churning out experimental one-off cupcakes that more often than not hit the nail on the head. Also, if you show up at their Brick Lane stall in the hour before closing time, you might be lucky enough to pick up some of their leftover stock for a pound.
Try: oh god, where to start? While their staple cupcakes, like the Chocotecture or the Key Lime Pie, make for fine and reliable choices, the real gems are the wild card specials like the Hot Cross Bun or the Orange Explosion. In short, when trying to choose from the staggering assortment of flavours on display, always hit the wackiest. You never know when you might see it again.
Where: 44 Theobalds Road, Bloomsbury, London WC1X 8NW | One New Change, 83 Watling Street, St. Paul’s, London EC4M 9BX | 43 Cowcross Street, Farringdon, London EC1M 6BY
Nearest tube: Russell Square | St. Paul’s | Farringdon
Bea’s cupcakes are unique in their icing, which possesses a particular marshmallow-y quality that I have only ever tasted in one other cupcake, Peyton and Byrne’s. Unlike P&B, however, they combine that blissful mallow texture with unerringly beautiful cake. The one problem I have with Bea’s is their unrelenting price hikes from when I was a first-year - their afternoon tea set, which was a steal at 9 pounds four years ago, has now inflated to nearly twice that price - but their cupcakes rarely stray from the path of quality.
Try: while Bea’s has a vast range of cupcake flavours, you will find that fundamentally they all taste quite similar, if delightfully so. This does mean, however, that you are unlikely to go wrong. There are, however, stand-outs like the Pistachio, which I have previously described as ‘wiping the floor with all the other flavours. And then it took them to the laundry and tumble-dried them’.
Where: Primrose Hill, 69 Gloucester Avenue, London NW1 8LD | 42 Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7PB
Nearest tube: Camden Town, Chalk Farm | Covent Garden
Primrose, as the name suggests, offers one of those extremely English cupcake experiences, what with the cosy tearoom set-up, flowers on tables and lace doilies and so on. What I appreciate most about Primrose’s cupcakes are their great subtlety, which in a world of heavily rich flavouring and cloyingly sweet icing is a rare gift. Brevity is the soul of wit, and understatement is the pinnacle of cupcakery.
Try: anything tea-flavoured, especially their excellent Earl Grey (if you’ll overlook the dubious colouring).
6. CRUMBS & DOILIES
Where: Thursdays at the Covent Garden Market, East Piazza, Covent Garden, London WC2E | Saturdays at the Partridges Fine Foods Market, Duke of York Square, Kings Road, London SW3
Nearest tube: Covent Garden | Sloane Square
Another market staple, Crumbs & Doilies makes up for having no permanent address by appearing just about everywhere. I first met them at the posh Saturday market in Sloane Square, and then again at the annual chocolate festival on the South Bank. While I like to invest in large cupcakes, the more fickle-minded will enjoy their offering of tiny, cheaper versions, all the better to sample more flavours with the same money.
Try: the Salted Caramel, one of the most buttery I have ever experienced. Their chocolate varieties are also splendid - I recall particularly the Mexican Chili Chocolate and the White Chocolate Chai.
Where: 47 Wilton Way, Hackney, London E8 3ED
Nearest tube: Hackney Central. Loosely speaking.
I’m not actually that great a fan of Violet, but that’s more down to my aversion to heavy cake and the distance between my residence and Hackney. In a rundown of London cupcakes, Violet simply cannot be ignored: it promises good solid baking with a lovely aesthetic, and the vegan and gluten-free options are some of the best in the market. For those willing to chance an expedition to Hackney, I would recommend going later in the morning, or the early afternoon, to make your trip really worthwhile - that’s when they start putting the good stuff out. It’s also a beautiful little cafe, particularly when the sun’s out.
Try: the eponymous Violet, of course. If you like your chocolate rich, dark and handsome, then this one is for you - as are most of their chocolate-based cakes.
8. SWEET TOOTH FACTORY
Where: No fixed location; they have been known to sell at the nomadic night market Street Feast.
Nearest tube: -
I’ve only encountered Sweet Tooth in markets; I had heard little of them before being unexpectedly entranced by their stunning showcase in the South Bank Chocolate Festival. These are cupcakes that taste exactly like they look, which is to say magnificent.
Try: the Honeycomb Caramel Drizzle and the Chocolate Ganache; it is very rare when I pick up two cupcakes from the same stall and remain undecided as to which is superior.
9. PEGGY PORSCHEN
Where: Peggy Porschen Parlour, 116 Ebury Street, Belgravia
London SW1W 9QQ
Nearest tube: Sloane Square, Victoria
Pretty, perfectly-formed and so very, very pink, Peggy Porschen is the latest London name in my cupcake circuit, but damn if it isn’t a forerunner. Their creations are exquisite in look and taste; they also carry the hefty price tag that is the curse of the Belgravia postcode, but it’s worth it. Occasionally. If you exercise restraint.
Try: the Strawberry Champagne - trust me, they ain’t lying about that champagne.
Where: 287 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 2TZ | 63 Ledbury Road
Notting Hill, London W11 2AD | 13 Motcomb Street, Belgravia, London SW1X 8LB
Nearest tube: Angel | Notting Hill | Knightsbridge
I hesitated to put Ottolenghi on this list, largely because it does not deal purely in cupcakes. (Although cupcakes are a regular fixture in its windows, and for that matter all the other things it deals in are equally, if not more, as divine as the cupcakes.) However, I cannot overlook the fact that Ottolenghi has given me one of the best cupcakes I have ever had in London, if not my whole life - had I had the rating system back in those days I would have given it ten upon ten in a heartbeat.
Try: the Rose and Vanilla, for which you can find my original ecstatic review here. Alternately, try whatever is on display because if it’s in the Ottolenghi window, it is inevitably going to be the best thing ever.
Disclaimer: this list is not in order of merit, nor is it exhaustive (although I would say it is pretty close, at least at the time of posting).
It’ll be a while yet - and a lot more cupcakes - before I get anywhere close to making up an Edinburgh Top 10, so sit tight!