Baking Happiness

So I guess half my readership (hah! I don’t have a “readership”, I only get readers when I nag friends on Twitter or Facebook) has no interest in sport(s).  Which is kind of appropriate, considering that’s what I was whining about. Anyway.

There’s a place in Soho where small businesses go to die. It’s on the corner (or rather corners) of Berwick Street and D’Arblay Street, and every few months a new, excited, plucky foodmonger opens there, no doubt wondering how such prime retail space has become available.

Of course, it’s only free because some other courageous but browbeaten underdog has folded, spewing legions of young, mostly foreign catering staff onto the cold streets with little more than a three-month McJob on their CV. I guess they’re learning how much pragmatism they need to get by in the dog-eat-dog world of filling the gobs of entitled media idiots like me.

As well as the demise of Coffee Republic (north-east quadrant), which I can’t really blame on this small corner of Soho, the latest closure is Pastry Pilgrim, motto Baking Happiness (north-west quadrant). I don’t think so, somehow. I went in there a few times – their fare was decent, hearty baked goods with an English theme which sat slightly uncomfortably within the gastronomic multi-culturalism of the West End. Baguettes? Mais non! You will enjoy your Wensleydale or Stilton in an English Stick! Still, the sausage rolls and coffee were good, and they were noticeably friendly, perhaps tinged with desperation.

Before Pastry Pilgirm was Wrapid, which churned out perfectly acceptable things in wraps. My favourite was the pizza wrap, which was pretty much what it sounds like. I also tried the spaghetti bolognese wrap, equally straightforward but perhaps a slightly less successful idea. Neither was particularly healthy, despite tasting good, but I’m not sure Soho can support too many places you only go for treats.

Which also, I imagine, ruled out The Gourmet Hot Dog Company (south-east quadrant). I was very excited when I saw it appear, having been to the legendary Hot Doug’s in Chicago and marvelling at the choice and innovation that could be applied to encased meat products (though chips covered with cheese from a can? I’d give that a miss). But I only ever went there once, bought an undersized hot dog in a dry bun (I should take some blame here as I forgot to actually add any sauce), and never went back. Six months later, six months of walking past, slightly guiltily, seeing the initial rush of diners dwindling to essentially no-one, it closed its doors for the last time.

But now the shop-front is plastered with signs telling me that Wrap ‘n’ Roll Kebabs is soon to open there! And honestly, I don’t fancy their chances. Nothing about the name (admittedly, that’s all I’m going on) inspires imagining of innovation or deliciousness – yep, I like filthy doners as much as the next ex-student, but I reckon that’s not exactly what they’ll be aiming for. The poor pun also brings out the Cassandra in me.

And the worst thing is, I feel genuinely terrible for all these people! The depressing churn of staff, the fickle disappointment of customers, and the demolition of the owner’s dream of building  a happy, successful takeaway food business – hell, maybe even a chain! – in a thriving part of town. I sometimes (and I’m being literal here, I am that sappy) imagine the final tearful meeting with the bank manager, realising that the debts won’t be repaid, the business plan  isn’t viable, and that the nest egg of capital has dwindled to nothing. Poor sods.

So, good luck to Wrap ‘n’ Roll, and I hope even as I speak there’s a stylish, original food outlet being planned for the old Pastry Pilgrim space. But I fear the curse may be unbreakable.

(In case you’re wondering, the fourth corner isn’t a restuarant and hasn’t been in my memory. It’s Star Jewellery (south-west quadrant), and it’s doing very nicely, thank you.)

  1. Just over a year later, Wrap & Roll kebabs has proved a success! Pretty much constant good-natured salesmanship from the legion of only slightly scary Turkish (?) men who work there has actually, astonishingly, worked. I’ve eaten there twice and it’s no-frills dirty kebabs – nothing special, but nice and swift and an occasional greasy treat.

    The Pastry Pilgrim’s replacement, City Break, however, wasn’t so lucky. They just never captured any kind of market, selling poor, dull goods in an ugly environment. They’re already gone.

    The Bratwurst shop on the old Coffee Republic site has just been refitted. To be honest I thought they’d just fade away – no customers and some of the worst marketing I’ve ever seen. But they have improved their menu, brightened up the place, and we’ll see if it helps. But it’s got to be the final throw of the dice.

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