Many moons ago, I used to live in Hampstead. Subsequently, I've always had rather fond memories of the place; comparing it (perhaps foolishly) to Montmartre; and having been weaned as a nipper on Walt Disney's The Aristocats, think longingly of crooked chimneys, jumbled roof-tops, Victorian gas-lamps, hilly cobbled streets, and silvery Parisian light. In London.
If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I'm not especially keen on change for change's sake, and think continuity is often a quality overlooked by many restaurants. In a world of establishments modelling themselves on the Los Angeles airport transit lounge, circa 1961, it's refreshing to visit such restaurants as Wilton's (all banquettes, shabby velvet and heavily gilded frames) and Odin's (Edwardian British paintings, crisp linen tablecloths, and a discreet double-breasted maitre d'). Yesterday we had a Sunday afternoon coffee at the Louis Pâtisserie, and I can tell you now that it hasn't changed one iota since I last graced it with my presence- oh- at least ten to fifteen years ago.
Louis' is an institution. It's a Hungarian pâtisserie, café and tea rooms on Heath Street- that means it's in the centre of Hampstead village, proper. For some reason, East European restaurants always look a bit like railway carriages or waiting rooms- I can think of The Gay Hussar (railway carriage), or Daquise (waiting room). Louis' looks like a railway carriage- but a first class railway carriage at that: panelled with cherry wood, lined with slightly dubious 1950's still-lifes, and offering its clientele the luxury of banquette seating covered in sinful kidron. It's staffed by rather efficient little old ladies- heavily made up, plucked eyebrows, bee-hives, pearls; and (reassuringly) younger blonde girls with cracking figures and a brisk attitude.
Louis' is deservedly busy, and we had to wait in the crush for about ten minutes before being seated. One of the blonde girls brought a large silver plated tray of tempting looking goodies. I chose a chestnut, chocolate cream thingy, with worm-like bits on the top. The Girl went for some sort of chocolate torte, decorated with an L for Louis in swirly writing. The strawberry topped cake looked fabulous, too.
In this sort of place, you can't but help listen in to other people's conversations (not that I would normally dream of doing this sort of disreputable activity). There were two youngish types (clearly from distant shores), not I regret plotting revolution, but trying instead to finish off some sort of marketing deal in broken English- with lots of gesticulation, stabbing of the table, and 'how do you say's'. The rest of us were more interested in the cake.