Master pâtissièr Eric Lanlard tells us about his delicious pop-up in Park Lane, his early days with Albert Roux and his ticket to space
Upon entering Eric Lanlard’s café, Cake Boy, at Battersea Rise, my senses are simultaneously filled with sensation. My sense of smell is hit with chocolate delights, my eyes are struck by a bounty of elaborately decorated sweet treats and the funky café décor of hot pink and orange chairs, which look almost fluorescent against black walls decorated with roses and fairy lights. And my hearing is absorbed by the voice of a waitress offering me coffee and a seat. I’m immersed in a delightful space.
As I settle into the pink couch, Eric emerges and offers a warm French welcome. We launch quickly and easily into conversation over cake and coffee. The international baking star has made wedding cakes for Madonna, Liz Hurley and Claudia Schiffer. He has baked for royalty, including the late Queen Mother’s 101st birthday cake. He has his café, a cookery school, is currently writing his sixth cookbook, is in constant demand by the media, has just launched a pop-up afternoon tea in the Sheraton Park Lane, and has the first ever pâtisserie on a cruise ship, P&O Cruises’ Britannia. He has been a pâtissièr for 29 years and I imagine he has reached a level where he has ‘left the kitchen’ so to speak to manage everything else. I couldn’t be more wrong.
‘My favourite thing after all of these years is to be the first one here, to walk into the kitchen around 6am and set everything up – turn on the lights, the ovens and start baking. My passion for baking is what drives me everyday. Everything you see here was baked this morning.’
When he was young, Eric was nicknamed ‘Cake Boy’ by a friend, and it stuck. It was the perfect name for his café and cookery school, which opened eight years ago at Battersea Rise beside the Thames. During the week his clientele consists of local residents and businesses, but on the weekends it becomes a food destination. People travel from afar to enjoy his afternoon teas and attend baking classes. He regularly gets customers from Hong Kong, Australia, South Africa and Europe. ‘Last week, an American lady was so disappointed there were no classes available that she asked if I would run a private class for her family, which I was happy to do,’ Eric tells me. ‘I love it here on a Saturday. It is heaving. People enjoying cakes and buying six at a time. The Champagne Afternoon Tea is very popular too.’
It seems the Frenchman is taking over the traditional British Afternoon Tea. He has just opened a pop-up afternoon tea in the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel. A pop-up on Park Lane, surely not? Apparently yes. The Tea Guild describes The Park Lane Hotel as ‘one of the most wonderful settings in which to take afternoon tea in London.’ With offerings such as pumpkin and hazelnut savoury ‘macaron de Paris’ with chicken crackling, Eric’s afternoon tea menu is anything but traditional. It is based on world cuisine and will be open in the Tudor Rose Room – where the Queen learnt ballroom dancing – until the end of the year. ‘It is a travelogue theme with a mix of sweet and savoury flavours from France, the Middle East, India, South America and the Baltic.’
Travel for both work and pleasure is a big part of Eric’s life. In March this year, the Queen launched P&O Cruises new ship, Britannia. Not only is there an Eric Lanlard pâtisserie on board, but there is a special afternoon tea in one of the restaurants. ‘All food is pre-paid for on a cruise but the afternoon tea costs £15 per head so this was a risk.’ Has it worked? Six months on, there have been customer complaints but not about the cost. ‘Afternoon tea gets booked out very quickly and people are complaining they can’t get in. Actually, I just found out yesterday that P&O Cruises is now going to have the afternoon tea on all of its ships.’
Eric sailed on the Britannia’s maiden voyage – and he does four cruises per year – as a guest speaker, teacher at the onboard cookery school and, of course, baker in the pâtisserie. He has come a long way since landing on British shores as a 21-year-old. After gaining his apprenticeship in Brittany, where he grew up, Eric wanted to head to London for a year to improve his English. ‘I came to live and work in Wandsworth and have been here since. I’ve lived in Wandsworth for 26 years and I love it. The people are cool, it’s so green and there is a great sense of community.’ Eric’s first job was as a chef at Albert and Michel Roux’s Wandsworth pâtisserie. Within a year, he was promoted to head chef. ‘They didn’t care about how old you were. They promoted people based on talent, not experience. When people questioned them for promoting me to head chef at the age of 22, Albert said: “He is the first one here every morning, he is always working, he is very good”. They really looked after their staff. Everyday without fail, Albert would call all of his 15 head chefs from 6am, no matter where he was in the world. It was a courtesy call and he would always begin by saying “Hello dear boy, how are you?”’
It appears the award-winning baker has conquered land and sea. What’s next? Space. ‘It’s every little boy’s dream to go into space. I signed up to Virgin Galactic eight years ago. I’m on Flight 30,’ Eric beams. You already have your flight number, I ask. ‘Yes. Flight 30,’ he repeats. ‘Your flight number is dependent on how quickly you signed up. Just 600 people have signed up worldwide so it is a small, tight community. We get invited to a lot of events and meetings. I’ve been to the Mojave Desert for a few events and I went to the opening of Spaceport America in New Mexico, the home of Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo.’ Eric is expecting to go into space – for a two-and-a-half-hour flight – in about 18 months. ‘That’s what we’ve been told.’
Visit www.cake-boy.co.uk for more about the cafe and cooking classes with Eric from £95-£250.