Personally, I am a big fan of the Cupcake trend that hit London about four years ago and continues to steamroller on. In four years the number of cupcakes stores has grown exponentially from the original, Hummingbird, to far too many to visit in one weekend of eating. Sadly, one of my favourites Cox, Cookies and Cakes has recently shut down. I was determined to find London's best cupcake and this list is what I discovered along the way.
Location: I headed to original location in Bloomsbury, although there are now four dotted around the capital. The set up is the cutest of the ten I tried. There are seats, and outdoor seating and they serve a really reasonably priced Afternoon Tea. Unlike most of the other places I tried this is a place where they want people to stay.
Chocolate: Despite showing up at close to closing on a Sunday, the cupcakes we tried were great. Our first, Chocolate with Vanilla icing was incredibly moist. This was by no ones imagination a stale cupcake. The chocolate flavour was powerful but thankfully didn't contain massive amounts of sugar, a first. The icing was what really set them apart. It was a whipped cream, icing hybrid. It wasn't overly sugary and because of its hybrid nature was light and not overpowering. Yet, it added a neccessary layer of moisture.
Chocolate and Peanut Butter: All the attributes of the chocolate cupcake. Peanut butter flavour was strong.
Verdict: The winners in the Great Cupcake competition. Bea's were the only place I really wanted to return to.
2) Hummingbird, South Kensington
Cost: £4.75 for two
Location: I visited the South Ken location. Its primarily a take away place with a couple of seats indoors and a few more on the tiny terrace.
Chocolate: Incredibly satisfying. Hummingbird is one of the few places that realise that there is a difference between chocolate and pure sugar. This was heavy on the chocolate flavour and lighter on the sugar. Cake was moist and perfect.
Speciality: Black bottomed, I think this is the cupcake that can cure any emotional heartache. Cream cheese frosting, plus chocolate cake and cheese cake.
Overall: The original, classic, the best I thought until I found Bea's, a very close runner up though.
3) Sweet Couture, Covent Garden
Location: On new row - No space to sit
Chocolate: Brilliant icing, heavy on the chocolate flavour not too sweet. The most moist sponge we found.
Peanut butter and chocolate: Moist, well balanced, creamy icing, but still a little too sweet.
Overall verdict: Beautiful tasty cupcakes, its just a shame that this is a takeaway place and not a cafe
4) Primrose Bakery, Covent Garden
Location: Cute, feels like a tea room, if tiny. Of all the places this was probably the nicest place to stop for a bite and a piece of cake
Chocolate: Very, very chocolatey, but fairly dry cake
Speciality: Chocolate with Vanilla frosting, good frosting on par with Cox, quite light not too sugary.
Overall verdict: The best option in Covent Garden, to meet a friend and have a cupcake, also the cheapest.
5) Lola's, Selfridges
Location: I visited the Selfridges branch, located in the food market, They have seats in an okay location. More of a takeaway branch.
Chocolate: Moister than most in terms of the cake, good chocolate flavour. Okay, not great
Vanilla: Average cupcake, with well flavoured frosting
Verdict: The way they pack cupcakes to go is cute, and despite spending two hours in my handbag they came out relatively unscathed. The fact they come in two sizes sizes is also a plus. If you are desperate for a cupcake and Lola's is near its not a terrible place to stop
6) Crumbs and Doillies, Covent Garden (Thursdays)
Cost: £1 per mini cupcake
Location: Stand in the middle of apple market, these are very much "to go" cupcakes
Chocolate: Very dry cake, but rather good chocolate flavour, not too sweet.
Overall verdict: Nothing memorable, in the "to go" category, Sweet Couture around the corner would be preferable
7) Peggy Porschen, Belgravia
Cost: £2.50 per cupcake
Location: A five minute walk from Sloane Square, the tea room is absolutely gorgeous. Its tiny, but decorated in lovely pastel colours and french furniture.
Chocolate: Weirdly runny and caramel-ey icing, with an okay moist cake. The whole thing was a bit strange and to me didn't work
Black forest Gateau: Wasn't much better. Both went unfinished.
Overall: Where it not for the lovely atmosphere and location this place would be a write-off.
8) Ella's Bakehouse, Covent Garden
Location: Primarily a takeaway place, with a couple of seats to sit at in the heart of Covent Garden
Chocolate: didn't taste like chocolate, tasted like sugar. could have been vanilla, sponge a little dry
Chocolate and Peanut butter: good icing but very sweet icing, overwhelming most of the peanut butter flavour
Overall verdict: Easily the prettiest- rose looking icing with a hint of glitter, a couple of seats to sit at but an overwhelming feeling of sugar as opposed to flavour
9) Peyton and Byrne, Tottenham Court Road
Location: With locations all over London, their newest and the one I visited being in the completely soulless mini Canary Wharf that is the St Giles centre. The set up is adorable, but its location in the entrance of an office building leaves a lot to be desired, especially if the whole place is empty.
Speciality: Peyton and Byrne don't do cupcakes per se, but fairy cakes. They also don't do Vanilla or Chocolate, leaving me to sample one of the other four flavours on offer, Lemon Meringue, Frou Frou (god knows what that is), Raspberry or my choice - Toffee and Banana. The cake its self was disappointing, it was stale, dense and dry. Good frosting could have taken away from this but instead they had gone for icing/cream, in twice the amount of normal fairy cakes, but with half the flavour. The actual flavours were good, the icing tasted impressively of banana, but the whole thing lacked sugar or any pizzazz.
Overall verdict: The failure of the cake was explained as I saw the place closing up, all cupcakes remained in the stand, so presumably next days customers received yesterday's leftovers. Mine certainly tasted like that had happened.
10) Candy Cupcakes, Covent Garden
Cost: £3.50 per cupcake, though they are very large and dense
Location: Basement of Covent Garden, located in a low ceilinged room with vaulted ceilings painted in lurid colours.
Chocolate: The Boyfriend, the bravest of the three of us, took a bite of the revolting looking cupcake, and made a face that could only be described as "WHAT HAVE I DONE?” Flavour wise, it was too artificial and too sugary and physically hard to chew.
Speciality: Blueberry cheesecake. " uh no, no no no no no no this isn't the consistency of a cupcake! Why does it looks like bread ?" Yelled the Sibling after taking the first bite. Why they combine mini eggs work with blueberry cheese cake cupcake I do not know. Why they put acid pink frosting on a blueberry cheese cake cupcake I do not know.
Overall verdict: Why there are three branches of this place, I do not know. Expensive, unattractive and god-awful to eat.
20 cupcakes later, what did I learn?
1) There is monopoly pricing in cupcakes
2) Most cupcakes are not nice
3) A lot of the time, I would have preferred a doughnut
4) This trend needs to stop producing crap places
Please note: This list is in no way exhaustive, nor should it be taken as a guide. All opinions are mine and are not intended to malign any individual, business or organisation. These are just opinions, sometimes my opinions may differ from others and I am in no way an expert in cupcake tasting. I'm sure there are a load of great cupcake places out there that I just failed to visit.