Lanka – The Perfect Little Place in Primrose Hill

Lanka
71 Regents Park Road
London NW1 8UY
Website
Map
Note: Lanka is a small cafe with stool seating and three small tables; reservations are not taken

  • Pâtisserie & cakes from £3-4 (eating in) coffees & teas from £2-3 (eating in or taking out), plus a small daily menu of savory dishes from £5-10

I always enjoy paying a visit to Lanka. Their cakes are delicious & technically well made, with new flavors constantly being introduced (often bringing an infusion of Japanese flavors to French classics); their coffees are well made; there is a wealth of tea options; and the growing offering of savory dishes are cooked & presented with the same passion and care as everything else. Lanka is a breath of fresh air and breaks the mold of the High Street pâtisserie chains, bringing a lovely charm and individuality to the already pleasant High Street of Primrose Hill.

A fusion that works

In late February, Mrs. LF and I went for a stroll in Primrose Hill. I noticed that there was a new shop that hadn’t been there last time we were walking in the neighborhood, and my spidey-senses began tingling.

Lanka's muted gray facade, accented with little dots of pink

The place was called Lanka. It had a muted gray facade, and some beautiful pink potted plants neatly placed outside its shop front, immediately setting it apart. I peered in through the window and noticed that it the staff all seemed to be Japanese, but that the main thing on offer seemed to be some very French-looking pâtisserie and cakes. It looked very appetizing and inviting. Intrigued, we decided to step inside to see what this was all about.

The pretty, petite & spotless interior of Lanka

It turned out that Lanka is indeed owned and run by a Japanese man. The proprietor, Chef Masayuki Hara, is originally from Japan and since moving to the UK has worked in some very prestigious kitchens, including the two Michelin starred Le Gavroche. He has worked with a number of chefs over the years as well, such as Antony Worrall Thompson and Richard Corrigan, to name a few. In the early part of the new millennia, he moved into private catering, working for an exclusive company catering to City executives, and has now set up his own high-end catering company. Besides the cafe, Chef Hara offers cookery classes, bespoke private dining, party catering and a range of made-to-order cakes and pâtisserie.

The cafe is very cute, always immaculately clean and the service is good once you can gain the staff members’ attention, as they always seem to be busy helping someone, preparing something, or washing up. Chef Hara has been there himself on each of our visits, and I believe it is always a good sign when the owner is present, especially in such an intimate neighborhood place.

As we guessed from looking at the display from outside, Lanka does indeed specialize in French-style pâtisserie and cakes, many of which have a little twist, often with a Japanese infusion. Since first opening, they have gradually expanded their offering, and now have a small daily menu of savory dishes which are perfect for brunch, lunch or a mid-afternoon snack, as well as having expanded their drink range to include a range of iced tea cocktails (non-alcoholic and alcoholic). They use Monmouth Coffee beans and have an exclusive range of high-end teas (they are apparently the only ones to sell Expolanka Teas in the UK).

It is an inviting, fun and relaxing place to grab a quick bite, whether sweet or savory, and Chef Hara is a perfectionist, which is visible in everything they do. When you eat-in, your chosen slice of sweetness is presented beautifully, with a little dab of syrup or sauce, a side of their rich vanilla ice cream, and a few other tidbits, making for a very pretty plate every time (each sweet is dressed slightly differently, from what I’ve been able to make out). The coffees are made well and their hot chocolate is also good (even the infamous hot chocolate fiend @mathildecuisine gave it the thumbs up!). Their savory offerings are prepared with the same care and lovely presentation, and we really enjoyed our recent brunch there.

I have included some photos and brief descriptions of the different things we’ve had at Lanka over our many visits to give you a better idea of what they serve.

Chocolate Green Tea Gâteau

The green color certainly got our attention and we were curious to taste this interesting looking cake. The texture was very nice although the green tea flavor was fairly muted. The ever-finicky Mrs. LF said that she loves the flavor of green tea and wished it would have been more pronounced in this cake. I agreed with her and thought that while it was nice, it didn’t deliver on the flavor that the color hinted it might have.

Lemon Tart

The classic lemon tart was also very nice and well made, though not earth-shattering. It’s not a lemon tart with a difference, like the little Ottolenghi lemon and mascarpone tarts (probably the best ones I’ve ever had) or the fantastic classic lemon tarts from Clarke’s, but it does the job if that’s what you fancy.

Green Tea Bread & Butter Pudding

This was a Japanese spin on the traditional bread & butter pudding and tasted very good. Having said that, on our most recent visit, Chef Hara had us taste another version of the bread & butter pudding, which had a lovely tartness to it provided by some sultanas and berries, and we both preferred that version – it was really special. It’s this kind of interaction and passion that makes the place worth coming back to – there’s always something different on offer.

Pear Charlotte

The traditional pear charlotte was really excellent and full of the flavor of fresh pears. The consistency was also spot-on, and this one worked particularly well with the side of vanilla ice cream and a dab of acidity from the raspberry sauce.

Paris-Brest

Mrs. LF said that their Paris-Brest was “the real thing,” although the cream itself is traditionally more of a praline-brown color and she prefers hers with slightly more hazelnut flavor. That said, she noted that the homemade puff pastry was very light and excellent. Although it is served with a blob of chocolate on the side (probably simply for decoration), she said she would never deflower her Paris-Brest with an alien ingredient – such a traditionalist, our Mrs LF!

Passion Fruit Bavarois

I really enjoyed this passion fruit dessert and, in fact, preferred it to their lemon tart (which is usually one of my favorite desserts).

Mont-Blanc

On our most recent visit, Mrs. LF sampled the Mont-Blanc, which we had looked at many times in the past but for some reason never ordered. It is a chestnut-based dessert and was fabulous, with the delicate flavor of chestnut being infused well throughout, which is not necessarily easy to achieve as chestnut is not a strong flavor and often doesn’t come through well enough. At its summit was placed a whole chestnut, which is reminiscent marron glacé (a popular confection eaten in France around Christmas time), and there was a second one concealed within. This lent a very nice authenticity to the dessert, which we both really enjoyed.

Rum Baba

The last time I was at Lanka, I sampled their rum baba, which is one of the best I’ve had – even Mrs. LF agreed. Everything was in perfect balance. It was just moist enough, but not too much; the flavor of the rum was noticeable, but not overly so; and the ratio of cream to soft cake was just as it should be. I really enjoyed Chef Hara’s version of this classic dessert, after having been let down many a time in the past with inferior versions in restaurants of all sorts. As Mrs. LF pointed out, even if you don’t particularly like rum baba, it just looks so d*mn good, it’s quite difficult not to want to try some!

Scrambled Eggs, Smoked Salmon, Salad

Mrs. LF really enjoyed her recent brunch. The eggs were nice and creamy and dotted with chopped chives, the smoked salmon had been dressed with capers, and the salad leaves were particularly fresh – something to note given it was a Bank Holiday Monday (when we’ve often had issues with fresh salad leaves in restaurants). As you can see, the portion was also very generous, and it was served with some freshly baked bread on the side.

Cheese Omelette, Baguette, Salad

My cheese omelette was also very nice, presented in a classic style. The homemade baguette was particularly good (especially the crust) and I also enjoyed the little side salad, which had been just coated with dressing and well seasoned.

Macchiato

Double Espresso

Hibiscus Tea

Hot Chocolate

As noted above, the hot chocolate is particularly good, very rich and almost all chocolate with not too much milk. I will direct you to Mathilde Cuisine for any further enquiries, as she is the undisputed master in this arena.

The preparation table

Another thing I like about Lanka is that there is always something baking or being newly prepared, and Chef Hara is constantly experimenting with new flavor combinations. He often lets you sample things he is making to get your feedback, which is a lot of fun.

Even your dog will like it at Lanka :)

Abstaining from the dog biscuits, we instead took home some of their macarons one day & many of the flavors were very nice

Personality goes a long way

Lanka is definitely a great addition to Primrose hill. The word ‘Lanka’ means ‘island’, which I think is fitting in this case as it represents its own little island of cuteness, deliciousness and individuality in this shabby-chic high street. Places like this, which are infused with not only the flavors of the owner’s homeland but also their personality, are a dying breed and I love eateries like Lanka which break the monotony of higher-end chains such as Paul or Patisserie Valerie.

Although you may not feel like trekking all the way across town if you live on the opposite side of London, if you do happen reside in the general vicinity or are ever passing through, definitely stop by this delightful island of loveliness.

PS – Chef Hara has his own blog, which you may want to check out.

*Note: I have been to Lanka four times since it opened, mostly for sweets and coffee, but once for brunch.*

Lanka on Urbanspoon

Dinner for 5 at Home – Courtesy of Ottolenghi & the French Countryside

Mrs. LF and I invited three good friends over for dinner on Friday. She did all of the cooking – unfortunately, not much new there – although I was working all day. We had a wonderful evening, which was part inspired by Ottolenghi and part inspired by the French countryside. Not a bad combination, I say!

The starter was directly from the Ottolenghi cookbook, which my wife swears is the best cookbook she has ever bought, and I can attest to the results – bloody excellent every time, and she’s made about 10 recipes so far.

The dish she chose was ‘Chargrilled asparagus, courgettes and manouri’, although we substituted halloumi for the manouri cheese as we can’t find it nearby our place. Although it looks like a simple salad, as with many of Ottolenghi’s recipes, there is more to it than meets the eye, and it did require quite a bit of prep work, and had a lot more ingredients than you would imagine…but that’s what makes their food so tasty, memorable and recognizable.

The Ottolenghi went down a treat

The Ottolenghi salad went down a treat

A close-up of the deceivingly simple salad

A close-up of the deceivingly simple salad

As an aperitif and to go with the starter, I had selected a slightly chilled Georges Deboeuf 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau, which was really excellent (you can get it at Whole Foods for a discount right now).

The Georges Dubeuf 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau (Cuvee Speciale) was light, fruity and highly quaffable, just as a good Nouveau should be - nice and light with the salad

The Georges Duboeuf 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau (Cuvee Speciale) was light, fruity and highly quaffable, just as a good Nouveau should be - nice and light with the salad

The main course was made possible by Mrs. LF’s cousin, whose parents own a large country home in France and whose mother grows her own vegetables and keeps her own chickens. She stayed with us a few week’s ago and brought a freshly slaughtered chicken in her bag on the Eurostar (how do they allow this, I know?!), so we had been keeping it in the freezer to bring out for a special night with more than just the two of us…as it was one big bird.

The chicken was very ‘free range’, as you could tell when you saw the joints and bones, which were larger and darker than any chicken you can get in UK supermarkets. The meat was also generally darker and a bit tougher than a UK supermarket chicken, which is the way it should be, and it really had a great flavor running through it. As usual, Mrs. LF had roasted it to perfection, with the skin thin and very crispy, and the bird moist throughout. It was served with fresh green beans, roasted potatoes (which is a secret recipe from her mom) and garnished with roasted garlic and a mish-mash of apples, onions and such. Delish!

The properly 'free range' chicken smuggled in from France, all set and ready to go!

The properly 'free range' chicken smuggled in from France, all set and ready to go!

A close-up of Mrs. LF's main course

A close-up of Mrs. LF's main course

We still had some Pouilly Fumé left over from our wedding earlier this year, and thought it would go nicely with the chicken, which it did. To me, it had the trademark ‘cat piss’ smell on the nose, and was very citrusy and acidic, which cut through the sweetness of the fruit/onion accompaniments and melded well with the bird.

2007 Pouilly Fumé, Domaine del Bel Air (Mauroy Gauliez): sharp citrus flavor with good minerality and acidity, a good compiment to the chicken

2007 Pouilly Fumé, Domaine del Bel Air (Mauroy Gauliez): sharp citrus flavor with good minerality and acidity, a good French compliment to French the chicken

The dessert was also an homage to Ottolenghi, and was a re-creation of what is probably our favorite of their desserts, the dangerous and renowned lemon and marscapone tart. This was Mrs. LF’s first attempt at making pastry and it turned out well overall. One of the secrets to this tart – and, by the way, they don’t tell you how to directly make this dessert in their book, but do give you the three processes of pastry, lemon curd and marscapone cream in different places throughout the book (!) – is the lemon zest in the pastry shell and the subtle crunchiness (maybe of semolina) that it has when you buy it in the store. It didn’t turn out as an exact copy of the version you can buy in their shops, but it was still darn tasty. I will  let the picture do the talking here – ’nuff said!

A re-creation of the famed Ottolenghi lemon & marscapone tart

A re-creation of the famed Ottolenghi lemon & marscapone tart

Our guests wanted a dessert wine, and unfortunately I didn’t have one that would work with the lemon tarts in my little faux cellar (and Mrs. LF said I was not to buy anymore wine, as she wants us to drink what we have first…urgh!).

In any case, we opened a bottle of some really lovely white sweet wine that we found on our travels to Switzerland last year around Christmas time. We had a remarkable Swiss Syrah wine when having a steak at the legendary Café de Paris in Geneva, and liked it so much that we hunted down the winemaker (Bernard Coudray of Domaine La Tourmente) and set up an appointment to go and visit him in the Valais canton the next day, even though he was officially shut :). We bought some of the Syrah, some of a red blend which is the only one he ages in oak, and some of this, the very fruity and acidic Johannisberg. While it didn’t go with the tart (way too acidic and therefore cancels out the fruit taste of the wine), it was still nice to have, and I drank it more as an after-dessert drink.

2007 Chomoson Johannisberg (La Tourmente): one of the nicer little sweet wines I've had in a while - but good luck finding it outside of Switzlerand (they only export 3% of their wine!)

2007 Chomoson Johannisberg (La Tourmente): one of the nicer little sweet wines I've had in a while - but good luck finding it outside of Switzlerand (they only export 3% of their wine!)

Well, after that we finished up with a digestif of Thunder toffee vodka (I know, a bit strange, but we had bought some at Taste of London and wanted to see how it was), which had been in the freezer for days. It definitely tastes more like vodka than toffee, but it does have a subtle burnt caramel taste to it…not bad.

All in all, it was a wonderful way to end the week and usher in the weekend :).

A Very Sunny Saturday

Banger Bros on a Sunny Day in Portobello Market

Banger Bros on a Sunny Day in Portobello Market

Saturday in London was beautiful – so sunny and bright!  Around lunchtime, we got the urge for hot dogs, and as we were driving quite close to Portobello Market, the suggestion of Banger Bros, a hot dog/sausage specialist, came to our minds very quickly.  Once there, we were lucky to get one of the few seats in the little place, and we ordered one of ‘The British Banger’ and one of ‘The Cumberland’ sausages.
The British Banger with Aoli - Very Tasty!

The British Banger with Aoli - Very Tasty!

The British Banger (above) was the better of the two for me, as the sausage was packed with flavor and the aoli underneath it was well done.  Being American, I had to add ketchup and mustard on top too, just for good measure ;-).

The Cumberland - Unfortuantely Looks Better than it Tastes

The Cumberland - Unfortuantely Looks Better than it Tastes

The Cumberland looked like it would be the better of the two, but although the fried onions were as good as they looked, the sausage itself didn’t have very much flavor and also didn’t quite suit a hot dog bun – to me it tasted more like it should be with two eggs and some hash-browns.

Banger Bros. on Urbanspoon

As we were only a short walk away from Westbourne Grove, we couldn’t help but being tempted by the allure of Ottolenghi, which in my opinion has some of the best cakes in London.

Ottolenghi on Urbanspoon

Storefront of Ottolenghi in Westbourne Grove / Notting Hill

Storefront of Ottolenghi in Westbourne Grove / Notting Hill

We had our favorite – the lemon and mascapone tart – and also tried a summer fruit tart, which was also excellent.

As Homer Simpson Says...Mmmmmm....

As Homer Simpson Says...Mmmmmm....

After that, we were stuffed, and headed home for a nap!

What a wonderful lazy Saturday…