Sometimes you hear about people going on pilgrimages, and the way that it’s described it’s always a transcendent experience. They often find things, whatever it is they are searching for. Peace, forgiveness, enlightenment, acceptance, understanding. A way of being, a way of seeing, a path.
Now, I’m not a religious person, but I do believe in the journey. My pilgrimages are a little bit different though. Because mine don’t end in a church, or a temple on a hill, or the cave of some divine figure. No, mine end in a bakery. Carmelli in Golders Green, Pavilion, E5, that tiny Jewish place in the Marais that I never found again, the focaccia from the hole in the wall in Sestri Levante – you name it, eventually I will seek and find it.
And so it was that I found myself sitting in Pophams on a sunny Saturday morning. It was meant to be. I had planned to visit after my appointment with the chiropractor, only to find after some serious bone cracking that unbeknownst to me, it was right next door.
At the counter I was hit with a wave of indecision. In truth I panicked, not knowing which pastry would lead me down the right path. I had to give myself a pep talk “Don’t worry, it’s okay, there are no wrong decisions, only right ones, You won’t miss out, you can always come back”. After some deep breathing I settled on two, a savoury and a sweet. I sat at the communal table under hanging plants and opposite a sign saying ‘Give the Joy Back’ and promptly my coffee and pastries arrived. First thing to note – eating two enormous pastries one after the other is excessive. I would not advise it. Second thing to note – I would still endorse it if those pastries were from Pophams, I mean, you’ll feel full, but happy and full.
The first, Butternut squash with feta and sage – the pastry flaked as I bit in to it, revealing sweet pumpkin, perfectly foiled by the salty cheese and herby undertones. The second – a mango and passion fruit custard croissant had a sweet zingy meringue baked atop, while it was still delicious, I did find myself wishing for a little more acidity from the filling, some lemon rind perhaps, or more passionfruit. The pastries are served on the most lovely hand thrown plates, different colours, but complimentary. I’m admiring them when a group of four sit opposite, nine pastries between them, I don’t feel quite as guilty about my two.
I’m sitting next to another girl around my age. She has ordered the hazelnut praline, having traveled from Wimbledon specially after seeing the pastry on Pophams Instagram. We have a lovely chat. She eats her one pastry, I eat my two. We talk about our childhoods, love of food, our lives in London. She says she finds it hard to be alone, I tell her practice makes perfect and about how I actively schedule in alone time. Then, her pastry is finished, I am still working my way through mine, we say our farewells and it occurs to me after she leaves, I have found more than just a delicious pastry. I’d found the good that can only be borne from a genuine, and friendly human connection.
Pophams Bakery – 19 Prebend St, London N1 8PF