In 2013, Dominique Ansel’s New York bakery started selling a croissant-doughnut hybrid, which he called the Cronut.
Nine days later, he’d registered the pastry’s name and crowds of people were queueing around the block to try the odd new delicacy. Now the super-baker has brought his brand, and his Cronuts, to London.
The store opened today but fans had started gathering at the Belgravia branch at 5am. So like any self-respecting Londoner, ready to believe the hype and pay through the nose to be part of a trend, I headed down to the bakery to try a Cronut myself.
Here’s what I learned.
1. The creator of Cronuts isn’t just a baker. He’s a superstar
The hunky young chef is just as appealing as his pastries. When he did make an occasional appearance behind the counter, flocks of young fans crowded him for autographs and selfies.
He looked as comfortable cuddling up with pastry-lovers for pictures as he did in the bakery’s open kitchen, and you do get the impression that the brand relies as much on his charisma as anything else. With successful bakeries in Tokyo and New York off the back of the Cronut, he must be doing something right.
2. This is a phenomenon that fully owes its success to Instagram
Most people I spoke to were only there because they followed Ansel on the picture-sharing social network favoured by millennials. At the time of writing, there were 170,225 pictures tagged #Cronut on the site, and at this morning’s opening, crowds were photographing the queue, inside the store once they’d got in, and of course, the Cronuts themselves.
3. Britons really will queue for anything
When Ansel and his Cronut were on the cover of the Wall Street Journal yesterday, the Americans quipped that Londoners would love the queuing culture he’d cultivated at his New York bakery. Well, we really did. At one point it rained and umbrellas were handed out. Conversation flowed and friends were made - everyone was appropriately embarrassed to be there, and yet still ready to protect their neighbours from the dreaded queue-jumper. It was really rather lovely.
4. Students are the only people who can afford to spend hours in line for an overpriced croissant
Most people there were students, holiday-makers or those working above the bakery who’d been watching the queue from their office windows. Who else has the time to queue for two hours for pastries?
5. This definitely isn’t Bake Off
Sales of baking paraphernalia are up since the show hit our screens in 2010, but you’d be mistaken in thinking this national obsession has anything to do with the Cronut’s success. The only thing the two share is a copious amount of calories.
The homely “keep calm and carry on” feel of baking in a marquee in the English countryside is about as far as you can get from queueing for an exclusive £4-a-pop pastry in the heart of Belgravia.
And Ansel’s tastes aren’t very Bake Off either. I can’t really picture Mary Berry enjoying Welsh Rarebit Croissant (£3.75), Frozen S’mores or Banoffee paella (both £6).
6. Accept no Cronut imitations
One student whispered to me that after he’d had the real deal in Tokyo at Ansel’s other bakery he’d tried knock-offs in Sydney, but they just weren’t the same. Wiley members of the public have even been known to sell New York Cronuts online. It’s not a good idea to buy food from strangers on the black market.
But it just goes to show, this wasn’t just any old pastry we were queueing for. Ansel’s trademarked Cronuts can’t be made by anyone else.
7. They’re actually really, really good
One and three quarter hours in, I did start to wonder whether they would be any good. But that was probably queue fatigue creeping in, because of course, they tasted amazing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Cronut offers all the crumbly benefits of a croissant with the doughy sweetness of a doughnut.
Sweet doesn’t really cover it - this month’s salted butterscotch and cocoa nib edition felt like several day’s worth of sugar. There’s a two Cronut limit, but selling you any more would probably constitute a health hazard.
You might also like: Six of the best quiches in London