August 1, 2019
A chocolate glazed sphere, about the size of a snooker ball, and just as smooth. It looked almost too perfect to demolish. Almost. One satisfying thwack with a spoon later and it cracked open to reveal swirls of colourful sponge and cream. And it tasted amazing.
I was visiting Eric Lanlard’s pâtisserie in south London to find out more about the culinary superstar. After all, his fabulous afternoon teas are now on our Clubhouse and onboard menus, transforming our flights from London to the USA. But before we find out more about Eric and his incredible skills, let’s go back in time to discover the origins of this most traditional of treats.
We’ve all had that feeling. Getting a bit peckish with way too long to go until dinner. The mid-afternoon munchies. It was one such afternoon in 1840 that Anna, Duchess of Bedford, asked for a pot of tea, a sandwich (which had handily been invented a few years earlier by the famous Earl) and some cake to be sent to her room. And this was the birth of one of our favourite things: the quintessential British tradition, afternoon tea. Word quickly spread in Victorian London society and before too long, afternoon tea had evolved into a sophisticated event. The food became fancier, the displays and settings more elaborate. If only Instagram had been around in the 19th century!
Meanwhile, on the other side of the English Channel, the 1800s were a time of great discoveries in the burgeoning world of bakers’ confectionary. Brioche, ganache and French pear tarts all became wildly popular during this period. But it wasn’t until 1919 that the first professional courses were launched for pastry chefs and the pâtisserie was born.
Growing up in Pomelin in Brittany, France, a tiny village with three patisseries, Eric became fascinated by the art and craft of the pastry chef. He was soon baking at home, while at school he picked up the nickname that was to become his trademark: Cake Boy. Eric trained as a pâtissier, in France, became a chocolatier in Luxembourg, and cooked for French President François Mitterand while serving his national service in the French Navy. He then moved to the UK where he joined the Roux brothers as a pastry chef, before opening his own business on the banks of the River Thames – the refined, modern and appropriately named Cake Boy. Over his remarkable career, Eric has garnered a long list of celebrity customers including the late Queen Mother, Madonna and David Beckham. He’s appeared as a judge on the BBC’s popular Masterchef series, written several books and won countless awards, so it goes without saying his interpretation of afternoon tea is an extraordinary sensory feast.
"I've always been attracted to pastries because I like the artistic flair behind it. At the same time, I like how you have to be precise and follow strict rules. It's not really cooking. It's more like chemistry"' Eric Lanlard
Want to experience Eric’s sublime afternoon tea for yourself? Let us count the ways:
Set next to the Thames in Battersea, Eric Lanlard’s ‘cake boutique’ Cake Boy is made up of four sections:
A cooking school where you can learn from the master himself on an evening or full-day course, and come away able to make your own elegant desserts and cakes.
The shop, which sells everything from Eric’s world-class macarons to savoury baguettes and high-end teas. You can also buy one of Eric’s books, and he’s usually around to sign it too.
The café, where afternoon tea is served. With its chandeliers, bright colours and plush leather seats, the designer boutique vibe conveys a genuine sense of occasion. Even the toilets are worth a mention. Described by Eric as ‘disco glitter’ with a soundtrack to match, they’re a stark contrast to the cool café and a sure contender for the most fabulous loos in London.
The kitchen, where the magic happens. Here’s where Eric gets most animated as he describes the selection of tools used to create his masterpieces. They range from the humble piping bag to an advanced high-tech freezer continuously monitored over the internet from the manufacturers’ headquarters in Amsterdam.
As mentioned above, the other way to experience Eric’s genius is at 38,000 feet, on board one of our flights from London to the USA. With a special menu created to be tasty at altitude (where tastes change and where citrus flavours are used to enhance the sweetness of chocolate) our Eric Lanlard afternoon tea is served in Economy, Premium and Upper Class. Served with a traditional scone, cream and jam, the service is getting rave reviews from our customers.