Apple Butter Cafe, London W1: ‘Food to make a diabetes doctor sigh anxiously’ – restaurant review

<span>Apple Butter Cafe, London W1: ‘Takes the edge off normal life.’</span><span>Photograph: The Guardian</span>
Apple Butter Cafe, London W1: ‘Takes the edge off normal life.’Photograph: The Guardian

Apple Butter Cafe, which recently opened a second branch at the top of London’s Regent Street, is very much a cafe of its time. Today’s young may be eschewing the vices of yesteryear – booze, ciggies, drugs, etc – but their Achilles heel is sugar. Build a cafe that serves short stacks of chunky, fat pancakes smothered in banoffee syrup and topped with mini meringues, shards of tempered chocolate, quenelles of thick cream and microplaned lemon zest, and they will come. Post a video on TikTok of someone blowtorching said pancake stack, so the meringue browns and gives the whole hot mess a baked alaska vibe, however, and your customers will queue from 8am for the chance to make their own content next to the fake plastic trees “growing” inside the cafe.

Sugar is the most cheerily pernicious of vices. I come from a long line of bingo-winged, eccles cake-addicted Methodist women who wear smock dresses, so I am condemned by my DNA to seek out plentiful bowls of apple crumble pancakes with spiced fruit. No calories are printed on Apple Butter Cafe’s menu – not on the creme brulee french toast nor the croissant butter pudding with custard and pecan nuts. Both dishes, I suspect, would make a diabetes doctor sigh anxiously. That said, one benefit of Apple Butter Cafe’s new Langham Place branch is that it is a mere hop, skip and jump from Harley Street, though those in the medical profession may well see “hopping” as your destiny after too much vanilla cheesecake or saffron milk cake in a custardy puddle strewn with petals.

None of this central London, influencer-friendly theatre is cheap. Mushed avocado on toast has had a bad rap for its wicked role in the housing crisis, so just wait until the grownups find out about Apple Butter Cafe’s black forest pancakes with chocolate sauce, cherry compote and gold powder dusting that cost £14.50 plus service. This wanton expenditure on pure pleasure will send some onlookers berserk, but then, when the world isn’t particularly sweet, sometimes we all need a sharp blast of teeth-chattering, sugary goo. There is something wildly childish and hyper-real about Apple Butter’s daily special pancake offering that seems to take the edge off normal life. My stack of blueberry pancakes consisted of three discs at least an inch thick, all drenched in blueberry syrup and topped with a handful of poached berries and a large slab of Cookie Monster-blue chocolate. The first pancake was delicious, the second was verging on overindulgence and, midway through the third, my mood changed to one of defeat, shame, regret and biliousness. Which is not exactly ideal when the bill for two comes in at more than £80.

That bill creeps up thanks to the likes of fancy sesame lattes at £6.50 and Turkish coffee at £7 a cup. The sesame latte, incidentally, is eerily grey, is served in a beautiful glass and tastes like delicious caffeinated tahini. The turmeric, charcoal and creme brulee lattes are equally pretty and punchily priced. Still, service is perfunctory, the tables are stark and undressed, and the savoury dishes rather uninspiring, so it’s worth noting that breakfast at nearby Claridge’s comes in at roughly the same price, though there they bring the food with the correct amount of forks and spoons, and don’t squirt the tables with spray cleaner mid-service, as if you were in some greasy spoon.

We ordered togarashi scrambled eggs – two eggs on a sesame bagel with a sort of okonomiyaki-style mayo – for £16.50, though the eggs were an omelette rather than scrambled, and I failed to detect the togarashi seven-spice blend anywhere. The £18.50 barbecue beef sandwich was even more surprising, because what came was a hotdog-style brioche bun with a light filling of beefy mush and a side of fries. The plate looked mighty bare when it arrived, so might I suggest a salad garnish to fill all that empty space, and in so doing spare Apple Butter’s blushes?

This special-occasion cafe excels with its elegantly sugary grotesqueness – pancakes with Biscoff, pancakes with Oreos. Oh, and trifle made with acai berries (for health!), topped with cream and custard and served in an aesthetically pleasing retro jar that makes me forgive these blighters for all their crimes. I had eaten all of the daily calorie allowance for a grown woman by 10am, and in 42 minutes flat, too, and spent the rest of the day as a vision of sheepishness and indigestion. Apple Butter Cafe’s pancakes are last supper material. And, if you went every day, that could be sooner than you think.

  • Apple Butter Cafe 4-5 Langham Place, London W1. Open all week, 9am-6pm (with plans to extend to dinner service). From about £35 a head à la carte, plus drinks and service