A few weeks ago I foolishly rocked up an hour after Eric’s opened and left empty-handed. Only opening twice weekly to fierce queues and quick sellouts, this is the hype that surrounds Helen Evans’ recently-opened bakery.
Finally my turn arrived and I saw the array of beautifully golden pastries, fresh sourdough loaves, wholemeal tins, biscuits, buns and doughnuts. The interior is airy with a welcoming ash counter and shelves, minimally dressed with natural wines and speciality flour. Sheaves of wheat hang in decoration paying homage to the hero ingredient. Helen Evans, previously head baker of Flor, has prioritised small scale production where her vision can be executed to her high standards in each and every hand-crafted loaf, pastry and biscuit.
This is a bakery where ego is hung up at the door. As grains are the main ingredient, they are naturally the star of the show. Eric’s feels like a celebration of grain; flour is no longer a blank canvas on which to bestow flavour, here it is the flavour. There is no better example of this than the plain croissant, although the word “plain” is a rather inaccurate descriptor in the croissant I tried. The flour sung loud and proud, the flavour was nutty and roasty, providing incredible depth from an ingredient often relegated to the back bench. The slow ferment and quality flour allow for deeper caramelisation and crispness than a conventional grain counterpart. The cultured butter added a layer of tang and richness.
The kimchi and cheese scroll built on this, also using the laminated croissant dough as a base and a zippy, lively kimchi from The London Fermentary. There was a hint of spice and gingery-garlicky aroma as well as a big kick of sherbet lemon fizz. If this acidic fizziness almost steers you into the realm of sweetness, the rich, umami-giving cheese certainly provides a screeching hand break turn back to savoury town. The melted cheese oozed fat which crisped up the pastry and coated the tongue.
I also indulged in a strawberry and elderflower bostock: a crisp bed of leftover croissant dough scraps topped with strawberry jam and frangipane. It was baked to golden, gooey perfection then topped with strawberries macerated in elderflower syrup. The interaction of frangipane, jam and croissant dough when baked create something magical: caramelised, crisp exterior, gooey in the centre, crunchy and sweet. The strawberries on top added freshness and a beautiful summery aroma only found in the very best seasonal fruit. I should say I didn’t really taste much elderflower but it was delicious regardless.
The doughnut filled with panela custard was light as a feather. Although the look and taste seemed to have an element of wholegrain, as a lot of Eric’s products do, the dough was so airy and pillowy it was unlike any wholegrain bun I’ve had before. The panela custard was smooth and sumptuous.
Helen is a shepherd of ingredients, herding them and nurturing them, ushering them towards their ultimate, delicious form. This feeling of nurturing extends to how you feel as a customer when eating the baked goods; they nourish you, they satiate you. That is, if you are lucky enough to get through the queue and get your hands on them in the first place.
20 Upland Road