Hand Made Foods (Upstairs)

Tranquil Vale, SE3

We all know how good Hand Made Foods fare is – excruciatingly expensive, of course, but utterly wonderful. That pastry, those tarts, those pies, those salads – every single dish is fabulous – and frankly, for quality this high, I’m happy to push the boat out from time to time.

Only one real problem. Where to sit whilst eating it. The shop is tiny and most of the interior was taken up with – well – food, and the odd bar-place. Outside, the little wooden tables are a wonderful way to while away a lazy half-hour but try getting one. Short of hovering over some poor sod who may or may not be finishing and then fighting off three other would-be munchers with elbows and carrier bags – so uncivilised – only the takeaway option remained.

But what’s the alternative? Expansion? Trouble is, that virtually every expansion I’ve ever witnessed has seen a corresponding contraction in quality. (Has anyone else been to Maison Bertaux since it expanded? Twice the price and half the atmosphere.) First it’s next door, then it’s a small chain, next thing you know it’s become a ‘brand’ and private equity funds are sniffing around (Cue Patisserie Valerie, since we’re sort-of in Soho for this paragraph…) Somehow I feel more abandoned by small, cute companies that have expanded to the point of being stock exchange fodder than the big multinationals that never pretended to be anything else.

Hand Made Foods, happily still a long way from being buyout-ammo, has found a half-way house – albeit only a temporary one. They’ve expanded upstairs. And it’s charming. What was clearly the original shopkeeper’s old front parlour, complete with fireplace and homely feel has been simply painted, given a couple of funky pictures and a few old wooden kitchen tables and mis-matched chairs and opened as an upstairs eating area. The pics are good – I like the circular one above the mantel, though I confess I was sorely tempted to colour-in the oneimmediately above my place – it’s exactly like a giant version of those ‘painting by numbers’ kits you get as a kid.

It’s still a bit of a bunfight to get a seat, but not as bad as it was. I couldn’t decide (as usual) so contrived to eat various pies and pastries vicariously through the people I was with (“Oooh – that one looks amazing, doesn’t it, George…”) and although I was actually brought the wrong item (something I didn’t realise until I bit into it) it was so good I didn’t complain – I’ll just have to have what I originally ordered next time…

The problem is already beginning to resurface though. Even six months after they first opened upstairs, you already have to check there’s somewhere to sit before you make any choices. I just hope they have a third floor.

But the food is as incredible as ever. As one of my companions remarked “It’s the sort of food you’d make yourself if you had the time. And the ingredients. And the energy. And the skill…”

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