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What It Is: Lunch at Violet Cakes in London, including an order of Amalfi Lemon and Elderflower cake, the flavor that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry chose for their royal wedding day in 2018. Owner Claire Ptak also baked a version for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's daughter Lilibet's first birthday party in Windsor this summer.
Who Tried It: Marissa Charles, PEOPLE News Director
As a Brit raised in East London, when I discovered that the woman who baked Lilibet's first birthday cake is based in Hackney, I was intrigued. The area may be trendy and gentrified now, but when I was growing up in the 1980s, its color, culture, art and community spirit were marred by crime and poverty. So, I was bursting with pride to hear that a royal baker was based in my old neighborhood. Naturally, I vowed to visit it during my next London trip.
At the top of my list of things to taste was the Amalfi Lemon and Elderflower cake that Meghan and Harry loved so much, that they asked the California native to bake it for their wedding day and again for their daughter Lilibet's birthday party four years later.
MARISSA CHARLES Violet's Amalfi Lemon and Elderflower Cake.
Anyone wanting to do the same should note that Violet Cakes offers two services. You can order ahead to have that cake (or a variety of other flavors) specially made. Or you can have lunch at the café itself, choosing from a range of savory dishes, sweet pastries and baked goods. I chose to do both.
The first step was simple. I clicked on the Cake Orders page on the website and scrolled through the Celebration Cake Menu to find the Amalfi Lemon and Elderflower option. It's listed as a "deluxe cake," which means that the smallest size (six inches, serving six people) costs £55 (roughly $66). (The eight-inch, serving 12 costs £82, and the 10-inch, serving 20 to 30, is £137 or $100 and $167 respectively.)
Given that there is no guarantee that they will have a slice of the Amalfi Lemon and Elderflower cake left when you visit, I thought it was wise to just go ahead and order the six-inch version so that I wouldn't miss my chance to taste it.
MARISSA CHARLES News Director Marissa Charles and her mother Helena at Violet Cakes.
And I'm very glad that I did. No offense to Meghan, Harry or Claire, but truth be told a lemon and elderflower cake would not be my go-to flavor. I'm a proud chocoholic, so if it's not chocolate (and I mean, deep, rich, gooey, bordering on sickly sweet!), as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't exist. But I was committed to seeing what was so amazing about this Sussex favorite that the menu describes as "three layers of vanilla sponge drizzled with elderflower syrup and filled with Amalfi lemon curd." The outside is covered in buttercream "scented with the juice and zest of lemons." Chopped, candied lemon peel adds an elegant decorative touch.
According to Rory Brooks, Violet's general manager, the Sussexes chose that flavor profile because they wanted to make "something really British." Truly, it surpassed all my expectations. The sponge was light, without being too fluffy and airy. The lemons from the Amalfi Coast of Italy infused the entire cake with a pure citrus taste, without being overwhelming. The lemon curd almost had a fizz to it, while the delicate buttercream helped to tame any potential overkill.
MARISSA CHARLES The Amalfi Lemon and Elderflower cake and a chocolate cupcake.
It tasted of a quintessential British summer. Of Beatrix Potter and Enid Blyton children's novels, of picnics and sandwiches washed down with glasses of cold ginger beer or lemonade.
My mother, Helena, and I had lunch at the café, which is just a stone's throw away from the health center where she worked as a school nurse many years ago. The bohemian building (once a garage), with an outdoor patio nestled under trees, wouldn't seem out of place in a French village. Yet it's tucked away on the non-descript Wilton Way.
What I love about it is that it's at the heart of the community, sitting opposite a humble council (affordable housing) estate. You would never know that Meghan herself has paid the café a visit, according to Rory.
MARISSA CHARLES Marissa and Helena ordered the avocado on toast and a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch.
Mum ordered whole avocado on toast with olive oil, chili, lime, and salad leaves. Meanwhile, I had a cheddar, Stilton, and kimchi "toastie." They were the perfect dishes to share — the cool, creamy avocado chunks from Mum's order and the tart, tangy, crunch of my fancy grilled cheese sandwich. The fact that the ingredients are organic and locally sourced made the experience even more special.
Of course, I had to order the chocolate cupcakes. Weeks later, I'm still salivating over those. I cannot communicate how perfect they were. The intense, rich, pure chocolatey flavor alone, makes Violet Cakes a must-visit. It was hearty, without being sickly, packing a lot of taste into one small bite.
An order of English breakfast tea and a cup of coffee offered a perfect end to a pleasant London afternoon.
Whether you're a tourist or a local who has yet to discover Violet Cakes, the café is well worth a visit. The clientele reflects modern Hackney — parents with their toddlers and strollers, creatives working over laptops, with the odd tourist popping in to check out the neighborhood.
MARISSA CHARLES Violet Cakes in Hackney, London.
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I asked Brooks why Ptak set up her bakery (which has been open in this location since 2010) in this neighborhood.
"It's a very vibrant area," he said. "It's lovely. It feels relaxed, welcoming to difference, to change. It feels eager to try new things." Reflecting on the unique building, he added, "It's a beautiful spot. It feels like a slice of California."