Lily Vanilli’s tiny café off east London’s Columbia Road has long been a site of pilgrimage for those hungry to fill their cake holes. Known for her Marie Antoinette-aesthetic, Vanilli was the first of her kind (there are now many Instagram bakers with a similar look), and with friends like Daisy Lowe and Charlie Howard she ticks the socialite box too.
In short, opening a full-on Lily Vanilli experience was always going to be a big thing. The setting is the Theatre Royal Drury Lane ('the oldest theatre site in continuous use), with afternoon tea held upstairs in the Grand Saloon, redecorated in Regency pastels for the occasion. As you walk in, huge chandeliers dangle from the ceiling and reflect glittering light across the walls as you sink into a large velvet chair. It’s a scene fit for Bridgerton.
Vanilli has succeeded in putting her own stamp on this classic English tradition, so you won’t see any cucumber sandwiches on the menu. Instead, the savouries include a madeleine with Lapsang-souchong glazed salmon with pickled fennel and caviar; a goats cheese and pickled beetroot canelé; and a Lily Vanilli sausage roll. The canelé’s light texture and sweet sponge contrast with the richness of its cheese topping - and the fresh bite of beetroot is a real highlight.
For dessert, Vanilli does what she does best. The pink lemonade tart with elderflower jelly is adorable, while the sticky toffee pudding is literally dripping with salted caramel, which says it all. It’s a slice of dark chocolate cake, decorated with baby blue icing and a chocolate cherub that really brings the whole experience home.
For the grand finale, watch as an ornate ice cream trolley is wheeled across the floor, presenting silver, shell-shaped dessert bowls for a perfectly formed scoop of Absinthe ice cream. The experience is undoubtedly charming, but you’ll have to make up your own mind on whether alcoholic ice cream is for you.