What It Is: Having lunch at London’s Violet Cakes and ordering an Amalfi Lemon and Elderflower cake, the same flavor Meghan Markle and Prince Harry had at their wedding in 2018. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s daughter Lilibet had her first birthday party in Windsor this summer, and proprietor Claire Ptak created a version for the celebration.
The Person Who Tried It: PEOPLE News Director Marissa Charles
Since I was born and raised in East London, the fact that the woman responsible for Lilibet’s first birthday cake lives in Hackney piqued my interest. Even if it’s hip and gentrified now, when I was a kid in the ’80s the neighborhood was blighted by crime and poverty that dulled the area’s vibrant culture, art, and sense of community. Therefore, it filled me with immense satisfaction to learn that a royal baker was located in my former community. Of course, I promised myself that I would go there on my next trip to London.
The Amalfi Lemon and Elderflower cake that Meghan and Harry loved so much they had the California native prepare for their wedding and again for their daughter Lilibet’s birthday party four years later was at the top of my list of things to try.
Violet Cakes provides two options for anyone hoping to replicate their success. You can pre-order that specific flavor of cake, along with many others. A variety of savory dishes and sweet pastries and baked goods are available for lunch at the café. This was a conscious decision on my part.
To get started, all you had to do was a few basic things. After navigating to the Cake Orders page, I looked through the Celebration Cake Menu until I found the Amalfi Lemon and Elderflower option. The lowest size (six inches, serving six people) is marketed as £55 (about $66) because it is considered a “deluxe cake.” (The eight-inch version, which serves 12, costs £82; the 10-inch version, which serves 20-30, costs £137, or $100 or $167.)
Since there is no assurance that they will still have any of the Amalfi Lemon and Elderflower cake when you come, I decided to order the smaller, six-inch size to ensure that I wouldn’t miss out on trying it.
I’m really happy that I did. I hope Meghan, Harry, and Claire don’t take this as an insult, but I’ve never been a fan of lemon and elderflower cake. Since I am an unabashed chocoholic, anything that isn’t chocolate (and by that I mean dark, rich, gooey, verging on horribly sweet!) is simply not real to me. The menu describes this Sussex staple as “three layers of vanilla sponge sprinkled with elderflower syrup and filled with Amalfi lemon curd,” and I was determined to find out why it was so well regarded. Lemon buttercream “scented with the juice and zest of lemons” covers the exterior. A garnish of chopped candied lemon peel is a classy accent.
Rory Brooks, general manager of Violet, claims that the Sussexes opted for that flavor profile so that they could create “something authentically British.” In fact, it was even better than I had hoped. The sponge wasn’t overly fluffy, but it was still quite light. The lemons from Italy’s Amalfi Coast gave the entire cake a subtle, refreshing citrus flavor. The lemon curd was almost fizzy, and the light buttercream toned out any excess.
It had the flavor of a traditional British summer. Picnics and sandwiches with chilled glasses of ginger beer or lemonade, children’s books by Beatrix Potter and Enid Blyton.
I took my mom, Helena, out to lunch at this cute little café not far from the clinic where she used to work as a school nurse back in the day. The once-garage-turned-hippie-outside haven’s patio is shaded by trees and seems like it belongs in a quaint French town. However, it is hidden on the unremarkable Wilton Way.
It’s in a great location, just next to a modest council (affordable housing) estate, and that’s why I really like it. Rory claims that nobody in the café would suspect that Meghan has ever set foot inside.
I could not resist getting chocolate cupcakes. My mouth is still watering for those even after a few weeks. It is impossible for me to put into words how flawless they were. Violet Cakes is a must-try only for the pure chocolate flavor; it’s strong, creamy, and decadent. One bite contained a lot of flavor without being overpowering.
A cup of coffee or English morning tea was the perfect way to cap off a relaxing afternoon in London.
The Final Say:
Whether you’re just passing through or a resident who hasn’t heard of Violet Cakes yet, you should definitely stop by. Customers are a cross-section of contemporary Hackney, including parents with strollers, artists at their computers, and the occasional curious tourist.
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Ptak’s bakery has been here since 2010, so I asked Brooks why she chose this area to open shop.
He described the neighborhood as “extremely dynamic.” “What a beautiful thing. One gets a sense of calm and openness to variety and alteration. The mood is one of eagerness to experiment.” In thinking about the extraordinary structure, he said, “This is a stunning location. It has a distinctly Californian vibe.”
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