The Prada Café is both a cake shop and a historical inevitability. It sits on Mount Street, almost opposite the Connaught hotel, and between what used to be Nicky Clarke’s hairdressing salon and a luggage shop so expensive it has a queue outside. People are queuing up to explore late capitalism through the prism of luggage but, that aside, they seem quite disinterested in the world around them. Perhaps they are marvelling at their own stupidity in yearning for a £1,000 bag with no zip.
The Prada Café is a nickname. Its real name is Patisserie Marchesi 1824 and it travelled from Italy to the silliest part of Mayfair to join the vogue for fashion cafés in London. There is already a fashion café at Burberry, one at Ralph Lauren and one at the Berkeley, which, having nothing better to do, sells biscuits that look like shoes.
It is, of course, very pretty — Prada pretty, which means the kind of prettiness that appeals to hebephiles, all knee socks and satchels and lollies (and it is less like other bakeries — say Greggs) than like Prada itself, a brand which fetishises children with the pitiless eyes of a crone. I can never look at Prada clothes without thinking of Elizabeth Báthory, but I am not that interested in skirts.
The café is a child’s vision of ecstasy, a pantomime in sugar breathed out by Frances Hodgson Burnett, but with Art Deco, which is crueller. The exterior is late imperial red brick, with black metal; the interior is glass cabinets, brass finishes and cold pink sugar. The floors are marble, the mirrors are clean, the chairs are mossy green. It is exquisite, and because it is a fashion café, it is more fashion than café. They do not eat sugar here the way normal people do. I doubt there is a doughnut within miles. The food does not cater to greed; that is not what it is for. Rather, it matches the clothes.
So it is pretty too: a tiramisu, which I expect to bulge around its plate like a moon, is the neatest I have found, a size 0 tiramisu if you will. A plain vanilla cake sits obediently under its perfectly pink icing with white Art Deco motif. It is not exciting. It is too controlled for that.
The customers seem quite angry, but rage is to be expected: who knew re-upholstering everything wouldn’t save you? I sit next to an ancient couple who are very rude to the waitress, who is charming — the male waiters aren’t — and is dressed like a woman poised to mount a glockenspiel. When my companion, a shouty Jew shouting about Jews, comes in they wince, curl their fingers and leave. But fashion is a visual medium.
The prices are astounding, even for Mayfair. They make the luggage shop — it’s Goyard, and I say that to irritate Goyard, which likes to be ‘mysterious’ for marketing purposes — look serious. A finger sandwich of tomato and cheese — a third of a sandwich, perhaps even a quarter, but I am reluctant to brandish a tape measure in here — is £9. That would make a full sandwich £27 or even £36, but I don’t ask. The last time I asked a fashion person a question — ‘Where is the loo?’ at the Valentino couture show in Paris — I was surrounded by fashion people wondering how I had breached the temple.
A small box of small Smarties, here called ‘Small Chocolate Lentils’ (for Smarties are fat) — is £10. An omelette is £18. And on and on, a vast and lovely confidence trick offering beauty but no more. It is faultless. It is delicious. It has everything you seek in food but warmth.