Knead is the first of Paul Hollywood’s new strain of bakeries that sell coffee, and which will encircle capitalism. This one is outside Euston station and I think the name — Knead, meaning squashed under fists, specifically Paul Hollywood’s fists — is designed solely to make you think of his big hands. Lots of people who watch The Great British Bake Off like Paul Hollywood’s big hands, and his PR team know it. He could knead Europe away; he could make Britain anything you want it to be. He and Mary Berry (now transformed into Prue Leith after the move from BBC1 to Channel 4) bridge the abyss in the British character. They are dignity and filth. There is much oblivious sex and politics in Bake Off, which is why it is a hit. It is easier to think about these things subliminally. It is soothing.
Euston is the most sullen of London’s railway terminals and this, of course, gives it a sullen charm. You know you can’t go lower; you know who you are. The days when Euston was fronted by a propylaeum of the Doric order — ‘a grand but simple portico’ or ‘grand and very absurd’, depending on who you asked — are over and now we can barely believe it ever stood. Despite Nikolaus Pevsner’s protests, it was pulled down in 1961. Knead is on a small square, opposite Caffè Nero and Ed’s Diner, and it is swamped by concrete, air pollution and people travelling to Birmingham. The view is of buses. It is utterly defeated, a place for adultery and snacks.
Knead is a long, slender shack, the shape of a train carriage. There are pot plants, stools with black cushions, posh light fittings (the ceiling looks like the innards of a robot) and a shelf containing Paul Hollywood’s canon, which I do not think is for sale, and which I will worry about later after I have left Knead. Will they be taken? Knead is written on the wall in huge blue capital letters, like a command. The PR material has a photograph of Paul Hollywood tossing flour around, like a dirty wizard. It is, in design, a splice of a kiosk that sells crisps and fags and a Shoreditch bakery that sells strange and insufferable bread to idiots. I think this is what Paul Hollywood’s soul must look like. It is very strange, and the strangest thing about it is that it appears to have no bin, and there is wrapping everywhere.
I do not know if Hollywood is a purist who was run over by an accountant; in any case, he sells Twirls and Red Bull alongside his baked goods, the most exciting of which is the sausage roll, sold by the inch. This is not subtle: it offers female passers-by an infinite supply of inches of sausage, just as passing sexual innuendo has been designated unfashionable, and wrong.
There is also a photograph of a Cookie Crumble Latte in a cup called ‘Paul’, topped with a big dome of cream dribbled with something sticky, and brown. It’s the same thing that Marco Pierre White used to do, but his seduction was by stock cube: drink the stock cube, or the Cookie Crumble Latte, and experience a faint sensation of having sex with Marco (Mark), or Paul, by osmosis; take your receipt, get on a train, feel soiled. It is quite a lot of sensation for a fiver, I give him that, but the consolations of late capitalism are infinite.
It is, at least, an excellent sausage roll, one to be proud of: heavy and flaky, like this author, and filled with hot, salty, gorgeous pig; add a double espresso, and you might throw up. The chicken and ham pie is also excellent but do not let Hollywood prowl near a vegetable, which in this case is potatoes, in this case mashed. It is simply not his skill; and the same is true of gravy.