With no clock to watch, Katie Richardson takes time to explore a familiar favourite’s menu

YOU can never beat coffee and cake. It’s a magical combination that I take every opportunity to indulge in. So it’s no surprise then that when a new branch of Patisserie Valerie opened in the heart of Durham, I was eager to review it.

My previous experience of this indulgent cake store has normally been at King's Cross train station where I always make a point of collecting a finely boxed slice of cake for my journey.

I was excited to get the chance to take my fiancé Ali to this new branch with the option of sitting down and soaking up the atmosphere. It also gave us the chance to see what else was on the menu and try lunch – something I never thought I would be having there.

When we arrived we had to wait to be seated, which is never a bad thing as it saves the usual split of one person trying to find a seat and another going to order. We were taken upstairs to a light and airy space but unfortunately not asked if we were having just cake or lunch so were shown to a really low table with two tub chairs. We soon moved ourselves to a standard table, though, and it wasn’t long before the waiter came to take our order. I decided to order the quiche of the day (Lorraine) with potato salad and salad garnish (£7.97) along with a mango dream fruit smoothie (£4.05).

Ali was his usual hungry self and decided to combine a starter and main by ordering both the soup of the day with fresh bread (£5.10) and the croque monsieur with ham, Emmental cheese and topped with Gruyere cheese Bechamel (£6.10).

I was expecting my quiche to come in a slice but was surprised to see it as more of a tart, although I wasn’t complaining as the pastry was thick and crumbly – just the way I like it – and they hadn’t scrimped on any of the filling.

The potato salad was as good as you’d find anywhere and complemented the pastry and salad but I couldn’t finish it as I was worried about encroaching on the all important dessert space.

Ali on the other hand was but too eager to get stuck into his. I tried his tomato and basil soup which was just the right texture and had a good balance between the flavours.

His bread was lightly toasted and because of the way it was sliced was excellent for dipping.

His croque monsieur – a posh toastie, basically – was also well presented and provided a cheese-lovers heaven as they all melted together with the ham.

Now for the main event: cake and coffee.

I’d being trying to eye up the different cakes in the large counter downstairs when we first came in but decided to let Ali pick for me as he went down to choose his.

In the end he ordered two of the chocolate gateaux slices (£3.95 each) as well as my traditional vanilla latte (£3.20) and a hot chocolate with cream for himself (£3.45).

My latte was as expected but came in a mug rather than the usual tall glass but there seemed to be a change for Ali as he usually enjoys the company’s hot chocolate because of how thick and "chocolately" it is but even I had to admit it was very watery and not as good as one we could have made from a packet at home.

That said, I was oozing with excitement when these three-tiered desserts were served.

They looked magnificent in their traditional Patisserie Valerie wrappers and were everything I had hoped for with soft sponge, creamy chocolate filling – and did I mention three layers?

To add to the decadence, each was topped with a cream-filled profiterole and sprinkled with chocolate powder.

Ali devoured his but unfortunately I only managed to eat the profiterole and about a quarter of the slice as my quiche had caught up with me.

It was not in vain though as the waiter was quite happy to box my remaining cake up for me to take home and I enjoyed it later that night when the dessert space was free again.

As for the ambience of the place, considering it is a new store, I found it lacking in the relaxed atmosphere I had expected.

The staff seemed flustered, especially as they kept having to run up and down stairs for cake and hot drinks, and generally took quite a while to take and deliver orders.

This could just be teething problems, though, and I would be willing to visit again – though perhaps I’ll just stick to the coffee and cake next time, something Patisserie Valerie does best.

Patisserie Valerie

38 High Street, Prince Bishops Shopping Centre, Durham DH1 3UL

Tel: 0191-374-1683. Web: patisserie-valerie.co.uk/durham

Food served Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm; Saturday, 9am to 7pm; Sunday, 9.30am to 6pm.


Food quality: 3/5

Surroundings: 3/5

Value: 3/5

Service: 3/5