An insight into the Norfolk Street Bakery

Baking Bad Image credit: Stella Pereira
Adília in her natural habitat Image credit: Stella Pereira

When I sit down with Adília Frazão, head baker of the Norfolk Street Bakery, she admits to feeling rather tired. “I got up at one in the morning. Saturday is my busiest day”. She nonetheless obliges me with an interview.

Adília began baking as a child in her native Portugal, when every Saturday the households of her mountain village would stoke their wood ovens and bake bread for the rest of the week. Her elderly grandmother had a tough time kneading the dough, so as an eleven year old girl she was drafted in to help her.

Now Adília runs a little gem of a bakery on Norfolk Street in a Victorian terrace house that has served as a bakery since 1868. Adília shows me some old photographs and a copy of the original lease made out to the first baker here, a certain George King who sported a fearsome bushy beard and beret. There is still a certain Victorian charm to the bakery today, with its ornate fire place and an enormous old gas oven in the kitchen, although the latter is far too big and expensive to run these days.

The bakery is always busy, with its baskets of bread emptying quickly. Adília tells me how her range has expanded to ten varieties. “I would introduce a special loaf of the week, and then people got upset when I stopped serving it.”

When I ask whether her cuisine is primarily Portuguese or British she tells me “it's a mix of everything”. Perhaps her most popular item is a national food of Portugal: Pastel de Nata (custard tarts). “It's difficult to get right. The oven needs to be very hot to make the puff pastry crispy whilst keeping the inside creamy”. The home-made custard filling has an extraordinary melt-in-the-mouth texture. She lays the tarts out in serried ranks in the window but they go quickly, she can sell one hundred of these tarts on a good Saturday.

There are also the savoury pastries, with sausage rolls, Rissóis de Camarão and miniature fish cakes. I try a Rissol (shrimp croquette), a Portuguese delicacy with the strange appearance of a miniature dumpling covered in bread crumbs. The casing has a leathery texture, wrapping a delicious smooth and spicy prawn filling.

The Norfolk Street Bakery is a comforting case when set against the bleak picture nationally for the declining artisanal bakeries squeezed by the competition from supermarkets and plant bakeries. Whereas in France and much of Europe artisanal bakers account for the majority of the bread market in terms of value, in the UK it is only 5% of the market.

The grounds for optimism lie in the fact that Norfolk Street is the home to the craft-beer drinking, sour-dough eating types who like to queue up every Saturday here for their bread. This might mean hard work and an early start for Adília but at least the future of this bakery looks very rosy indeed.

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