You may not know it, but the reach of Mark’s and Spencer’s extends beyond the borders of the British Isles. It used to be extensive, but they closed a great number of their worldwide locations after financial troubles in 2001. They still, however, have a handful of stores in France. Not surprising, when you think about how many Brits live in the country. People are constantly comparing them to Monoprix, the French chain that constantly shocks people with their croissants. I’ve had my fair share of experiences with the bakery at M&S — there was a love affair with their white chocolate chip cookies, sans macadamia nuts, when I was sixteen — but I’d never tried a croissant.
Every grocery store in England offers “freshly baked” croissants sitting on a steam tray, ready to be plopped into a paper bag with plastic front, steam up and turn doughy. The smell may intoxicate you as you blearily pass Sainsbury on a drizzly morning, but a single bite would make you wish you had just chosen that crayfish and rocket baguette instead. Marksies, as a friend calls it, is a cut above other supermarkets, however. Not only do they have a food hall, they have a cafe. So, I braved it.
If it seems strange to you to eat a croissant in a grocery store, I assure you that wasn’t the strangest part of my morning. While I wasn’t at a loss for company, I was the life of the party. The other costumers at the M&S cafe on a Saturday morning were retired couples, enjoying their weekly full English with a cup of tea. I sat alone with my croissant, kindle and wretched coffee, taking photos. See what I’ll do for croissants?
The pastry looked better than your average English version and had a texture that improved vastly over the doughy creation from Ground Up. Each bite led the outside to shatter pleasantly, but refrained from mashing down the layers, which were pleasantly separated with a vaguely buttery bounce. Yet, this pastry underwent a good amount of British-ification before getting served at M&S cafe to my elder dining companions (though it wasn’t because they were elderly, it was because they were English). I wanted to reach for the jam that was served alongside the scone the person to the left of me was enjoying. The croissant suggested butteriness, but no bite achieved a true butter flavor. While the suggestion was more than you get at many cafes, it still left me wanting more.
Don’t even bother with the coffee.
If you’re in England and have a mega-croissant craving, you could do much worse than a pastry from M&S. Though I would avoid putting a steaming one in a paper bag with a plastic window.
Where’s your favorite untraditional place to find good food?