London Bridge sweet and savoury pancakes
I’ve always suspected that the food of our childhoods casts a long shadow, forming and influencing our tastes long after we’ve graduated into adult life. In its most primal form, the comfort foods we turn to for succor when adulting gets too hard are the ones most intimately tied to the memories, people and places of our prepubescence and adolescence. Risotto, fish & chips and halva hold no special significance for me, but they clearly mean a great deal to my dining companions Happy Buddha, Sue Ellen and the Flame Haired Squelchie respectively.
Similarly, pancakes mean nothing to me as I rarely, if ever ate them as a nipper. But the very mention of these griddled batter puddles is enough to make many people froth, palpitate and gibber with excitement. My cold unemotional detachment from the world of pancakes either makes me the perfect person to review Where The Pancakes Are or woefully unqualified, depending on your point of view.
What is undeniable about this pancake restaurant at Flat Iron Square is that the kitchen can be patience-sappingly slow at turning out what should be a fast turnaround dish. To be fair, the pancakes themselves were consistently fluffy, soft and neither too thick nor too soft, whether I ordered the standard pancakes or the vegan-friendly variant made with soy milk and aquafaba instead of eggs and buttermilk.
Savoury pancakes at Where The Pancakes Are
The English breakfast pancakes and I got off on the wrong foot with the presence of streaky, crispy American-style belly bacon rather than tender, more balanced back bacon. This all-day breakfast pancake dish then proceeded to see saw between ingredients that were spot-on and those that were sorely lacking. The bacon was pants, but the sausage was meaty and dense. Baked beans were far too sweet, while the egg and tomatoes were just filler, but the mushrooms were taut, slippery and meaty. The lack of brown sauce was almost as unforgivable as the streaky bacon. There’s getting off on the wrong foot and then there’s running backwards on that foot.
Although the asparagus spears gracing the Royal pancakes were a damp squib, the meaty slices of smoked salmon made up for it. Not too clammy and tinged with a delicate smokiness, they were neatly complimented by the sumptuous richness of the bearnaise sauce and the runny yolks of the poached eggs.
With the American pancakes, you have your choice of protein and fruit with the entire shebang then laced with maple syrup. I naturally decided to have the most left-field pairing possible – halloumi with banana. The cheese had been gently tenderised and was neither too salty nor too briney. The kitchen hadn’t screwed up the fruit, while the maple syrup was delicately sweet without being sickly. Each element was fine and dandy, I’m just unconvinced they belong together on top of some pancakes.
Welsh rarebit pancakes turned out to be oddly malformed. The egg wasn’t rich enough, Worcestershire sauce was noticeable by its absence and the qualities of the mature cheddar were hard to appreciate amidst all the fluffy pancakes and the ready salted crisps which was a peculiar addition. Spring onions were supple, chewy and sweet, but that wasn’t nearly enough to make up for this misconceived reimagining.
The ‘1000 leaves’ pancake was more like a loose, crumbly frittata which occasionally turned into a thick omelette in places. It was a peculiar construction, but it meshed surprisingly well with the sweet leaves and creamy butter. There was little of the promised chilli spice, but I was still unexpectedly taken by this odd not-pancake.
Although advertised as pulled pastrami pancakes, this dish felt more like a misguided homage to a Big Mac. The lifeless shreds of beef were a squalid waste of cow, with the pancakes instead dominated by creamy melted cheese, unexpectedly saccharine kale, sweet burger sauce and even sweeter pickles. The excessive sweetness did not and couldn’t ever make up for the lacklustre ‘pastrami’.
Sweet pancakes at Where The Pancakes Are
Fruits are a common dessert pancake topping, so it’s eyebrow-raising that the kitchen here consistently had trouble wrangling them into edible form. Strawberries, for example, were only reasonably sweet at best and accompanied by surprisingly ineffectual lemon zest and not nearly enough cream or basil.
‘Autumnal’ pears somehow managed to be overly crisp and undercooked at the same time. With the fruit rendered so poorly, the sweetly caramelised sauce, thick yet refreshing cream and punchy lemon zest had to do all the heavy lifting.
The desert pancakes were somewhat better when confectionary become involved. Barely ripe bananas and muted salted caramel were rescued by crunchy, nutty peanut brittle and chewy, sugary meringue-like praline pieces.
Ineffectually poached chunks of pineapple and equally lacklustre pomegrante were made somewhat tolerable by the light crunch and delicate nuttiness of toasted coconut flakes and a dusting of powdered sugar.
The only pancake besides the familiar standard circular offering is the Dutch baby. Neither a poffertjes or even a pfannkuchen, it was more of a miniature cross between a danish and a Yorkshire pudding. Eggy, airy and lightly chewy, it was far more texturally pleasing than I had expected. Their small size also meant a proportionately small helping of toppings though, which was inherently unsatisfying. A Dutch baby topped with cinnamon, sweet raisins and nutty pumpkin seeds would’ve been far more enjoyable with more of everything.
A larger variant Dutch baby was a much heartier affair, almost resembling an eggy flan. The tangy sweet toppings of apple and blackberry would’ve reminded me of a McDonald’s pie filling, but for the addition of crushed hazelnuts. It was a generally well-balanced and flavoursome affair, in spite of the insipid and generic tasting vanilla ice cream on the side, easily making this the best of the dessert pancakes that I tried.
Even on the rare occasion when the kitchen at Where The Pancakes Are miraculously conjures up its dishes with a sense of urgency, the results were often deeply underwhelming. You’d have to love pancakes with an unquestioning rose-tinted fanaticism to put up with the lackluster sweet and savoury efforts dished up here. Perhaps it’s telling that the most successful pancakes were those that didn’t resemble pancakes as we’ve traditionally understood them at all, from the Dutch babies to the 1000 leaves. Perhaps there’s a better pancake restaurant lurking underneath all the clichés, gasping for life. Until it breaks free, Where The Pancakes Are is, like many other childish things, best put away.
Name: Where The Pancakes Are
Address: Arch 35a, 85a Southwark Bridge Road, London SE1 0NQ
Phone: 0207 407 8408
Opening Hours: Monday-Wednesday 08.00-18.00; Thursday-Friday 08.00-21.00; Saturday 09.00-21.00 and Sunday 09.00-16.00.
Reservations? accepted up to a day in advance; not accepted for breakfast and lunch on weekends.
Average cost for one person including soft drinks: £20 approx.