there are some places i know i will love writing about once i step in, and that was exactly what happened when my friends and i ventured to st john bakery in the (okay fine, not so) wee hours of the Saturday morning that just went by. despite the excitement over this gem of a find, there is an inescapable reluctance to write about it as i begin this post. some things are better kept as secrets, away from crowds and droves of tourists because that is precisely where their charm lies. but sharing is caring, yes? just promise me you won’t tell too many people. here goes..
st john bakery is located just behind the main maltby market stretch of stalls (more on this in another post to come!). walk through a dank and dodgy-looking tunnel and you’ll find yourself along a street with blue-shuttered warehouses. at this point you’ll probably be thinking you’re at the wrong place because it really doesn’t look like there’s going to be any food there, but fear not and go forth beyond the graffitied walls! tucked under a railway arch at number 72 druid street, you will find quite possibly the best doughnuts in all of london.
we had heard of the legendary doughnuts they sold on weekends there, and were told that they would sell out if we didn’t get there early enough. after a quick cost-benefit analysis, it was decided that the cost of getting up early after a late night the night before was less than the benefit of sinking my teeth into one of those decadent delights (their decadence was confirmed by pictures i had googled). so, it was at 830am in the morning on the second day of chinese new year that we ventured towards the river and past the more “mainstream” borough market for maltby, located in bermondsey and not as accessible by the underground as we would have liked. nothing stands in the way of us and good food though, so we found our way there in good time and arrived to watch the shutters of st john going up for the day.
st john bakery is part of the st john restaurant group, and on regular days when they don’t open their doors to sell their goods, their bakery just serves as a place for them to bake the bread supplies for their restaurant and shops. pretty randomly located amidst a stretch of warehouses, you’d probably happily go right past it if not for the steady stream of customers that leave with brown paper bags filled with doughnuts and cakes and breads. there is no seating within the shop; it is literally just a few makeshift tables set up at the front of functional bakery space for their saturday morning sales:
nothing fancy about the set-up at all, but it certainly does the job of facilitating brisk business! we were (very proudly) their first customers of the day, and were greeted with this spread:
freshly-baked custard doughnuts – £2 each freshly-baked breads
they had vanilla, chocolate and apple jam (not on display, had to ask for them!) doughnuts available on the day we visited. i started with the vanilla custard doughnut, which is always available (the rest change) and what they are most well-known for. it really set the standard rather high for the rest – it was one pretty damn good doughnut.
the doughnut itself is incredibly light and fluffy – it has a brioche-inspired consistency, and is dusted with just the right amount of sugar that makes it sweet as a doughnut should be, but not overly so. as for the custard cream, can i just say, best doughnut filling ever?! the pregnant doughnut literally explodes in your mouth when you bite into it; the vanilla custard oozes out and the vanilla-bean cream is so fresh and light you feel like you could have an entire tubful of it without feeling ill. it is creamy, smooth, and of an amazing consistency that results in it being dense but not heavy. the whole dough ball of goodness is so pillowy, light, and relatively grease-free that you almost forget its deep-fried! this is definitely dangerous – it makes you have one after another without sparing a thought for the calorie party going on in the depths of your very satisfied tummies.
we were too busy stuffing our faces (promptly rejoined the queue for a second round after a short break) to get a picture of the chocolate cream one, but it was very very good as well. i am not a fan of chocolate, but enjoyed this nevertheless because like the vanilla custard cream, the chocolate cream was dense and satisfying yet light. also, the chocolate used was definitely of a good quality.
for those who fancy something fruity, this will undeniably be your cup of tea – a dreamily pillowy doughnut pumped full of tantalisingly fresh apple jam. the jam packed a real punch; it was super apple-y and sweet (hopefully more naturally than artificially) and was thick and very delicious. i really enjoyed this, more than the chocolate cream doughnut! but i do still think the star was still the vanilla cream custard…
like the doughnuts, they were very impressive. my friend promptly declared them to be “kueh baulus on steroids” (for those who don’t know what kueh baulus are, they are malay traditional sponge cakes) and for those who don’t know what to make of that statement, don’t worry, it’s a very good thing! they were freshly-baked and warm, crusty on the outside but so soft and fluffy inside. at 60p each, i would have definitely gotten more if i wasn’t already stuffed from our other maltby eats (stay tuned for another post!).
st john bakery is worth getting up early on a saturday morning for – leave your lie-in for sunday morning, and start your weekend right by getting your hands on some of these decadent to-die-for doughnuts!
PS. i hear they have salted caramel custard doughnuts sometimes. need. to. get. some. need.
St John Bakery
72 Druid St
London SE1 2HQ