The humble doughnut, a delicious treat that comes in all variety of shapes and flavours, from ring doughnut to not ring doughnut, chocolate to not chocolate. Previously the preserve of the supermarket bakery aisle, it’s enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, starting with the rise of Krispy Kreme, and more recently with higher-end doughnut establishments such as Crosstown, Doughnut Time and Bread Ahead. Everybody loves a doughnut, and today I would be sampling some of the finest on offer, hoping to solve the age-old question of ‘which is my favourite doughnut?’.
My companion today is global superstar musician, Bob Marley. A pioneer of reggae music who was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, the influential music journalism site Answers.com estimates his record sales to be ‘as high as 300 million and in all likelihood not under 150-200 million’. Despite this, my primary motivation for inviting him today is that there’s also a very famous joke relating to how he likes his doughnuts that I hope to capitalise on, to the mirth of up to 300 million people, but in all likelihood not under 150-200 million.
I meet Bob on Shaftesbury Avenue, home to one of the many Doughnut Times, a recent import to the UK from Australia. “Hi Bob,” I say.
“Hi Andy,” he says. “I’m excited to be here. I love doughnuts.”
“I bet you do,” I say. This is going to be so worth it.
Doughnut Time has some of the fancier doughnuts that there are to offer. Big, showpiece doughnuts that scream ‘share this image with your friends to remind them that ultimately we are all mortal and something that may or may not be this doughnut will certainly end our existence, for we are all at the mercy of the grim reaper’s wicked game’. You have doughnuts like the ‘Stranger Rings’, a chocolate-glazed doughnut topped with Oreo crumbs, Nutella and glitter, the ‘Robert De N’Oreo’, a doughnut filled with a white chocolate New York cheesecake filling, topped with a brown butter glaze, Oreo crumb, white chocolate and mini Oreo cookies, and the ‘Bueno Mars’, a hazelnut cream-filled doughnut with a chocolate glaze, topped with pieces of Kinder Bueno.
“Are you ready to order?” I say to Bob, excitedly.
“Yes, all good here,” Says Bob. I can barely contain my excitement.
“I’ll have the Robert De N’Oreo,” I say, and then I perfectly tee up the hilarity. “And Bob, how do you like your doughnuts?”
“I’ll have the ‘David Hassel-Biscoff’ please,” says Bob.
“Hold on, what?”
“It looks good doesn’t it!” Says Bob.
“Sorry, we’re going to need a minute,” I say to the assistant as I take Bob to one side. “What the hell are you doing?”
“It’s just… how do you feel about the jam doughnut? That looks tasty doesn’t it? Mmm… we all love jam. You should go for that one.”
“I’d like to try the Biscoff one, why don’t you go for the jam one though?”
I sigh to myself. It’s certainly frustrating, but there are a few more doughnut shops to try yet so I guess I can let him have this one. I purchase the doughnuts and we tuck in. The Robert De N’Oreo is delicious. Densely packed with vanilla cheesecake filling that’s both creamy and flavoursome, the Oreo crumb top works wonderfully with it, adding the necessary biscuity element of the cheesecake. Bob’s ‘David Hassel-Biscoff’ meanwhile is also very nice. Lotus Biscoff has become incredibly popular over the last few years, particularly in the spreadable form that it comes in in supermarkets, and here it works well in doughnut form too. It’s a good start to our review, albeit not the one I’d hoped for.
We begin the walk up Shaftesbury Avenue into Soho, where we’ll find the next of our stops.
“So, Andy, you’re a big reggae fan I’m guessing?” Says Bob.
“Oh, err… yes, perhaps,” I say, awkwardly. Truth be told I’m not. I’m not really very big on music generally. I’m the kind of person who when you ask them what music they listen to they say ‘all sorts really’, but what I actually mean is I listen to the same 4 Lady Gaga songs on repeat, yet somehow still don’t know any of the words.
“Who’s your favourite reggae artist apart from me?”
“Oh look, here we are!” I say, as we approach Crosstown Doughnuts just off Wardour Street. Thank goodness. I didn’t fancy having to chance whether Lady Gaga had produced a reggae album.
Crosstown Doughnuts has really taken off over the last two years, going from being sold from small independent coffee shops and market stores, to now having 7 stores around London and being stocked in places like Selfridges and Whole Foods. Their doughnuts are more classic looking, but still big on flavours.
“Wow, look at those jam ones! They look even more delicious than the last lot!” I say. “Maybe one of us should get one of those.”
“Oh wow, yes they do! Ok, let’s definitely get one of them,” says Bob. Here we go!
“Can I help you gentlemen?” Says the shop assistant. Before I’m able to speak, Bob interjects.
“Yes, I’ll have the chocolate truffle,” says Bob. “Andy?”
I stare at Bob in silent fury. “But Bob, I was going to go for the chocolate truffle,” I say through gritted teeth. “I thought we agreed that one of us was going to get the jam one though?”
“Oh, I just assumed it would be you as you seemed so keen on them.”
I put my head in my hands. “Bob, do you not like doughnuts that contain jam? Are they not your preference?”
“I fancied a chocolate truffle.”
“Just take one more look, ok? Make sure you definitely don’t fancy the jam doughnut.”
“Ok, fine,” says Bob. He browses the doughnuts again. “Ok, you’re right, I’ve changed my mind.”
“Amazing!” I say, excitedly. “Bob, how do you like your doughnuts?”
“I’ll have the caramel banana cream, please.”
“Bob, for the love of god!”
“You’re meant to go for the jam one and say wi’ jam in’! Why are you ruining this?”
“Hold on, is that why you’ve invited me?” Says Bob. “Do you even like reggae?”
“Of course I like reggae…”
“Who’s your favourite artist?”
“Apart from me.”
I’m just going to have to hazard a guess here, then a name suddenly springs from nowhere that seems familiar. “Jacob Marley?”
“Your favourite reggae artist is the ghost from A Christmas Carol?”
“Yes,” I say shamefully as I stare down at my feet. I’d forgotten that was where he was from. “I like how he rattles his chains,” I add, to compound my own stupidity.
“It’s fine,” says Bob, with a kind smile that makes you feel like maybe we can all get together and feel alright. “I get this all the time. Besides, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t here for the same reason.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve been trying to make you say your catchphrase all day.”
“My catchphrase? What’s my catchphrase?
“You know… ‘my dreams are dead and this blog is all I have left’.”
“Oh my god, you think that’s my catchphrase?”
“You say it all the time!”
“I don’t think I’ve ever said it! And how the hell are you expecting me to use it in the context of ordering a doughnut?”
“I get that it’s going to be difficult, but I think it’s possible.”
“Ok, this is ridiculous, we need to stop trying to get each other to say things and just focus on reviewing doughnuts. Agreed?” I say.
“Ok, agreed,” says Bob. We both nod at each other as we tuck into our Crosstown Doughnuts, Bob with his caramel banana cream and me opting for the coffee and chocolate doughnut. My coffee and chocolate doughnut is ok, but not quite as flavoursome as I’d hoped. I’ve definitely had a lot better doughnuts from Crosstown in the past, but I’m sure my disappointment at this will all be forgotten when I finally make Bob admit he likes his doughnuts with jam in.
We move onwards to our next doughnut shop, Bread Ahead. Bread Ahead is a more traditional doughnut shop with more classic flavours like chocolate, praline, and most importantly, jam. Whilst their doughnuts are still fairly Instagram-friendly, more than anything they’re notorious for being excellent doughnuts.
Before we reach the shop, I have a bright idea. “You know what would go perfectly with our doughnuts? Coffee. Why don’t you grab us a couple of coffees?” I say, as we reach Soho Grind, just next door to Bread Ahead.
“Ok cool, I’ll be right back then,” says Bob, as he heads into the shop. I wait outside, and then when his back is turned I dash along to Bread Ahead just next door.
“Hi, I need you to do me a favour,” I say. “Myself and the ghost of Bob Marley are going to come in here in a minute-“
“Just go with it. Myself and the ghost of Bob Marley are going to come in here and I need him to buy a doughnut with jam in. Would it be possible for you to hide all of your other doughnuts so he has no other option?”
“Ok, fine, what if I were to buy all of the other doughnuts?”
“You want to buy a hundred doughnuts?”
“It’s for a very funny joke.”
“What’s the joke?”
“I ask Bob how he likes his doughnuts, and he says wi’ jam in’!”
The cashier sighs deeply. “You really think that’s worth it?”
“I will take all of the doughnuts.”
“Here’s your coffee,” says Bob, emerging from Soho Grind with a couple of coffee cups. “Shall we?”
“Yes, of course,” I say, excitedly, as we walk a couple of doors along to Bread Ahead.
“Oh Christ, here we go…” I hear the cashier mumble under their breath as myself and Bob enter the shop.
“Oh, hello, we’re here to get some of your finest doughnuts,” I say, with a wink. “Oh goodness, it looks like you’re nearly all sold out. Am I right in thinking you only have the jam ones left?”
“Yes, sir, we only have the jam ones left,” says the cashier in a monotone voice.
“Oh well! I guess there’s no other option then. Bob, how would you like your doughnut?”
“In that case, I might just get a focaccia instead then,”
“Oh for god’s sake!” I say, angrily. “I spent three hundred pounds on this!”
“Are you still trying to get me to say my line? Why do you care so much?”
“Because my dreams are dead and this blog is all I have left!” I say.
“There it is!” Says Bob.
“Oh my god, it is my catchphrase!” I sigh, as I put my head in my hands. I console myself by tucking into one of the hundred doughnuts I’ve bought, an Eton Mess flavoured one that’s simply tremendous.
“It’s ok, Andy, we’ve all been there,” says Bob, patting me on the shoulder.
“You worked for Bing as well?”
“I mean, obviously not that,” says Bob. “You know what might help you?”
“If maybe we got a couple of jam doughnuts.”
“Really?!” I say, excitedly. Bob smiles and nods.
“Excuse me, two doughnuts please! A jam one for me, and Bob, how do you like your doughnuts?”
“I’ll have a jam flavoured doughnut as well, please,” says Bob, stabbing me in the back again.
“I’m not a joke, Andy.”
“My dreams are dead and this blog is all I have left,” I sigh. Overall…
Doughnut time ‘Robert De N’Oreo’ – 9/10 – Pricey, but unique and delicious.
Crosstown ‘Single Origin Coffee & Chocolate’ – 6/10 – Surprisingly underwhelming.
Bread Ahead ‘Eton Mess’ – 9/10 – A relatively simple but superbly made doughnut.