When I was training to be a solicitor, I did my articles at Clintons, a firm of solicitors in Drury Lane.
Each Wednesday morning my father would pick me up from my flat in W1 (those were the days) and drive me to work. En route we'd stop at Marylebone High Street for breakfast at Patisserie Valerie.
It was a highlight of my week. A chance to catch up with Daddy - and to eat the delicious treats on offer. A golden croissant, crisp layered shell with crunchy 'claws' on the ends and melting, chewy dough inside. Or a buttery, sugar-topped brioche slathered in fruity jam. With a milky cafe au lait to dip the pastry in. (I'm almost drooling as I type.) Then a ride all the way to my office's street entrance, and the promise that I would have reached the middle of my working week by lunchtime. Halcyon Days.
More Pat Val memories are linked with those times. On their birthday, each partner at our law firm would buy cakes for all the staff. Our senior partner, whose booming tones would send us articled clerks scurrying to the library in terror, always bought from Patisserie Valerie. I have happy memories of those ogling and indulging in those cakes. Each one a work of art, from the (best ever) custard doughnuts, oozing with creme patissiere, to the Black Forest gateau coated in undulating layers of immaculate chocolate work.
The point is that it was all head and shoulders above everything else. It was glossy, glamorous and a taste of real continental patisserie. But then that was more than 25 years ago.
To my mind, it was never going to the the same when the owners started to expand. By the time it was picked up by Luke Johnson's company in 2006 there were nine branches. It grew to 192 by May 2017 and was selling pastries through Sainsbury's. (A supermarket - noch!) With a cafe on so many corners, the cache was gone. The central London shine was no longer there. It wasn't such a treat in my eyes. Some of my favourite bakes weren't as good any more.
I'm sorry they are in trouble, but for me the once gorgeous Valerie lost her allure when she grew too big. Size, is everything when it comes to a chic brand. Too many pastry shops have ruined the cake - for me at least.