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Maison Bertaux

Maison Bertaux

Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Kirk Truman

“The Croissants are heavy, more substantial, more of a meal. That recipe we’ve been using since 1871…”

Maison Bertaux in Soho. To a confirmed Cappuccino Kid, it looked much more suitable for tea and cake. Should you judge a book by its cover? Can you judge a café by its cake? I met the editor, the chocolate éclair was superb, and in an upstairs room, the art was raw and the decor retro. It was Soho Bohemia, and certainly not twee. “One of the reasons the cakes are so nice now, we never bastardised the recipes. We never went over to sponge mix or anything like that, all the shortcuts you can do with pastries. Everything is made upstairs. There’s nothing in here that’s not made here,” says Michele Ward, the current owner.

“Even some of the staff are made here, conceived here,” she adds cryptically, with a laugh. “The cakes and recipes are the key. The Croissants are heavy, more substantial, more of a meal. That recipe we’ve been using since 1871.” Maison Bertaux, a Soho institution: I’d seen it reviewed and revered, but had never been. I even knew they once had a shop called Shop in the basement run by part time pop stars. Now I sit with Michele and, in between coffee and croissants, the story begins to emerge: how Monsieur Eduard Bertaux came here from France and began to write the first chapter in a great Soho story. The doors first opened in 1871 and Maison Bertaux has been here ever since; in 145 years, it has been owned by just three families.

“In 1909, Bertaux put it up for sale with an advert in the Paris Soir, a daily newspaper in Paris, and a Monsieur Vignaud came and took over. It was his son that I worked for. When I was in my teens, in the late 1970s, I only worked on Saturdays. Then I went to college; then I worked a little bit. I studied theatre, went to RADA and by the time I left I had a lot of jobs and a little money. Madame said she wanted to sell the business and I thought, to run a cake shop, that would be lovely.” Madame was Madame Vignaud, an Englishwoman who’d met her husband on a blind date. “At first, she said ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ But I managed to raise the money and bought the business in 1988. I worked side by side with Madame Vignaud for such a long time. She was very strict and very severe, but she was good to work with, she was always the same. She didn’t have any flowers or anything in here. She had a white apron with a zip up the middle – she was completely no nonsense, which was good. She was a good person. She believed in the quality – it was all about the quality.

“The way I tie the cake boxes. I still tie them in the way Madame Vignaud taught me. She was taught by Mr Vignaud snr, who was taught by Mr Bertaux. I like the idea that in 1871 someone was here tying the boxes in the same way I do it now.” Steeped in history but not stuck in the past, Maison Bertaux has moved with the times. Michele tells me about the famous chefs who come for tea with their mothers before the theatre, and the kitchen staff of numerous famous food establishments who are regulars at this petit Maison. As the night-time economy in Soho has grown, Maison Bertaux now stays open until 10pm on weekdays and 11pm at the weekends.

“Soho’s got later and later. When I was young we used to close at 5.30 – there wasn’t any business after that – but now we are very busy from 5.30 onwards. Sometimes we’re very busy after 8 o’clock. I remember in 1992, sitting outside at a long table and making everyone pasta. There weren’t many people around. Someone was playing the guitar, strumming and singing along. It was almost like a little village.” Soho hasn’t lost its edge for Michele. She still sees that young gay man on his own, new to London, new to Soho, arriving in Maison Bertaux – although perhaps not so often since Central St Martins moved. Gwen Stefani, Kylie Minogue, McQueens from different eras… in the 60s it was Steve; in the 90s it was Alexander, sitting upstairs furiously sketching, inviting Michele and her sister Tania to see his first collection. Although Michele misses the students from Central St Martins, she wonders where they would sit now. No regrets, she says, as the Maison fills up again with young Asian, Chinese and Japanese girls. Michele stows their Rimowa ribbed luggage cases safely out of the way for them, as they look a bit nervous.

“We have a big Oriental clientele. We’re very lucky. A lot of students, they appreciate cakes and things. I love all the customers – even the tricky ones.” She’s the perfect host, looking after everyone, keeping up a natural flow of conversation with customers from different tables and different lives, with different reasons to be cheerful, or not, as the case may be. Maison Berteaux is full of Soho’s spirit, the drama of daily life. There are chairs recycled from Kettner’s famous champagne restaurant round the corner, and a table that Edward VII played cards at. Paintings by The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding – tribal faces in bright colours, strong powerful pieces – hang on the walls of the rooms and up and down the stairs. ”My sister looks after all the art. She met Noel Fielding in the street outside.” Across the road, a new breed may claim the title, but this is a real Soho house. Although I don’t drink tea, I’ve found a new Soho stop – a Maison that’s been a second home to many Soho denizens over the years.

India Rose James

India Rose James

Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi

“…the way in which my grandfather sought to push boundaries are now obsolete; they’re no longer provocative. I want to continue his avant-garde legacy through the arts.”

We owe much assumption to age. The older we grow, the weaker we are regarded; whereas the young are assigned wild clichés of unproductiveness, disorganisation and impracticality. Though I cannot thoroughly assure you that this young lady is wholly a Venus, there is no denying that age is no measure of assurance, guarantee or reliability. With a heritage almost like no other here in Soho, the remarkable 23 year old India Rose James is riddled with the charm and experimental nature of her grandfather, with an undeniable affection for her neighbourhood and a fleet of ambitions her age is sure not to halt.

There is no denying India’s youthfulness, though she is by no means uncaring or typecast for her age. Her beauty, the pink-tinge to her lengthy blonde hair is captivating and her height startling, it is no wonder she has found herself modelling for minimalist streetwear brand Goodhood, and a line of swimwear by Sorapol. It is easy to note that India is as ambitious and courageous as all young women, though equally it is difficult to distract oneself from the unimaginable privilege of her life which still has neither acted as obstacle nor distraction from her youth or ambitions: a youth that, despite its privileges, has also seen tragedy with the untimely death of her mother when India was just 9 months old.

Whereas the reputable Paul Raymond began his career applying his talents to showcasing sexual entertainment throughout Soho’s clubs and creating a chain of top-shelf publications, India has re-fashioned his legacy via the arts as a gallerist staying true to her family heritage in entertainment, pushing the limits and making ideas a reality. “I think people realise that the times have changed, and the way in which my grandfather sought to push boundaries are now obsolete; they’re no longer provocative. I want to continue his avant-garde legacy through the arts,” she tells me.

After Raymond’s passing in 2008, his legacy was handed down to India and her half-sister, Fawn. With Fawn and her father John James operating Soho Estates (the company which helms Raymond’s Soho property empire), India’s dream to turn her long-term passion for the arts into a career has been realised in the form of a business venture, the newly opened Soho Revue Gallery: a joint project between India and Will Pelham. India’s motive for starting the gallery is neither strictly for it as a business venture nor passion as a project, but from an underlying want to support young talent, and keep the ideological spirit of Soho itself alive. “I’d always been interested in the arts and, specifically, in Soho’s place within an artistic conversation. The area has always had a strong counter-cultural imperative, but young artists ran the risk of losing ground to the cultural establishment. I wanted to give the best in young talent a platform to share their ideas; to allow non-establishment artists an establishment space. It’s so important to me to keep the vigour and dynamism within Soho’s artistic practice,” she professes.

Its title, a nod to the now diminished Raymond Revuebar, being a reminder of Soho’s heritage; the gallery based on Greek street has been well received by the Soho neighbourhood. India is keen to work with the people of the area in helping to promote and protect the culture and identity of Soho as a whole, not to mention support young artists in their careers. “The response has been fantastic. It’s rare that people respond negatively to any sort of cultural injection within an area. However, because our raison d’etre is to support artists at the beginning of their careers, we’ve garnered even more good will. Everyone pops in to say ‘hi’; there’s a real sense of community spirit in the area. We’re always keen to get involved in any projects that promote Soho, particularly as a cultural destination. The aim of the gallery is to help to keep the arts in Soho fresh and sustainable. I think we’re fulfilling that role.” She says on the gallery.

It is easy to forget that India owns much of the Soho we know and admire. I was surprised, for instance, to find out that she’s not only the youngest owner of a Howard Hodgkin piece, but numerous other pieces of art. It is safe to assume that her desire for collecting art rivals that of her grandfather’s, who sought to collect properties.

Her grandfather’s legacy is one India is sure to not only continue, but redefine in Soho’s years to come. Not only by helping to promote the neighbourhood as a cultural destination, but in its preservation – playing a significant role in the reopening of Madame JoJo’s. Though, running the gallery is currently the primary focus. “My grandfather’s legacy was one of having fun and pushing boundaries. This is exactly the legacy that we want to continue within the Soho Revue. I think it’s important to maintain focus and not to get ahead of myself. Right now, my only thought is to promoting the careers of the artists that the gallery represents. It’s too new a venture to allow myself to get distracted by other plans. I have to give the Soho Revue all of my attention.” Her home and her playground, India insists she plans to remain in Soho for the long run. Soho has indeed found its queen.