The Best Retro Desserts In London

Give your tastebuds a throwback with some retro desserts and puds. From deep-fried bread and butter pudding to sticky toffee pudding, here's where to get a fix.
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The deep-fried bread and butter pudding at Café Cecilia is as good as it sounds.

The classics are the classics for a reason. There’s an innate satisfaction in being served something old-school like a sticky toffee pudding or a slice of Arctic roll that rises above any kitsch gimmickry that might come along with it. A spoonful of a good STP won’t just deliver a sugary hit of nostalgia but will pummel the pleasure centre of your brain into sweet submission. When they’re made well, the best retro desserts in London are capable of standing up to any of the best desserts you’ll ever eat. And I’m not saying that with rose-tinted glasses.

I’m a tried and tested starter over desserts man but I’ll admit that some of the retro desserts in this list are capable of making me second-guess myself. I mean, what person in their right mind can say no to a deep-fried bread and butter pudding? The artistry involved in creating these retro desserts is what sets them apart from the crowd and keeps them alive in the appetite of the public – they’ve been made at restaurants that have, for the most part, put a very serious focus on their dessert programme and treat it with as much reverence as the rest of the menu.

So whether it’s a soothing bowl of rice pudding or a bit of spotted dick, I think we should be celebrating these retro desserts and eating as many quality renditions of them as possible. My rallying cry then is that you, too, should help prevent these great puds from going extinct by working your way through all of these retro desserts in London.

Deep-Fried Bread and Butter Pudding at Café Cecilia

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Served on a puddle of cold custard, the deep-fried bread and butter pudding at Café Cecilia is an indulgent and unmissable way to end a meal. This east London hotspot has an effortless sense of cool to it, with everyone who dines there always being impeccably dressed in designer labels, but it’s this hot-and-cold dessert which has become its most hyped dish. The satisfying beige brick delivers a thump of nostalgia while also improving on everything you know and love about bread and butter pudding. It’s warm, sweet, fluffy, and – if you’re anything like me – it’ll be polished off in under three minutes.

Baked Alaska at Firebird

Baked Alaska

There aren’t many places in London where you can find an old-school American dessert like baked Alaska on the menu. Firebird in Soho is, thankfully, one of those rare places. Nesting a blob of fragrant Earl Grey ice cream under its charred meringue exterior, the baked Alaska at this open fire-obsessed restaurant is a throwback in all the right ways. This is a retro dessert in London done right.

Arctic Roll at Parlour

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Arctic rolls never went out of fashion at Parlour. Located on Kensal’s Regent Street, Parlour is a proper neighbourhood restaurant that offers British food without any faff. They’re known for their Arctic rolls – a straightforward ice cream and cake combination that the team at Parlour have jazzed up with a range of different flavours that change on a regular basis. Previous incarnations on the menu have included seasonal options such as greengage and raspberry to more out-there creations like Thai green curry. Fun.

Whatever’s On at Norman’s Cafe

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Norman’s Cafe has already made an appearance in our list of the best brunch spots in London but they’ve also got some mega retro desserts on the menu, too. These tend to rotate on the specials menu but previous sweet treats have included jelly and ice cream, syrup sponge and custard, rice pudding with a dollop of jam, and Arctic roll. I can’t think of many better ways to start your day than with a quality fry-up followed by a generous bowl of cuddly rice pudding.

Jelly Trifles at Benham & Froud Jelladrome

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The Jelladrome is a luxury dessert counter at Arcade Food Hall Centre Point that’s the zany brainchild of Bompas & Parr and JKS Restaurants. The speciality here (and the retro dessert you should be getting your mitts on) is the gorgeous trifle that comes layered with jelly, ice cream, and blancmange on top of a brown butter biscuit base. Those large, in-charge trifles come in three different flavours: strawberries and cream; chocolate sundae; and mango colada. All of them are wobbly and delicious.

Sticky Toffee Pudding at Hawksmoor

Sticky Toffee Pudding
The ideal sticky toffee pudding. Photograph: @hawksmoorrestaurants.

Hawksmoor is a restaurant you should go to if you’re craving a big hunk of expertly cooked beef but it’s also somewhere that you should plug into your Citymapper if you’re after a retro dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth. The sticky toffee pudding here is a gloriously shining example of what all little sticky toffee puddings should want to be when they grow up. It’s treacly, rich, and will ensure you end your meal on a perfectly pitched sweet note. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of indulgence every now and then.

Spotted Dick at Sweetings

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My first introduction to the concept of spotted dick was courtesy of the film, Shanghai Knights. It was, unsurprisingly, used as the butt of a childish joke by some American screenwriters because, y’know: “dick”. It wasn’t until I tried the spotted dick at Sweetings that I realised how serious this currant-studded pudding should be taken. The suet gives it an extra richness that makes it eat like velvet while the sweetness of the custard wraps around steamed pudding like a well-fitted jumper. This is a dessert that’ll really make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time.

Profiteroles at at Quo Vadis

Profiteroles H Cathcart
Choux doesn't get better than this. Photograph: Helen Cathcart.

The “profiteroles au chocolat” is a retro dessert that sums up everything I love and treasure about Quo Vadis. It’s delivered with just the right level of panache but it’s the technical skill that goes into making sure each choux ball is perfectly round and airy that takes it many, many levels above any bog-standard profiterole you’ve ever had before. Quo Vadis is one of the best British restaurants around for many reasons. At least three of those reasons are the profiteroles.

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