Primrose Hill cup cake guru is living her dream with Sweet Things
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
Natalie Allen tells Bridget Galton why Jools Oliver and David Beckham can’t resist buying a slice of home baked happiness in her popular cafe.
A sign on the wall at Sweet Things reads “you can’t buy happiness but you can buy cup cakes”.
It’s emblematic of Natalie Allen’s philosophy. Her Primrose Hill bakery serves small and large sized cupcakes but Allen privately thinks it’s daft to order the mini versions.
“It’s all about an indulgent treat – don’t ask what calories are in it. Do everything in moderation otherwise life would be miserable.”
It’s Allen’s self-confessed perfectionism that marks Sweet Things out from the crowded cup cake market. You won’t find dry sponge or off kilter flavours here. She’s tested and honed each recipe to be just right.
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“A lot of cup cakes look pretty but don’t deliver on taste. It’s about quality and passion. I will not sell something substandard or average. I would rather throw it away if it’s overbaked. We make everything from scratch and I want it to be the best.”
Before putting her chocolate brownies on sale, she tested 10 recipes and borrowed from each to achieve the “perfect gooey fudgey mix.”
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This attention to detail extends to ingredients, tested for best results; Tate and Lyle sugar, Belgian dark chocolate, Madagascan vanilla, Burford Brown eggs.
It’s won favour with her many regulars including Jools Oliver, Helena Bonham Carter, and less locally, David Beckham who queued up patiently to buy their home made ice cream.
Oreo, cookie dough, red velvet, banoffee, salted caramel, apple crumble, having tried some (small ones) I can testify that Allen’s flavours are spot on.
Allen was a project manager in the city when newly married, her husband told her “go and live the dream”.
The dream had always been to cook. With a mother and grandmother who were both “fantastic bakers” she’d already been a contestant on Ready Steady Cook and Masterchef.
“Food is my passion, I wanted to go to catering college but my parents put me off and I did a business degree instead.”
That’s been invaluable in starting and running a business that began in her West Hampstead home 10 years ago.
“I was putting in a new kitchen and put in three ovens. I started as a one woman band supplying David’s Deli in West Hampstead and catering private birthday cakes, then we got into more places including Selfridges.
“It’s no good just having the passion or knowing how to bake, you have to understand the costs involved so you know what to charge.” Back then, Allen had I no children and would stay up until 3am baking until after three years her husband said he wanted the kitchen back.
She opened the shop – with seating for just 20 - nearly four years ago and now with two children aged 7, and 3 is ready to expand.
“After 10 years I feel finally ready to open another. We need to evolve, we can’t be complacent. I’m always listening to feedback
“If I didn’t have children I would be working 24 hours a day, I love it so much. It’s great seeing the excitement on customers’s faces or getting a call to say thanks for my daughter’s birthday cake. You can’t beat that really.”
Sweet Things, 138 Regent’s Park Road. Sweetthings.biz.