Visited on the Strand, London

When in the last review I said I would follow with another “chain” retailer, you probably had someone else in mind; yet, from my own recent experience, it seemed that there are more Pret’s in London than Starbuckses, Neros and Costas all together (which I’m sure is only down to the routes I was taking; although, it is also a fact that London was a birthplace of the company in 1986, and constitutes the biggest local network of the shops).

I have always been very sceptical about Pret’s greatness, which everyone was talking about – in terms of food, that is, because the same people would then choose Starbucks, for example, for the coffee to accompany their “freshly made sandwich”. I went in once or twice but was rather put off by the prices – after all, I could make my own baguette for half that money. One only appreciates places like this, when they’re en route, with no sandwich-making-facilities to be seen. I found myself in that situation and that was when I discovered Pret for the first time. Twice.

Firstly, I had a poached salmon baguette to take away, and I have to admit – it was great. Fresh, crispy bread (the way I like it) overfilled with fish, cucumber and watercress – lovely.

Mocha and an almond croissant at Pret-a-Manger

On my second visit, although tempted to help myself to one of the scrumptious sandwiches, following from that recent experience, I decided to test Pret from a cafe-goer perspective – and so, I asked for an almond croissant and, yes, a mocha.

I tried not to be put off by the take-away cup, despite sitting in (ah, the assumptions of a Londoner’s life…); apart from that and a little appetising froth on top, the first impressions were good, or at least better than what I expected. The coffee had a chocolatey sweetness to it,  quite good texture and OK temperature, although slightly on the “too-warm” side – again, I’d blame the take away cup. But after that came an odd bitter taste, which for a while I couldn’t identify: it didn’t seem like it was the espresso, which is pretty much an immediate sensation, like in the case of Costa; it could have been the chocolate, of which a quite thick residue was left on the bottom of the cup, but, as I focused on my taste-buds I could identify it was a funny milky taste that was messing them up. I still haven’t figured out what was wrong exactly with that coffee, and how the milk could taste bitter and I’m inclined to think it’s the combination of that and their Organic Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance beans. As odd as it may seem, for the sole ideology of organic foods, I have learnt on my own skin that these products are not necessarily of a better taste quality than their “average” counterparts…

But then I tried the croissant, and it was absolutely divine: still warm, flaky and flavoursome, it simply tasted better than the ones I sampled at some French cafes, who, after all, should be the pastry masters.

Apart from that, the staff was super-polite, despite the crazy lunch-time rush; and polite, in a fun, engaging manner, that even seemed quite genuine. The shelves were well stocked, the tables were quickly cleaned after someone’s departure. Generally, I was really impressed, considering that I was “dining” by the Themes just after midday.

If only not for that mind-boggling coffee…

Mocha: £1.99

Verdict justification: Really good lunch food, coffee falls behind, but could be worse

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