James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Pastries in West London, One Year and One Day After the Grenfell Tower fire

Pastries in West London, One Year and One Day After the Grenfell Tower fire

Pastries in West London

Fridays are always busy on Golborne Road, which runs across Portobello Road in West London. It’s market day, so teapots and pub signs and houseplants and old LPs are laid out on the pavements.

Today is busier than usual. Today is different from usual. It’s June 15th; it’s Eid; it’s the day after the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, which took the lives of 72 people, just a short walk from here. The fire was national and international news: a high-rise tower block in North Kensington went up in uncontrollable flames last summer, leading to outrage after it emerged that some residents had raised concerns about the building’s safety. The fire is now the subject of a public inquiry, as well as police investigations. The anniversary has brought journalists from all over the world back to our doors, our Tube stations, our corner shops.

To say we are a community united in grief doesn’t do justice to the heart of the response to the fire. In the days afterwards, local sports centers and churches filled with food, bedding and toiletries for people who had lost their homes. Millions of pounds of donations poured into local charities. In the year since, people have organized community projects, including memorial gardens, street-art jams, and commemorative pins that read ComeUnity across a London Underground symbol.

For the anniversary, there were commemorative events: concerts, speeches, services. Some people sang, some kept silence. Children made papier-mâché hearts and stars, many people kept an all-night vigil as they remembered friends and family. The groups that support and advocate for the victims of the fire asked that people wear green to mark the anniversary.

The Portuguese bakery where I’m lining up is filling fast with people leaving the mosque across the road. The bakery’s simple tables are scattered with plates of custard tarts and doorstep pastries filled with whipped cream. After a month of fasting, sheets of puff pastry and wedges of thick cream must be heaven.

The pastel de nata are a big thing here, racked in their hundreds by the back wall, their burnished tops mottled black and yellow. I ask for a recommendation and get a caracol (Portuguese for snail), a spiral of pastry studded with glacé fruits: cherries, apricots, raisins. It’s too full in the bakery to sit and eat in, so I get the snail and some natas boxed to go and walk down the street.

The lamp posts are garlanded in green for Grenfell, the schoolgirls’ hair ribbons are green, and green sashes have been fashioned into headwraps and cravats, bandanas and bracelets. Here on Golborne Road, there’s a space on the street where a fish grill should be: according to a notice tied to a tree, the chef closed his stall last year after the Grenfell fire “made my life unmanageable”.

People mill around outside the mosque, drifting in clusters towards the bakery, joining friends at the corner cafe for espresso, taking selfies in new clothes accessorised with Ray Ban Wayfarers against an unusually hot London sun. These new clothes, some still creased from being inside boxes, represent the wearer’s spiritual renewal at the end of the month of fasting, a sign of freshness and new beginning. This year, those affected by the fire need the new beginning more than ever before. They continue to do what it takes to make life feel manageable: pray, buy new clothes, share Portuguese pastries with friends.

Lisboa Patisserie
57 Golborne Road
London W10 5NR.

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