Bertie & Boo used to be a coffee shop near to where I live. Now it’s gone. However, it turns out there are some more branches of it a bit further away. This was the next closest, it’s an… adventure playground? But it does still sell coffee, and still sells brownies.
Have you ever had the experience of not realising something you liked is gone until you realise it’s been a while, so you seek it out again and it’s not there anymore? That was sort of what happened with Bertie & Boo, for me. I can’t quite remember why – the shop was in a very obvious spot on the high street and so you’d think I would have pretty quickly noticed that they were boarding it up and closing it down, but I have a clear memory of deciding to go for a coffee there and suddenly realising it was closed. I still don’t know why. It’s a hairdresser’s now.
It’s a real shame, because it used to be my favourite coffee place in Balham by a long way. Their carrot cake was particularly excellent. I went there with friends basically any excuse I got, and on my own if necessary. The staff were very friendly, the atmosphere nice, the decor entertaining (it was mostly refurbished school desks and chairs as far as I could tell – very environmentally conscious), the food pretty good, the coffee really good, the location perfect to sit out and people-watch on Balham high street.
And now it’s gone! And the silly irony of it all is that today I ended up here, not by accident, but it wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to go to H Street Deli, which was another place I kind of like in the same neighbourhood, and wouldn’t you know… H Street Deli is completely gone as well! So I grumbled and I wandered around for a while and finally ended up at the next closest branch of Bertie & Boo (which is not that close): this one explicitly markets itself as ‘Bertie & Boo’s Adventure Playground’ and seems to be specifically a place for parents of small children to come and drink coffee in (relative) peace while their small children run riot in designated play areas (which appear to be most of the shop).
I’m going to sound grumpy about this for the rest of the review – hell, I realise I probably do already – so let me at least say upfront that I’m not against such a concept. In a way it seems quite shrewd: Balham is very much what you might call a ‘yummy mummy’ area these days and this is a pretty innovative way of catering to that crowd. I’m just a bit sore because the original Bertie & Boo coffee shop – well, it felt like it was also catering to that crowd (they had crayons and colouring books around for kids to use, ‘babyccinos’ featured prominently on their menu, they had bite-sized treat selections aimed at small children, etc) but without being too exclusive. Because, y’know, it was still a coffee shop that regular folk just went to all the time to drink coffee. I felt extremely welcome there.
I’m sure that Bertie & Boo’s Adventure Playground didn’t want me to feel unwelcome either. Again, the staff were friendly, the coffee was good, the decor was similarly cute. But – I don’t think this is unfair to say – as a single man without kids (a SMWOK?) it’s hard not to feel “This place isn’t for me” when you’ve had to get through a half-height gate that says “Please close me behind you so our little ones don’t escape!”, when you’ve struggled to find a table without a pushchair next to it, when the TVs on the walls are showing non-stop children’s entertainment filmed within that very coffee shop, when there’s no metal cutlery available…
It’s totally cool that this place exists! But there used to be a version of it that also existed and which was more my cup of tea (pardon the pun, sort of), and that other version has sadly gone now.
Anyway, I still came here and I still had a salted caramel brownie (which is a new thing since I was last in such a shop: I recall them only having chocolate), and I did eat it, so life isn’t all bad.
Taste: The brownie is really really good and on its own would maybe even have scored a bit higher. It’s slightly let down by the huge lumps of caramel in it: I like caramel, and I couldn’t taste the salt (a bonus for me), but I think caramel like this would have been perfect if it was more thinly mixed through the brownie: in concentration like this it’s more like suddenly taking a break from your brownie to chew on a toffee. 8/10
Texture: The texture is great, though, just slightly too thick and therefore shy of perfection. I am starting to wonder if salted caramel brownies just always end up with this sort of excellent texture. 9/10
Presentation: It may be a minor issue for eating, but I really like the look of the salted caramel pooling in the brownie. Also, it came on an adorable plate that had the names of traditional British foods going around the outside. 4/5
Value: At £2.50, I was expecting less brownie, especially since I had it to eat in: but this is great value all told. 9/10
Fudge Factor: I used to love Bertie & Boo, and in many ways this visit reminded me why. In many other ways it disappointed me. I’m just saying, Bertie & Boo used to have a children’s adventure playground and a coffee shop, and now it only really seems to have the former, and I think that is a shame. I won’t penalise them for withdrawing into their niche, but I think I’m not supposed to be in that niche, and so I’ll let their brownie stand on its own (which it won’t have any difficulty with, really). 0/5
Total Score: 30
Should I Buy And Eat This Brownie?
This was actually a really good brownie, and if it came in a slightly different scenario it could be challenging for the top of my leaderboard. My recommendation is conditional: if you’ve read everything I’ve said and you know you’re never going to Bertie & Boo, then I don’t feel this brownie should drag you in. But if you are in Bertie & Boo ever, then I can wholeheartedly recommend this brownie! Unless you plan to go exactly once in your life. Then it’s a tough choice between the carrot cake and the brownie. Unless…. both?
Just what is it about potatoes that makes them such good retainers of heat?