Words Sarah Langton-Lockton Photographs Amandine Adolphe
On Saturday mornings at Edibleculture, and on Sundays at the farm shop at Whitehill Farm on the Brogdale Road, a growing stream of connoisseurs of the very best tea, coffee, hot chocolate and pâtisserie make their way to Amandine Adolphe’s mobile salon de thé. Faversham Life joined the queue on a bright Saturday autumn morning.
Customers can enjoy loose leaf teas from the Bird & Blend Tea Co and the Tea Lab Company and coffee from Curve in Margate. Flavoured teas, such as the loose-leaf black tea flavoured with coconut that Faversham Life enjoyed, are popular in France, says Amandine. The hot chocolate, made with the Australian company Mork’s cacoa powder sweetened with unrefined coconut blossom sugar, reminds Amandine of the huge pot of delicious hot chocolate that simmered all day on her grandmother’s stove.
Amandine’s cake repertoire includes almond tuiles, madeleines with a filling of her mother’s jam, walnut, chocolate and lemon tarts and the great Bordeaux speciality, the cannelé, of which more anon. All of Amandine’s cakes are made according to her grandparents’ recipes, sometimes with an extra twist of her own.
Indispensable to this exemplary small business is Ginette, a 1955 Citroën 2CV, stylish and compact, with drinks dispensed on one side and gorgeous little cakes on the other, ‘I wanted to create a tea salon without having a shop with all its overheads, including very high rents,’ explains Amandine. ‘I liked the idea of being mobile – a mobile pâtisserie and drinks to go with it.’ She found her van, already fully converted, on eBay.
The business goes by the name of Jacques et Lilie, who were Amandine’s grandparents. They had a successful pâtisserie, with a tea salon attached, in Cap Ferret, a seaside town serving Bordeaux. Amandine and her immediate family lived on Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean that is a French department and region. They spent their summers in Cap Ferret. Every day, says Amandine, she and her brother would wake to the smell of croissants and pains au chocolat wafting from the bakery. ‘And If you were on the beach at 4 o’clock,’ she adds, ‘you could smell the waffles.’ In the busy summer months, the queues for crêpes and waffles stretched along the beach.
It was an old-fashioned business, says Amandine. The bakers were all men and the serving staff female. All the family worked there in the summer and Amandine begged her grandmother, whom she describes as ‘a strong leader and the captain of the ship’, to let her help. When she was 14, Amandine was allowed to join the serving team. She also observed how everything was made and learnt all the recipes, including the great speciality of Bordeaux, the delicious cannelé. Amandine describes this as ‘crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, flavoured with vanilla and rum and tasting a bit like a crème brûlée.’ The vanilla for her cannelés, says Amandine, comes from Réunion and is the best in the world.
Sadly, when the time came for the grandparents to retire, at the age of 75, there was no-one in the family willing or able to succeed them. Amandine was 18 or 20 when the business closed, she says, ‘not an age for taking it on.’ She remembers it as a bittersweet moment. ‘We had such a sweet memory of the place.’
Amandine went on to study fashion design, specialising in childrenswear. She worked in France following her studies and then from 2010 in London, where for six years she was a fashion designer, specialising in garment technology, for the luxury brand Caramel Baby & Child. Latterly, she became disillusioned by the fashion industry: ‘I didn’t feel fulfilled, so I started to chat with friends about wanting to do something on my own.’ Someone suggested that cannelés would be a hit. This idea appealed and Amandine started working on it, realising that she could be really creative with branding, thanks to her fashion background.
Armed with her grandparents’ recipes, Amandine began by making cannelés, madeleines and brioche, selling at London markets and delivering directly to customers. Initially, she had input from her cousin Paul, who still helps at events. As the business grew organically, so did her ambition. Amandine wanted to cater for events, which led to the idea for a mobile tea salon and the serendipitous purchase of Ginette. By November 2019 the mobile tea salon was up and running, Ginette’s first location for her new owner was on the small private parking site of a London pub, Amandine was busy baking and her boyfriend Adam, a sessions drummer, was helping with deliveries.
And then the coronavirus struck and the lockdowns piled up. ‘Both of us,’ recalls Amandine, ‘lost a lot of business. Adam had had a busy summer ahead, but everything was cancelled. I was supplying some hotels with complimentary cakes for their customers, but the hotels were shut for months.’ Resourceful as ever, they turned their energies to home deliveries, covering all of London. ‘That saved our bacon,’ says Amandine.
The plan had always been to move out of London, where, says Amandine, ‘everything was so expensive, and we felt we were living in a chicken coop.’ They had been to Whitstable several times for Adam’s gigs but found the crowds overwhelming on sunny days. ‘Why not try Faversham?’ said Adam’s godmother. So they did, and it was love at first sight. They moved here in November 2020 when Kent was entering Tier 4.
Ginette is available to hire for events. Cakes can also be ordered online at www.jacquesetlilie.com. Customers should give 24 hours’ notice; deliveries are free of charge in Faversham, Sittingbourne, Whitstable, Herne Bay and Canterbury. The minimum price for an order is £15. A gorgeous centrepiece for wedding receptions and other special events is the cannelé croquembouche, constructed by Amandine at the venue, and embellished, if desired, with flowers supplied by the customer’s florist. Prices start at £250 for a croquembouche composed of 80 cannelés.
Business is now steady and continuing organic growth is in prospect. ‘We love it here,’ says Amandine, ‘it’s really us.’ Faversham people are very fond of cake, so the future looks bright.