With outlets in Tunbridge Wells and Mayfield, La Roche is bringing the art of patisserie to the town with a delectable range of confectionary delights. Married owners Chris and Harpal Pollard explain more about indulging our sweet tooth and introducing their customers to something new…
TELL US HOW LA ROCHE BEGAN
Harpal: We started a patisserie in 1992 in London and had two shops. After eight years, we opened up a place in a shopping centre in Surrey and were there for a further eight years. Our format changed from a patisserie to takeaways and snacks; people were coming for hot lunches, self-service, salads and soups, but it was a lot of hard work, so we had to adapt.
HOW DID YOU END UP IN TUNBRIDGE WELLS?
Harpal: We have family here and have known Tunbridge Wells for years, but had never seen a patisserie here. The support from locals isn’t as good as it could be and we get more support from outside. Because they’ve not had a history of patisseries in this area, we were a new concept, but we get support from the surrounding villages, Sevenoaks, London and tourists from the continent. It’s a cultural difference and an education of what patisserie is.
HAS THAT EDUCATION BEEN SUCCESSFUL?
Harpal: People who come here like what we have to offer. Our customers are very nice people who love the coffee éclairs, tarts and opera cakes in particular. We want our customers to be joyful and leave smiling, laughing and having enjoyed their experience. We’re trying to get a different culture and instil a joy of serving, which gets transferred to the customer.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS THE BUSINESS GROWN AND DEVELOPED?
Chris: We were part of the Tea Council and were always in the food guide of the Evening Standard when in London. This is our fourth shop and we have two units now – one in Mayfield and one here in Tunbridge Wells. We make everything by hand and don’t use machines except a mixer, a proover and an oven.
HAVE YOU MADE A NAME FOR YOURSELVES IN THE INDUSTRY?
Harpal: We’ve won three major National British Baking Awards. Chris was baker of the year in 2002, which is like an Oscar in baking. He was also runner-up (one of three) in 1996 and I won the National Chocolate Award in 1994. We’re well-known in the baking field.
ARE THERE OTHER THINGS ON OFFER IN ADDITION TO PATISSERIE?
Harpal: We do a traditional afternoon tea, which is beautiful and people have said it’s better than the Ritz! We also make sandwiches with fillings like poached salmon, Brie and grapes and crayfish. Salmon is poached by us to put in sandwiches.
WHERE DID YOU TRAIN?
Chris: Harpal has a patisserie diploma from Cordon Bleu and Ecole L’Notre in Paris. Our patisserie/bakery teachers are now famous worldwide and we’re honoured to be taught by such wonderful people.
YOUR MOTTO IS ‘WITH A CONSCIENCE’ – WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO YOU AND YOUR BUSINESS?
Chris: It’s about sourcing real ingredients, and we also want our business to give back to the community, as a lot of businesses are still dog-eat-dog. If we have some baguettes left at the end of the day, we’ll give them away; we can’t use them after a day, so it’s better that someone enjoys them.
ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR PLANNED FOR CHRISTMAS?
Chris: Our Christmas products are handmade stollen, cakes, amoretti biscuits, pistachio and almond breads, chocolate breads, lots of cakes and patisserie with a Christmas theme, handmade chocolates and, of course, the most popular chocolate logs, with a fire made of caramel sugar.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR THE FUTURE?
Chris: We’re trying to find ways of broadening people’s horizons; to convince people that what we do is authentic and inexpensive. When they cross the threshold and come in, they can see and get a different experience, but it’s getting people through the door.
London Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN1 1DG
01892 537 711