Bakeries of all sorts are popular across Japan, but often overlooked among the Parisian pastries is the humble art of British baking. In 2014, Stacey Ward, who felt she couldn’t get any proper British cakes in Japan, decided to take things into her own hands and opened Mornington Crescent bakery, named after a London Tube train station, in Higashiazabu, practically in the shadow of Tokyo Tower.
Although she doesn’t have any formal training, Ward’s old-fashioned, mouthwatering treats are the kind British people eat together with family: a crumble made with fresh apples; simple scones and crumpets; not to mention the carrot cake, Bakewell tarts, hot cross buns, lemon drizzle cake and everything else that could tempt an Anglophile or homesick Brit.
Mornington Crescent is more than just a shop. Ward decided to set up Mornington Crescent as a baking school — a more realistic business model to uphold than a daily bakery. She uses the space to teach people how to whip up British concoctions themselves, imparting knowledge on how to eat and serve the food.
On designated “open bakery” days, queues start early, snaking around the corner. Hungry customers wait patiently, catching wafts of baking biscuits and seasonal cakes. The last 20 or so people often miss out on getting their hands on any of the goods.
“We sell out quickly each open bakery day, ” Ward says. “We just can’t make enough. I always wish I had made more.”
Ward’s small baking school is also in high-demand — lessons on how to make Irish soda bread or Victoria sponge cake book up as soon as spots appear online.
“People take part in the lessons for all sorts of reasons,” says Ward. “Some of them are really serious and study, they want to open up their own tearoom. Some people come with a friend and have a good time, other people want to make something themselves.”
One regular student flies from Nagasaki Prefecture monthly to take part, while another rides the shinkansen from Sendai, and takes her fresh baked goods back home in the afternoon. For many, British baking is a passion: They share their cakes, and lessons learned from class, with friends. Some students even take the same lesson multiple times.
Ward partially credits Mornington Crescent’s popularity to the fact she’s actually from England. British-themed cafes in Japan are often Japanese-run, and usually serve up a more formal afternoon tea. It’s rare to find an actual Brit baking recipes they learned to make from scratch at home. It’s much more niche — and therefore more real.
“Our cakes are for cutting and sharing,” Ward says. “Our food culture is about making dishes for your family — it’s often seasonal or regional.”
Nevertheless, the proof is in the pudding: It took more than three years of planning, research and paperwork for Ward to set up a business in Japan. At the time, she blogged about her experience, offering tips and insider knowledge on “A Little Shop in Tokyo” (now inactive), though she still takes questions from others interested in setting up similar enterprises.
Her advice to potential small business owners is simple: “If you are serious, just try. If you make mistakes, people will help you.” Chatting over a slice of warm Bramley apple crumble paired with ice cream and a cup of Earl Grey tea, Ward stops mid-sentence to wave to a local passing by the wide-windowed shop. “From the outside it might seem like a risk,” she continues, “but when it’s something you want to do, and you put the pieces in place to make it happen, it just happens. It doesn’t feel like a risk when you’re doing it.”
For more information about Mornington Crescent, visit mornington-crescent.co.jp.