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A successful little cake shop tries a new mix down the road; The Konditor Sandwich is a massive thing, consisting of excellent salty focaccia filled with lettuce, Emmenthal, ham, tomato, cucumber and a rich dressing Photographs by Kalpesh Lathigra
"Oh my God, why do you go to England? The food is terrible and you can't get any cakes!" This, says Gerhard Jenne, was the reaction of his friends when he announced he was leaving Germany for Britain in 1982. He comes from a country where there is a cake for every occasion, even an apple wedding cake that, according to Mr Jenne, is traditionally given to villagers who do not make the guest list. Yet, for Mr Jenne, the shortage of good British cakes was the whole point of emigrating. He had completed the rigorous three-year course required of bakers. Thus equipped, he sought the land of opportunity, cake-wise.

Once in London, he worked in the Swiss Centre ("too German"), followed by a long stint at Justin de Blank's shop in Walton Street. Here he met the dedicated, highly presentable gang with whom, in November 1993, he set up a tiny bakery in the back streets of Waterloo. Moving from a millionaire's ghetto in Chelsea to a tangle of dark streets in south London took vision. Waterloo is bleak. Granted, there are some terraces of squat Victorian cottages which are conservation areas, but these converge with dark and dingy passages to archway warehouses, and with the filthy concrete network funnelling traffic out of central London. Local pubs tend to bear names like "The Pugilist". There is nary a tree in sight and a constant rumble of trains. Buster Edwards sold flowers, and died, only a few blocks from here.

Unfazed, Mr Jenne called his new bakery Konditor & Cook and opened it in a tiny cornershop a block behind Waterloo Road. Old timers say the site was once a cat meat shop. The upshot is delightful: what in Chelsea or Belgravia would have been yet another goodie shop is a proper neighbourhood bakery: immaculate, cheery and classless in the Continental fashion. It is painted a festive plum colour, and the windows are stocked with apple cakes, chocolate cakes, gingerbread men, macaroons, meringues, tarts and all manner of biscuits. The spectacular cocoa-dusted number that looks like a mass of gently folding velvet is a whisky, orange and chocolate bomb. Perfectly decent savouries are sold in a small back room.

The same cakes and far superior savouries and cooked meals are sold in the new Konditor & Cook, which opened three months ago, only a matter of blocks away in the streetside cafe of the Young Vic. It was a logical expansion: theatre staff had become regulars of the bakery, and invited Konditor & Cook to replace their own rather lacklustre caterers.

Mr Jenne remains at the bakery. A rather nice portrait of him by the Slade-trained artist Ann Gardner oversees the new operation. The room is smart and lean, a long thin space with, in addition to tables and chairs, a cleverly positioned bar facing the street. This is the perfect perch for single diners. According to Mark Ryan, the general manager, the utilitarianism of the place is meant to make it accessible not just to theatre-goers, but to the poorer denizens of Waterloo. Prices, certainly, are democratic: pounds 4 buys a wholesome lunch. Still, it is more likely to cater for incomers. During my meal, the place was full of young actors, a suitably penurious and appreciative, if not a local, clientele. Then there was a bunch that was probably rich, just striving to look poor, some sort of rock group scowling sullenly at a nervous pop writer.

At the bakery, savouries are almost an afterthought. Here they take precedence and are done well. The Konditor Sandwich is a massive thing, consisting of excellent salty focaccia filled to brimming with lettuce, Emmenthal, ham, tomato, cucumber and a rich dressing. This wonderful sandwich came, strangely, with a big strawberry to the side of the plate. As a vegetarian dish, the "aubergine charlotte" was a pretty terrine, slices of well-cooked aubergine enveloping layers of a well-judged filling, according to the menu, yoghurt and tomato. Served cold, too cold, it tasted mainly of aubergine, and a punchy tomato sauce. Still, it was very, very good, far better than vegetarian offerings in many a posh joint. The accompanying side salad, which was fine, involved more fruit.

This fruit, it emerges, is a trademark of one of the chefs, Sean Carey. He redesigned the menus for Cranks and the Slug and Lettuce pub chain. The apple in the salads at the Soho gay bar Freedom signals Sean Was Here. The other chef, Carlos Cardoso, is the author of the daily pasta dish. The day I ate there, it was penne, a tubular pasta, with four cheese sauce. It sounded good, but so did the celery and stilton soup, so I chose the latter. This soup was wholesome winter ballast, though serving it with a Parmesan-flavoured cheese scone pushed the cheese theme past palatability.

The desserts were hit and miss. Caramelized bananas with mascapone and meringue was gooey and heavy, a sort of impenetrable mass. Far better was the chocolate cake, which comes with heavily set, very rich icing. The descriptions of the desserts sound like the work of the team behind Blind Date. A raspberry and chocolate fudge tart with creme fraiche is described as "more uplifting than a Wonderbra... truly moregasmic!" Much more interesting, in a separate menu, are the standard bakery cakes: coffee and walnut cake; French almond fruit tart; whisky and orange bomb; treacle tart.

Espresso, the coffee for which is roasted by a local firm under the Waterloo arches, was excellent. There is a good selection of teas and tisanes. Then there is the alcohol. Being a theatre bar, the place is licensed. Mr Ryan says the bar is capable of producing a perfect dry Martini for intervals. This I would like to see: if allowed to warm even slightly, this classic American cocktail becomes undrinkable. Myself, I had Scrumpy Jack cider, very "street", but a curious choice. There are far better ciders around.

This new cafe has generous and public-spirited opening hours: 8.30am to 11pm Monday to Friday. That said, dinner is not served after 8pm, though savoury and sweet snacks are still available, and outsiders arriving mid- evening may find themselves crushed in theatre interval scrums. Much more appealing is the notion of eating breakfast there before catching a train, or meeting a friend for lunch. Or dropping in for a scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam as a mid-afternoon treat. Or all three

Konditor & Cook Cafe 66 The Cut, London SE1 (0171-620 2700). Open Mon-Fri, 8.30am-11pm, Sat, 10.30am-11pm. About pounds 5-10. Cash and cheques only. Supper served only to 8pm. Incomers note: pre-theatre crowds will dominate 5.30-7pm, interval crowds from 8.30-9pm

Konditor & Cook Bakery 22 Cornwall Road, London SE1 (0171-261 0456). Open Mon-Fri, 7.30am-6pm, Sat, 8.30am-1.30pm