If you tell me there’s cake out there worth stealing and going to court over, I have to try it. Any nine-inch cake that goes for $90 is just asking to be put under scrutiny. But while there is plenty of hype surrounding the cake at Lady M, a worldwide patisserie chain with shops in LA, Chicago, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, Beijing, and here in New York City to name a few, there is one thing about their cakes that haven’t had me jumping at the chance to try them next as I work my way through cakes in the city. These are not your typical sponge cake. Lady M’s big attraction are their crêpe cakes; twenty crêpes separated by layers of whipped cream coming in flavors like matcha, salted caramel, earl grey, strawberry, coconut, chocolate banana, red bean, and even charcoal. While they do have a few cakes that are not mille crêpe cakes (the name for this style), they are again not your everyday layer cake, and contain sponge that is either checkered and surrounded in whipped cream and ganache, or alternated with thick slabs of mousse. And they are certainly not the main attraction that people are putting all over Instagram.
Now crêpes themselves are not the issue. I love a crêpe. Many a weekend morning has been spent having strawberry and blueberry filled crêpes for Swonger family brunch. But I was not sure if stacked with whipped cream was the best serving method. I have never been particularly crazy over whipped cream in any context. Often, I find that it feels like a filler substance that’s just standing between me and what I really want. This is especially true when I encounter a sponge cake adorned with frosting that’s closer to whipped cream than buttercream. Yes, occasionally I’ll say yes to some whipped cream on a hot chocolate, or on top of an ice cream sundae. And sometimes this whipped cream is delicious! Flavored and full of body! But often, it’s a decision made out of social panic that doesn’t have any positive pay off. So a cake that is built from thin layers of crêpe and whipped cream wasn’t calling out to me as a dessert that would hit me where I wanted.
But patisserie hype cannot be ignored. So when roaming the Bryant Park area before an appointment, I felt it was finally time to drop by the Lady M situated on the southern border across from the library. Perhaps it was because of the multi-thousand dollars’ worth of cake that had recently been stolen from them, or maybe it’s just their everyday, but there was a security guard waiting outside the entrance as I approached. When asked if I would be dining in or taking out I quickly decided to take out, as the inside looked packed with no seating to be had in the near future. The attendant allowed me inside to wait in line and view the selection on the counter. While there were multiple flavors of the mille crêpe cake available, along with their famous green tea, I decided to go with the signature. I am never a particular fan of green tea flavored desserts (though it is my go-to tea, so I don’t know what’s up there), and with this cake style already behind in terms of construction, I thought basic would be best.
The line moved fairly slowly which gave me a lot of time to look around and examine the cakes before me. Though the store was no smaller than any other bakery in town, it felt a good deal more cramped. Perhaps this was the due to the movie theatre-style rope keeping the line up against the counter, or maybe the many people huddled around the small, white tables, or perhaps it was even the curated feeling of modern elegance that was not meant to make one feel at home, but I was certainly not feeling like I wanted to come in for a relaxing afternoon tea. More this was a place people on Gossip Girl would come to reveal dirt and have a classy fight.
I got my $9 slice and took it over to the seating by the library on the park. It was just starting to get a bit nippy in the city, and that combined with my intense phobia of birds made outdoor eating less than ideal, but with no other options I took what I got. The slice was hugged by two sheets of plastic to keep the edges neat on either side, showing the clean layers of crêpe and cream in variegated white and beige. While monochrome, there was a beauty to the cleanness of the layers and their plastic preservation. It was a satisfying image, the crêpes stacked evenly, one on top of the other. Even more satisfying was the descent of my fork, breaking through each thin layer one by one.
The primary descriptor for both the mouthfeel and flavor would be light. The cream carried wisps of crêpe through the mouth in a swirl of faint vanilla. The top, slightly brûléed, offered the slightest bit of texture, but aside from the small crunch atop the thin, topmost crêpe, it was akin to eating a cloud. The vanilla flavoring was light, barely there amongst the body of the whipped cream. While the flavor was slightly sweet, it was mainly a textural experience. I could see enjoying it for afternoon tea. A light but substantial sweet pairing to an herbal tea.
While it was certainly an interesting afternoon dessert, I won’t be jumping to get another slice any time soon. The hassle of getting into the uncomfortable parlor, the $9 per slice, and the not particularly flavorful cake all make for a niche product that is made for such niche occasions. If I’m wanting to pretend I’m fancy and go out for an afternoon tea with a friend, I would definitely think of Lady M right off the bat. But for my everyday sweet treat cravings? Mille crêpe cake just won’t cut it. And it is most certainly not birthday or wedding cake material. If you’re looking for a great slice of comforting cake, this ain’t it. But if you’re looking to play the role of high-balling New Yorker, give it a go. But maybe give one of the flavored cakes a try and get a little more of an interesting experience in texture alone.