French-style donuts via the American south sold on the streets of East London
by Adam Coghlan
There’s a new donut-slinging duo in London. Brad and Molly McDonald have given the already hip and quaint tourist destination, East London's Columbia Road, a new edible attraction. On Sunday mornings, from their lemon-yellow front door, the couple sells a limited number of beautifully prepared, perfectly sized Beignet-style donuts as 1235 Donuts.
Brad McDonald has serious pedigree (although isn't, in his own words, "a pastry chef"), with stints at some of the world’s best restaurants, including Copenhagen's Noma and NYC's Per Se. His first two restaurants were Colonie and Gran Electrica, both in Brooklyn. It was only due to the havoc and resulting damage caused by Hurricane Sandy that forced closure on his third restaurant, Governor in DUMBO, Brooklyn. To the delight of the London food community, he is now in the UK and at the helm of Marylebone restaurant The Lockhart, where he's championing America's southern classics such as catfish gumbo, shrimp and grits, dirty rice and the lemon ice-box.
It was over Christmas that he and Molly conceived the idea of selling donuts to the public from their doorstep. The idea was casually floated between the two of them until one weekend in January, when she called his bluff and Brad found himself up in the middle of the night making and deep-frying his signature enriched batter in their tiny kitchen. Neither of them predicted the reaction nor the legions drawn to their door via social media.
That was just two months ago, when the express sell-out of a 60-piece batch was enough to convince them to carry on—albeit on the proviso that they moved production to more significant premises. Now the pre-dawn starts with a journey across town to the restaurant kitchen in West London and back again; carrying what is now a (week-on-week growing) 200-piece batch. There, from 10AM onwards, a crowd gathers to choose from four fillings of varying shades of cream, brown and ochre, oozing either vanilla, chocolate, coffee or salted caramel flavored creme patisserie, that is piped generously into the middle of each piece.
The curious name comes from the time when their daughter, Maren was asked, "How many donuts would you like? One, two, three…" and replied, "Five!" 1235 Donuts themselves are principally made in the style of the French Beignets that Brad became so familiar with when living in Colmar (in the Alsace region). But their conception and development is also rooted in his Mississippi childhood, where he remembers queue-jumping for a bag of donuts at his family’s shop on the way home from school. Now the Sunday morning tradition is a labor of love; a passion project that is as sweet as the treats on offer.
Portrait of Brad McDonald courtesy of Patricia Niven, all other images courtesy of Wilkes McDermid