Eggs, chocolate, chips, oats, bananas, salmon, caramel, avocado — there’s only one meal where this motley crew might share a table: brunch, or what might be thought of as the culinary equivalent of a day at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Whether it’s the mid-morning after the night before, a bi-monthly catch up with uni mates or a spontaneous Sunday situation with your other half, brunch is at once a deeply unifying and utterly individual meal. Everyone has a preferred coffee, dish and time for brunching. One person — the sensible one, who decided against shot-induced dancing last night — will always arrive early to sit with a book and a satisfied air whilst everyone else rolls up. Another will always phone their order in as they bowl out of the front door half-dressed and swearing, eschewing a shower in favour of heavy spritz of perfume. No matter. Brunch is for lingering, for ordering more coffee, more juice – even, eventually but often, cocktails. It’s for half-reading the papers, half-chatting, and half-dreaming of a post-prandial nap later. And there are few better places to do all of that than in these.
Toast Rack Bake House
The first thing most will notice upon walking into the Toast Rack Bakehouse is the fresh bread: boules, baguettes, and dark, weighty rye, the sight and comforting smell of which suggests that this is the place to order bread-based dishes. The second will probably be the dogs, which the Toast Rack welcomes, and — being opposite Wandsworth Common — receives in abundance, enhancing its homely, friendly atmosphere. The third is what people are eating. This is food one is more likely to order by looking around than by looking at the menu: the buttery spool of folded eggs crowned with whipped feta on the neighbouring table, the squishy cinnamon bun spied at the counter, the beetroot cured salmon with a pillowy poached egg currently being enjoyed by the lady in the corner with the cockapoo. The coffee, from speciality roasters Alchemy, is excellent enough to warrant picking up a bag upon leaving, along with a pastry to continue the experience at home.
314 Trinity Road, SW18, @toastrackbakehouse
Quite what part of this cafe its name refers to remains a mystery. It’s certainly not it’s dishes, which are amongst the most colourful in London; nor is it the coffee, which is roasted by Ozone and beautifully served by baristas whose latte hearts are a source of pride. But no matter. The important thing here is that this somewhere big on fun and flavour, where dishes arrives strewn with petals and pretty leaves or sesame seeds in an assortment of shades. Portions are generous, with piles of toast and lashings hollandaise or feta. There is no skimping of the house-cured salmon in the eggs benedict, or the fruit on the granola or waffles. Menus change reassuringly regularly, reflecting the seasons and the staff’s energetic creativity; and there’s a courtyard, so on sunny days Mud feels like a hot slice of the Antipodean.
141 Mitcham Road, SW17, @mudcafes
Grounds and Grapes
Grounds and Grape is somewhere where the potential to get back on it the morning after hangs in the air like an illicit liaison. Even those going with the best of intentions will struggle not to be convinced by the cocktails, which are as colourful and artful as the floral arrangement adorning the frontage. That said, the food is beautiful and satisfying enough as it is. As with Mud, coffee comes from Ozone — more-or-less a byword for fine coffee these days — and the reassuringly short menu has all the best bases covered: Turkish eggs, granola, overnight oats, the obligatory banana bread and of course avocado. The showstopper, though, is the warm buttered cornbread with smoky and spicy chipotle baked beans, topped with poached egg. Add to this a warm, rustic yet refined setting and Grounds and Grapes is a place to happily while away the day in — and maybe, just maybe, the night.
41 Honor Oak Park, SE23, groundsandgrapes.co.uk
Bonne Bouche Marylebone
Surreal though it now seems, for a short while many years ago my I lived in Marylebone and whilst there fell in love with Bonne Bouche, an all-day café frequented by everyone from builders to businessmen, where scrambled eggs arrive on white or granary bread and locals come with telling regularity. The food is good and reasonably priced; the service is buzzy and warm. Bonne Bouche prides itself on the pastries, which it’s been making for some 50 years, but it’s the piping hot, perfectly cooked and refreshingly unpimped porridge, dished from a vast, steaming tureen, that I go for whenever I’m passing, or the peppery, garlicky mushrooms on hot buttered toast.
2-3 Thayer Street, W1, bonnebouche.co.uk
Though this Ottolenghi outpost would suit most breeds of brunchers, it is best suited to brunches with parents — particularly parents who are paying — or long-lost friends. It’s a place where one can book a table, sit down, hear and be heard over food that’s guaranteed to be delicious, whatever the order. Famously, the shakshuka with braised eggs and labneh screams Ottolenghi, but the scrambled tofu with grated tomato and confit garlic is a surprise winner, and one that will go down a treat with vegan companions. Order this, a macchiato and a mimosa and you’ll act like an adult, regardless of how old you are or what time you went to bed.
50 Artillery Lane, E1, ottolenghi.co.uk
Though I very rarely get hangovers — sorry — when I do, I dream of Parlour, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it brunch spot in Kensal Rise where I once arrived with one of the worst hangovers of my life, but which — two hours, two coffees and countless rounds of toast later — eventually cured me. There’s a courtyard out the back that is both sunny and serene, and indoors boasts banquette seating in soothing yellow, set against calm blue panelling. There is unlimited toast at £1 (!) to get things started and range of herbal teas. The back door smoked salmon (so called because they literally smoke it out the back of the kitchen) and housemade soda bread was the meal that healed me, but many swear by the Banjo fried egg and bacon bap with Oxford sauce. The double Bloody Mary’s are banging to boot.
5 Regent Street, NW10, parlourkensal.com
House plants. Exposed beams. Distressed brick. An old transport hub reimagined for the 21st century. Even before the food and drink, Tram Store ticks almost every east London cliché in the book, but the sum of all these well executed parts is, it must be admitted, a gorgeous room. Factor in one of the Tram Store’s signature big breakfasts — poached eggs, dry-cured back bacon and mushrooms for meat eaters, with scrambled tofu and smashed avo for vegans — and it’s little wonder this place has garnered something of a cult following amongst locals. The Clapton rarebit, a joyous mess of London-produced cheese, mustard, fruit chutney and prosecco, is reason to go in itself, but the sourcing is also top notch: think Redhill Farm pork, Clarence Court eggs and Cimpson and Son’s coffee.
38 Upper Clapton Road, E5, tram-store.co.uk
The Good Egg
While once going to the Good Egg meant dragging friends to Stoke Newington, there’s now one one in Soho, for those happier in central. The vibe is very Middle East-meets-Stoke Newington, by way of New York. Think the obligatory shakshuka; a babka French toast; fluffy pita suffed with tahini; zoug, egg and aubergine; and the pièce de résistance, lox and schmear challah. It is a thing of beauty, consisting of pastrami-spiced smoked salmon, lemon schmear, a chilli and chive folded egg, all stuffed inside a challah bun. Equally unmissable is the the cornbread with honey butter and zoug. In short, whilst the hardest part about the Good Egg used to be in the getting there, now it’s deciding which breads to choose.
93 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 and Kingly Court, W1, thegoodegg.co
Post office and passport control asides, I’m not a queuer. For food? Forget it. And yet, and yet... well, Milk in Balham. I’d queue for the fish sando — a panko-fried red snapper with tonkatsu and daikon — and I’d queue for the Gloucester old spot pork patty with ‘hangover’ sauce and Lincolnshire poacher. Above all, I’d queue for the banana bread with halva butter and pumpkin seed tahini, which is the platonic ideal of all three. This isn’t just good brunch; it is a considered, creative brunch. Even if you bought all the coffee, bread and sauces they sell on site, you’d struggle to recreate what’s done here at home.
18-20 Bedford Hill, SW12, milklondonshop.uk
The Blue Legume
In a city where it’s an achievement for restaurants to reach even their first birthday, an unassuming independent cafe which has seen more than a decade of poached eggs and smashed avo is worth toasting. Enter The Blue Legume, a beloved and abiding fixture in Islington and Stoke Newington with a brunch menu that transcends international borders, managing somehow to serve Welsh rarebit, croque madam, huevos rancheros, a Mediterranean breakfast, Turkish eggs and – of course – a full English. For locals, the Blue Legume is the brunch equivalent of slippers: familiar, accessible and gratifyingly comfortable. Besides, there aren’t many places these days where you can find an omelette that has no pretensions beyond ham and cheddar cheese.
177 Upper Street, N1, bluelegume.co.uk
The Riding House Café
The Riding House Café caters for all brunching needs, almost all of the time (they serve it till 4pm), and do so centrally enough to suit all but the most stubborn suburban dwellers. The vibe is classy (marble tables, house plants) but comfy (squishy seats, toasted marshmallows on deep-dish pancakes) and the extensive menu ranges from supremely healthy dishes like peach porridge and cajun pepper stew to that other, deep-dish pancake extreme. Booking is recommended on a weekend, especially for larger groups — a breed of bruncher the Riding House Café services well, being light and spacious — but then you’re perfectly placed for a wander round Regent’s Park or a trip to the British Musem afterwards, for those feeling particularly sprightly.
43 Great Titchfield Street, W1, ridinghouse.cafe
Sure, this part of the redeveloped Olympic Park looks like something out of Sims — but I reckon the Sims would be pretty big on brunching. Besides, I defy anyone, virtual or otherwise, to not fall for Hand. This modern, east London-meets-Greece cafe serves Greek baked beans, Greek pies and pastries and shakshuka, as well as toasties and croissants. The coffee is astonishingly good, partly on account of using Square Mile roasted beans, but mainly, I suspect, because Hand sources its milk directly from a single farm in Kent. The service is as warm and hospitable when ordering a takeaway from the hatch as it is on the inside, enjoying a two-hour brunch and flicking through magazines.
11 Victory Parade, East Village, E20, @hand.cafe
Though it’s tricky to believe there is a single soul left in London yet to try Dishoom’s naan rolls, it would still be remiss not to mention them on a list of London’s best brunch fare. The naans aren’t the only thing on this Bombay café chain’s brunch menu — far from it, and everything is good — but whenever I break with tradition and have something else, I regret it. The floppy, blistered naan wrapped round smoky streaked bacon, cream cheese and chilli is the definitive, legendary example, but the same principle applies to all the naan rolls, whether they’re stuffed with egg or vegan sausage: they’re a genius invention. Factor in bottomless chai and a mango and fennel lassis and you’ll have won the day before it’s even the afternoon.
Across town, dishoom.com
Another place in which to seamlessly roll from brunch, to afternoon cocktails and straight through to dinner. This is especially true when the weather comes up trumps and the tables outside the Fitzrovia and London Bridge locations trap the sunlight all day round, making Lantana feel almost as Antipodean as it tastes. The menu shuffles and showcases and the best of Australia’s eclectic cuisines: stand out dishes include the avocado poke bowl, the stack of corn fritters with fresh spinach, halloumi and roast tomatoes, and — if you can stomach confit duck for breakfast — the duck hash with fried egg and a date and tamarind dressing. The coffee is Lantana’s house blend, and as good as you’d expect Australian blended coffee to be, and there’s the option of having bottomless prosecco or mimosa for £36 – though the well-priced, well-balanced cocktails offer better value for my money.
Across town, lantanacafe.co.uk
The Colony Grill Room
Situated in the transportively posh Beaumont Hotel in Mayfair, the Colony Grill Room is the best of New York seamlessly soldered to the best of London. This is evident during dinner, but it is even more obvious in the brunch served every Saturday in the white tableclothed, red banqueted grill room and boasts salt beef, sourdough waffles, Café de Paris snails and – of course – a New York strip. Honey comes from the rooftop; eggs from Cackleberry farm in the Cotswold; and their hangover cure comes straight out of the 19th century: D.R. Harris cocktail bitters, originally served at 29 St. James’s Street for more 150 years. The service here, it should be added, is astonishingly attentive.
8 Balderton Street, Brown Hart Gardens, W1, colonygrillroom.com
That the Wolseley is no longer in the graceful hands of its co-founders Jeremy King and Chris Corbin is lamentable. Nevertheless, the Wolsey continues to do one of the best breakfasts and brunches in the city, and the experience of sitting in its welcoming art-deco dining room and listening to the elegant clatter and hubbub of breakfast service is still one of the most prized. The nature of the Wolsey is such that anyone who has ever eaten there will tell you their choice is the best order — in the spirit of which, I recommend the gruyere omelette and BirchermuÌesli. The reality, though, is that nothing on this menu served in this setting, at this level of service could fail to delight.
160 Piccadilly, W1, thewolseley.com