cosmopolondon

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Category: Brunch

Villandry

2016 has been the year of brunches, so it was only fitting to celebrate the festive season with my best friends over a bottomless breakfast. After considering the multiple possibilities (mainly based on how long we’d get unlimited booze for) we chose Villandry St James’s.

Villandry St James’s is located in one of the grandest parts of London, between Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly – close enough to be in the thick of it, but detached enough to feel precious and private.

They offer a bottomless champagne brunch for £40. Prior to my visit, I’d only had a two course brunch (and was very pleased at that), but Villandry go one better. Their brunch is three courses. Three courses of breakfast heaven.

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Pastries and champagne

To start, they bring baskets of pastries – a mix of classic, pain au chocolat and pain au raisin, along with tea and coffee, orange juice and, of course, champagne! And they do not neglect their top-up duties – my glass was never less than two-thirds full.

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The Villandry Full English: scrambled eggs, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, bacon, sausage, spinach and sourdough toast

After you’ve dusted off the pastries, your main order arrives. Villandry St James’s menu offers all the classics: Eggs Benedict, Florentine or Royale, the Full English and (the millenial mainstay) poached egg avo toast. Bearing in mind the copious amounts of champagne, I went for the Full English (but swapped the beans for spinach… just so I had a little green on my plate). I don’t know what kind of sausage it was, but it was the best sausage I’ve ever had.

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Poached eggs, spinach and avocado toast

Finally, just when you’re getting a bit tipsy and feeling a little full, the sweets arrive – all in miniature. There’s a macaron, a salted caramel brownie, pannacotta, a fruit tart, a meringue – all delectable.

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My best brunch of the year? Quite possibly. Or it might just be the champagne talking…

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Ottolenghi

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I love Ottolenghi. I love the cookbooks and I love the Guardian/Observer features, and I love the food. Who would have thought that cauliflower cake can actually be outrageously tasty – a staple Sunday cook up for me for weekday lunches. Even Bridget Jones likes Ottolenghi (and he’s actually released a recipe to match the one referenced in the latest film). I’ve been dying to go to the restaurant in Islington for ages, so when a work colleague suggested we meet for Sunday brunch/lunch, I jumped at the opportunity.

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The cake selection – strategically placed in the window!

We arrived at 12.00 and it was already busy. Whilst you wait for your table, though, you can eye up the salads and the cakes and the various raw ingredients for sale at the front of the restaurant. We were shown to a communal table at first but the hostess was lovely and offered us a private table when one became quickly available – it’s little considerations like this that make this place such a good restaurant.

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The Ottolenghi Shakshuka

For me, Ottolenghi breakfast means one thing: shakshuka. And I was not disappointed – the eggs were perfectly baked in a delectable surrounding of tomato and peppers and Labneh, complete with grilled toast. I loved every mouthful and was devastated when I finished it – something this good you never want to end.

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The day’s salad selections

My colleague went for the salad selection – these change daily and with the season, but are always more than just a salad. Ottolenghi truly makes salads and sides great.

I can’t wait to eat more Ottolenghi food – whether that’s in the restaurants or what I’ve whipped up for myself at home.

The American breakfast chronicles

A two week trip to the east coast of the United States featured plenty of history, culture and politics as we travelled from Boston down to Washington D.C. and finishing up in the New York.

These cities each have their individual charms. Boston is historic, compact and young thanks to the multiple colleges in the near vicinity (including my old stomping ground, Wellesley College). Washington D.C. is grand, well-planned and fascinatingly interesting thanks to the Smithsonian Institute (who knew Mr Smithson was British though, eh?!) and of course the seat of power for the vast American political machine. And New York truly is the city that never sleeps – it’s loud and brash and filthy busy, but has everything you could ever possibly dream of wanting.

But one thing these cities all have in common is their exceptional food. On our trip we didn’t have a bad meal, but the highlights for me have to be the breakfasts. I made a point of ensuring we ate breakfast out at least once in each city, and was not disappointed.

Boston

The Trident Cafe on Newbury Street in Back Bay is a popular bookstore and brunch destination for Bostonians. Give your name to the staff at the till when you first walk into the cafe, and then have a browse around the bookstore whilst you wait for your table.

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The potato chuckwagon: shredded potatoes with cheddar cheese and chorizo, mushrooms and tomatoes, topped with scrambled eggs

This place has one of the most extensive breakfast menus I have ever seen, including some eclectic egg dishes that I simply couldn’t resist. I went for the potato chuckwagon because I’d never seen anything like it before… luckily we walked several miles of the Freedom Trail that day to burn this beast of a breakfast off!

If you’re looking for something even more low key, give Paramount in Beacon Hill a try (recommended to me by my friend who lives in Boston and is the biggest foodie I know). This tiny little restaurant operates a system whereby you queue up and order your food, and it’s cooked in front of you. Once ready, you are then shown to a table by one of the hosts.

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Paramount’s blueberry pancakes

It’s noisy, it’s busy and extremely popular with locals and tourists alike. I went for the blueberry pancakes because I couldn’t come to to the USA and not have pancakes!

Washington D.C.

We only had two full days in Washington D.C. and had to pack in a hell of a lot of sightseeing, but we made time to go to one of the oldest restaurants in the city, the Old Ebbitt Grill, for breakfast.

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French toast with peach compote, honey pecan butter, Vermont maple syrup and bacon

Just steps from the White House, this spot is a favourite for politicians and tourists alike, and had a suitably grand interior with real old American charm. I went for the French toast which was enormous and so delicious – it was my first ever French toast experience and now I’m a devoted convert.

New York

Just because people don’t sleep in New York doesn’t mean there’s no need for breakfast! Check out Cosmopolondon’s full review of Ruby’s Cafe in New York.

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Thank you USA!

Ruby’s Cafe, NYC

Cosmopolondon has been on a little hiatus for a while after an amazing trip to the United States of America. The USA fancies itself the undisputed champion of good breakfasts, so watch this space for the American breakfast chronicles. One restaurant though, warrants a post of its own, so this week Ruby’s Cafe of New York City is the special guest star.

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Ruby’s is actually an Australian enterprise which started in Soho and recently opened a branch in Murray Hill on 3rd Ave (not far from Midtown where we were staying). We ventured out on a Sunday morning and found the restaurant with a gaggle of people outside. We put our names down and were told there would be about a 30 minute wait.

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We popped a couple of doors down to Birch Coffee for an iced chai latte to pass the time – America does iced drinks so well! Once our table was ready, inside we found the cafe is noisy and bustling (the music might actually be a little too loud for a Sunday morning, but hey, this is the city that never sleeps) but light and airy with plenty of trendy touches, such as succulents on the table and juices served in Ruby’s-branded bottles.

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Green eggs bowl – soft scrambled eggs, spinach, kale, avocado, salsa verde and courgette with a side of smoked salmon and eight grain toast

After two weeks of indulgent American breakfasts (homefries, pancakes, waffles galore!) I was delighted to find some healthier options on the menu – what would you expect from an Australian-inspired outfit in NYC?! I went for the green eggs bowl with added smoked salmon, and my travelling companion had the breakfast bowl (poached egg, salmon, brown rice, greens, tomato and avocado). It was definitely my favourite breakfast of the trip, and one I’ll be trying to recreate at home in SE London!

 

Percy & Founders

Fitzrovia is an interesting area of London – I can’t quite put my finger on its character. When I was younger I thought “Fitzrovia” was a fictional area of London used in novels and films, because I didn’t think somewhere with such an odd name could exist in the capital. But, lo and behold, it does, and it’s home to some fantastic quirky bars and restaurants.

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Percy & Founders is tucked away on Pearson Square. It’s a large, high-ceilinged room with floor-to-ceiling windows. I felt like I was walking into a hotel lobby as I approached the host’s desk. To your left is a swish, bright and airy bar, and in front of you and to the right is the restaurant with another bar area in the middle, all doused in muted tones of gold, teal and taupe with interesting, off-piste art scattered over the walls.

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Baked eggs with chorizo, avocado and tomato salsa

Long on my brunch lust list, I was joined by five friends on this terrible, wet June morning to sample the menu. Between us, we covered most of it. I went for the baked eggs with chorizo, avocado and tomato salsa which were the best baked eggs I’ve had. A friend had the variant with feta, spinach, tomato and herbs and was equally impressed. Note that this doesn’t come with toast on the side, but does have toasty croutons… I ordered extra toast anyway!

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The Full English

We also had the avocado and poached eggs on toast (with a side of sausage!) and a couple of Full English breakfasts, which also looked a great choice with no skimping on the tomatoes or mushrooms. For a sophisticated Sunday morning complete with eclectic juice mixes, great coffee and a chilled vibe, I’d definitely recommend this place. Worth a return visit for sure.

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The Table

Whilst living in Waterloo, I had heard there was a great brunch place nearby. I duly trotted off to try it out, and was not disappointed. The Table Cafe, on Southwark Street, is extremely popular and you can’t book a table for weekend brunch – be prepared to wait if you turn up after 11.00. But, these were the days before Cosmopolondon, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to return ever since.

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The London Marathon gave me an excuse – nothing gets between me and brunch, and marathon day is a lot of fun but it does mean a certain amount of disruption and extra hustle and bustle in London. But, being south of the river, we didn’t get too tangled up in marathon madness. This year, the marathon also coincided with the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, and there was a festival along the entire Southbank showing extracts of all 37 of the bard’s plays. London felt extra special as a result on this chilly Sunday morning.

I started with a smoothie – I opted for the “About Last Night” which is a clean mix of apple, banana, green grapes and spinach and chia seeds made with almond milk. It’s the first smoothie I’ve had where banana hasn’t been the overpowering ingredient.

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For the main event, myself and another friend had the Borough Full English. The chorizo and ham hock baked beans really stole the show for me (and I don’t even really like baked beans), and they don’t scrimp on the bacon and sausages either. One rasher of bacon and one sausage just doesn’t cut it for a Full English!

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The Borough Full English – two organic eggs, streaky bacon, pork and leek sausages, chorizo and ham hock baked beans, grilled tomato, garlic and thyme marinated mushroom and grilled sourdough

Another friend went for The Table’s signature breakfast dish – The Stack, which is like a full english all piled up on a fluffy toasted bagel. If you fancy a twist and you really like baked beans, or if you’re eternally torn between a full english and eggs benedict, this is the one to go for.

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The Stack – chorizo and ham hock baked beans, more chorizo, a toasted bagel, two poached eggs and hollandaise

Several tables around us were sampling the waffles and pancakes, which looked AMAZING. Despite being fully satisfied (and absolutely stuffed!) with my big cooked breakfast, I did have a little food envy as I watched others delve into those sweet mountains of maply goodness. Next time…

The Exhibit

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When you’re horrifically hungover after a night of too many vodka/sodas and dancing til your feet ache (despite being sensible and not wearing you’re highest sky high heels… god I’m getting old), there’s only thing to be had. A bottomless prosecco brunch, of course. Actually, I was too delicate on this particular occasion to partake, but usually I’d be the first on that bandwagon.

The Exhibit in Balham is a cinema, gallery, venue for hire and extremely cool bar all at once. They even have a giant fish tank. The restaurant space is largely monochrome with modern artistic aspects (plus aforementioned giant fish tank) with a square bar in the middle and effortlessly hipster staff – as in, they were hipsters before hipsters were a thing.

Located a stone’s throw from Balham Station, on Sundays they offer an exciting brunch menu or a Sunday roast (all served til 5pm), with unlimited prosecco or Bloody Marys for an additional £20. The brunch options are around £7-£8. You can also have mango, passionfruit, raspberry – pretty much any exotic fruit – bellini you want (although not bottomless).

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Poached eggs with avocado on toast

Our waiter appeared to be equally as hungover as we were, but he was also charming and gorgeous and recommended extra bacon with every dish on the menu, so gold star to you, sir. Between the six of us we sampled most of the menu. For my more adventurous readers, I’d recommend the Chilaquiles which I can only describe as brunchy nachos.

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Chilaquiles, spicy tomato salsa, avocado, sour cream, cheese and fried egg

If you’d like to maintain a facade of healthiness whilst washing down your prosecco, the sweetcorn fritters with poached eggs and tomato salad do the trick. I’m always looking for interesting alternatives to toast and these sweetcorn fritters were delicious.

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Sweetcorn fritters, poached eggs and tomato salad

The smoked ham hock rosti with fried egg and parsley sauce also received glowing reviews from my friends, as did the failsafe classic – avo toast and poached eggs. I will definitely be returning here – especially to sample the Sunday roast and also to see how this place shapes up once the sun sets. Well worth the trek to SW on a Sunday when the usual train services were, of course, not running.

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Smoked ham hock, rosti, fried egg and parsley sauce

Dishoom

I’m not the most well travelled person – there’s so much of the world I haven’t seen yet, that I want to see – my wanderlust list continues to grow exponentially with each passing day. But, of those places I have been, I can say that I haven’t had Indian food that’s a patch on what I’ve had in the UK. I haven’t been to India yet, and I’m sure a trip there would change everything, but, until then, I’m pretty content with what’s on offer here.

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Asian fusion is nothing new, but Indian fusion in particular seems to be having a bit of a moment. And, despite the burgeouning market, one (for the moment) stands above the rest – Dishoom. I’ve been to two of their restaurants – Covent Garden and Shoreditch – for dinner and brunch respectively. The food is delicious and the restaurants themselves are somehow glamorous yet uncomplicated.

You can’t make a reservation after 18.00 unless you’re a big group, so if you’re going to dinner, be prepared to wait. On a Monday night at 19.00, my group waited almost 2 hours for a table (despite being told it would be an hour and 40 minutes… if it’s going to be that long in the first place, at least be conservative with your guesstimating…)  – do not underestimate the popularity of this place. That said, the cocktails are good and, when you are seated and ordered, the food comes thick and fast.

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Mahi tikka, Black House Daal and a bowl of greens

At dinner time, be sure not to miss the Black House Daal – a signature dish and perfect accompaniment to literally everything else on the menu. I also had the Mahi Tikka as I wanted to try something simple as a point of comparison. I have to say, it wasn’t especially remarkable, but that’s not to suggest it wasn’t good. Next time, I’m definitely going to have some paneer – excellent by all accounts.

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Kejriwal – two fried eggs on chilli cheese toast

Brunch is an adventurous affair – the bacon naan rolls are infamous and for good reason. Beware the tomato chilli jam though – this is an inspired twist on ketchup, but somewhat sweet and thus an acquired taste. I wasn’t convinced how well it went with the egg naan.

I had the Bombay Omelette was very filling and wholesome, and a little bit spicy. There’s so much on offer on this brunch menu though – I wanted to try virtually everything on the menu. The approach of taking simple dishes (omelette, eggs on cheese on toast, a bacon sandwich) and doing something special with it makes for an experimental yet familiar brunch experience.

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Bombay Omelette served with fire toast and grilled tomatoes (and a side of sausage…)

Wash it all down with some of Dishoom’s signature chai tea – perfectly sweet without being overpowering, warming and comforting on a chilly morning. Not to be missed.

Granger & Co

Whilst living in Sydney, I sampled many a brunch. I’m not very hard to please when it comes to brunch – poached eggs, sourdough toast, grilled tomatoes and wilted spinach hits the spot almost every time. Sometimes I might go for an Eggs Florentine, or some kind of baked eggs or hash dish. However, I reserve scrambled eggs for when I’m feeling particularly indulgent, as I’m in no doubt that to creating perfectly scrumptious scrambled eggs involves heaps of butter.

When I visited Bills in Sydney, I had the ricotta hotcakes with banana. It was only later that I found out Bill Granger restaurants are hailed as making the best scrambled eggs in the world. The New York Times dubbed Granger “the egg master of Sydney”, making scrambled eggs “as light as the breath of an angel”. How could I have missed this?!

So, naturally, on discovering there are several Bill Granger outpost restaurants in London (known here as Granger & Co), I had to go again. I took along my fellow antipodean brunch devotee, and prepared myself for something special.

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Granger & Co in Clerkenwell is clean and bright – if you’re feeling a bit drowsy or begining to wish you hadn’t bothered to get out of bed early on the weekend (breakfast is only served until 12pm), the large light echoing space of this restaurant will surely help blow the cobwebs away.

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Ricotta hotcakes with bananas and honeycomb butter

If you’ve ever met an Australian, they’ve probably told you that Australians do the best coffee in the world. Australia is a veritable nation of coffee snobs – barely a Starbucks in sight (I think I saw one in the whole of Sydney) – and I was dutifully informed by my Aussie date that Granger & Co’s coffee is some of the best she’s had in London. No surprises there, then. She accompanied the coffee with the ricotta hotcakes, which are somehow so much better than just normal pancakes.

It’s impossibly hard to choose what to have from such an interesting menu, but I’d come to Granger & Co for scrambled eggs, and I was sticking to my decision. I chose avocado, wild greens and roast tomato as trusty sidekicks. When the eggs came, they looked more like a mousse – so light and fluffy – and having looked up Bill Granger’s scrambled eggs recipe, I’m sure this is because of the heaps of cream added to them, which somewhat reduces the flavour of the eggs. It’s a hugely generous portion, I didn’t have to eat for the rest of the day.

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Scrambled eggs and sourdough toast, with a sampling of fresh avocado, wild greens and roast tomato sides

So, are these the best scrambled eggs in the world? I haven’t had all the scrambled eggs in London, let alone the whole world, so I can’t possibly judge. But they were pretty damn good.

Brockley Mess

The Brockley Mess on Brockley Road is a cafe come gallery. It’s got a very wide menu at all times of day which caters for the trendy Brockley crowd. Not sure about the trendy part, but I can definitely count myself among said crowd since moving into the area, and I was eager to try the cafes and restaurants in the area that make it such an interesting and sought after place to live.

My first visit was a weekday lunch, actually only two days after moving into the area. It wasn’t too busy – we had no problem getting a table – and the staff were really attentive and lovely. The portions are so generous – I had a jacket potato with an absolute mountain of cheese, and my Mum had the welsh rarebit.

Fast foward to the weekend and it’s a somewhat different story – it’s very busy and you’ll have to wait for a table. This place is almost a victim of it’s own success; I think they must have quite a small kitchen and staff, which means that it felt a bit overwhelmed for weekend brunch. That’s also a drawback of having such a generous menu offering.

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The veggie breakfast – vegetarian sausage, halloumi, roast tomato, mushrooms and toast

It took a while for us to be given menus (we actually tried to fetch them ourselves in the end), and by the time the food had arrived it had been the best part of an hour. Nonetheless, the veggie breakfast that I ordered was very generous – the halloumi was particularly good – but I think you only get one egg whereas I’d always expect two (I can’t be certain though as mine were scrambled which makes it hard to tell). Not sure about homous with breakfast though…

I will definitely return because I want to suppot the local businesses in my area, and the food has always been really good. I’m also interested to see how the gallery part of the space pans out, as it was under refurbishment when I visited. No doubt this place will settle in to it’s success and flourish.