Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Lodge - Balham

The Lodge is Balham’s newest breakfast destination. In fact its Balham’s newest restaurant, it only opened on Friday! The 6 month residency on recently pedestrianised Hildreth Street is the brainchild of London’s King of the ‘pop-up’ – Jimmy Garcia.
The concept is a taste of the Alpine – specialising in fondues and game in the evenings and ‘slow down’ roasts on Sunday afternoons. My main interest is what is on offer on Saturday and Sunday mornings: a small but well thought out brunch menu.
The wood panelled walls and skiing artefacts dotted around give the small dining room a warm and welcoming feeling. As we move into the winter months it will make a great place to escape the cold weather.

The service from Jimmy and his team is excellent. I started with a well-made latte and then had a decision to make: The Full English breakfast or the Huntsman breakfast? I plumped for the Huntsman, which differs from the more traditional option by trading a pork sausage for a couple of wild boar sausages, a hen’s egg for a duck egg and regular fried mushrooms or wild mushrooms. They are both served with bacon, black pudding, tomatoes and toast.

I think I made the right choice if only for the wild boar sausages. They were probably the best sausages I have ever had! The intense, rich meaty flavour is fantastic, how will I ever go back to regular pork sausages ever again!

High quality ingredients are part of the philosophy here; the bacon was extreme good and cooked perfectly with crispy fat without being overdone. The big yellow yolk of the Clarence court duck egg showed how fresh it was and the black pudding was delicious also. A big hunk of toasted bread is also worth a mention, it was excellent.

The mushrooms were a mix of chopped field mushrooms, along with Oyster and Enoki (the long thin stemmed ones with tiny caps) varieties. For me the delicate flavours of the Oyster and Enoki mushrooms were a bit misplaced on this meaty plate, a Portobello or perhaps the more powerful flavour of Shitake may have been a better match.

The verdict
Get down to Balham are sample the Huntsman brekkie while you can, it won’t be here forever!


Saturday, 18 October 2014

Proud Archivist - Haggerston

The last Sunday in September represented a milestone for me. It marked the fact that I had survived a month of attending 3 stag do's and a wedding. Naturally, after all of that I required some sustenance - a full fry I here you say. Well actually no, cue a health kick (kinda!).

Proud Archivist is down by the regent’s canal, which looked great in the late summer sunshine. This gallery come cafe restaurant has a weekend brunch menu, but no fry up. With my new found yearning for something green, I opted for the summer eggs. More precisely that is ‘Proud Archivist English muffins’ topped with asparagus, two poached eggs and hollandaise.

The decor look like a 14 year olds tech project combine with things found in local skips, but that can be forgiven because of the huge glass front that looks out to the canal making a great brunch backdrop.

And so onto the food; the asparagus was served slightly differently to how I had expected, chopped and lightly stewed, on top of two chunky English muffins. I would have probably preferred whole stems of asparagus, but this different take on the very British vegetable probably makes more sense when serving out of season. The eggs were poached very well and the hollandaise sauce was freshly made but the muffins were a bit thick and doughy for my liking. All in all, for £7.50 it was a bit on the small side, but was well prepared.

The service wasn't fantastic; we had to put up more of a fight than should have been required when a soya latte turned up with lumps in it. The regular latte I had was good, if a little small for the £3 price tag.

A quick word on the gallery which appears to be an ever changing collection; when we visited the focus was on paper craft with incredibly intricate models and sculpture. In fact if you have a couple of G spare, you can take some art home with you.

The verdict
Small but well-made brunches, why there is no fry up on the weekend brunch menu is beyond me.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Villandry - Great Portland Street

Villandry is a small chain of sell proclaimed ‘Grand cafes’. The Great Portland street outlet that we visited boasts 4 rooms of dining. It was pretty busy when we arrived, but despite spending a full 5 minutes on the phone the day before booking a table (the amount of details that were taken was definitely excessive), it turned out we didn’t actually have a reservation! Fortunately they managed to find somewhere for us to sit and from that point on we were bombarded with staff wanting to talk out order. I don’t mind people wanting check if you’re OK and being attentive, but this was very much a scene of unorganised chaos rather than over-hospitality.

We did manage to order and I was in need of a hearty start to my Saturday. A friend’s stag do that would continue into the early hours lay ahead. So the only choice was the English breakfast.

The décor here is as you might expect of a ‘grand café’, a French feel, with brass table tops and wicker chairs. The vibe on this Saturday morning screamed (sometimes literally) of young families and groups of friends with young children.

£11.50 = 2 organic eggs, Cumberland sausage, Portobello mushroom, roasted vine tomato, sweet cured bacon & toast. When it arrived my friend and I concurred that if we were to some up our first impressions in one word it would be ‘sparse’. I think is this partly because of the massive plate it was served on and partly because of the way they chose to present it.

Now it might sound like I’m moaning a bit here, but let me tell you, there were good things about this breakfast. The curly Cumberland was meaty and had great flavour, the eggs cooked perfectly. The tomatoes pleased me most, they well cooked and were sweet and juicy or sharp and tangy as I had feared they may be. Overall though I just wanted a bit more, some beans perhaps, black pudding maybe?

The verdict
Good quality ingredients but not the perfect fry up. Atmosphere wasn’t my bag.


Sunday, 13 July 2014

And the Winner is...

The world cup of breakfasts has come to an end today! It has been tricky at times but I have successfully (broadly speaking) sampled a breakfast from each of the 32 nations playing in the world cup in Brazil and all in the one city: London.

Thank you to every one who has been following my progress and especially to those that have joined me along the way: Ashley Bateman, Emma and Tim, Az and Lammy, Matin, Symsie, Katherine Ann and Dan her man, Danny and Laura, Ali and Sarah, Alice and G, Una and Dave, Barney and of course my chief researcher Shivvy B.

Below is a map of London, so you too can go around the world in 32 breakfasts: 

And so onto the results, in reverse order:

Out at the group stage

South Korea
The Netherlands

Costa Rica

Second round

Ivory Coast

Quarter Finalists


Semi Finalists


Runners up




It was a tough decision, but Spain just pipped Argentina to the title (on penalties if you will).

Can't wait to do it all again in 4 years!

Smiths - Smithfield

Before the world cup started I thought I would leave my 'England' breakfast
until last and go for a full English on the morning of the final before watching England romp to victory in the evening. I am nothing if not an optimist. Alas that will not be the case but I still have the important task of finding a very 'English' full English breakfast. I had considered going upmarket and trying somewhere like the Wolseley, but I've heard one or two negative things about it and it didn't quite fit with the brief of a truly traditional breakfast. So I looked at various 'greasyspoons' to see if any stood out of the crowd. The Regency in Pimlico is always listed as somewhere worth a visit but unfortunately it’s closed on Sundays, so I thought instead of choosing from one of the hundreds of greasyspoon caffs I would go down a slightly different route and try the Fox and Anchor in Smithfield.  This place describes itself as a step back into ye olde England and they serve a breakfast menu 7 days a week. Or at least that is what I thought! I turned up at 11am this morning only to be told that the breakfast menu was off, disaster! Who would have thought that finding an English breakfast in London would prove to be this tricky?

A good boy scout always has a plan B and mine was a very suitable one, for just up the road across from Smithfield market is ‘Smiths’ of Smithfield. This Cafe come bar come restaurant is all about British produce and British meat and given its location I suppose you wouldn’t expect anything else.  

The menu had 3 fry-up options and I decided to go for the ‘Number 2’, which consisted of Bacon, egg, beans, mushrooms, black pudding, sausage, tomato, bubble and toast. Before that was a latte, served in a mug to give that ‘greasyspoon feel’, but this is no local caff.  The red and black decor with long benches as well as smaller tables make for a modern and relaxed feel.

The best bits of this fry up were predictable the meat products. The bacon (from Woodall’s farm in Cumbria) had a delicious smoky flavour and the both the black pudding and sausage were high quality and packed with flavour. 
Bubble on a breakfast is very English, but this could have comprised of a bit more cabbage and a bit less mash potato for my liking. The beans, mushroom and tomato rounded off a very good feed, you won’t leave here hungry!

The verdict 

A meaty feast with high quality ingredients and a nice modern café feel.


Saturday, 12 July 2014

Rita's - Hackney

Warning: tenuous link below. I have had to be a little creative in search for a Cameroonian breakfast as I can't for the life of me find anywhere serving one in London. I have read a lot about beignets served at breakfast time in Cameroon. Originally a French dish beignet are popular in Cameroon, this is probably due to the cultural ties between the two countries. Served either with a sweet sauce or a pepper sauce they look like a fantastic morning treat. But beignets don't seem to be on many menus in London either.

They are probably most prominently associated with New Orleans in the US (NOLA if you are too cool for school). Here the famous cafe de monde serves beignets to foodies who come from far and wide (featured recently in the film Chef). And so it is this link that takes me to Rita’s in Hackney.

Alongside a plethora of Vietnamese restaurants on Mare street is Rita’s; you have to look hard though, I walked past its very simple fronting, twice! That theme of simplicity is carried through into the restaurant with pink seating and bare white walls, this Hackney eaterie allows its food to do the talking.

Rita’s doesn't have a breakfast menu and you will find the beignets on the dessert menu. So I skipped some of the interesting mains and went straight for the beignets served with dulce de leche and foie gras. Yes, no spelling mistake here. You can only get American style filter coffee here, which was not the best to be honest. But soon the main event arrived.

Beignets are a bit like doughnuts in as much as they are deep fried, they are a made from choux pastry rather than flour dough. These particular ones were crisp on the outside with a fantastic doughy bite, dusted in icing sugar and the finely grated fois gras on top. The contrast of the salty fois gras and the sweet sugar alongside the doughy texture of the beignet made for a combination like no other.

They were rich filling and delicious and 
I was glad I wasn't eating them as a dessert after a main course as I was stuffed by the end.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend these as a breakfast but they are definitely worth a go and to have the creativity to include the fois gras is a stroke of genius.

The verdict
Innovative and ambitious dishes in trendy Hackney, maybe not for breakfast though!


Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Delaunay - Covent Garden

I really struggled to find a Swiss breakfast in London (plenty of breakfasts in Swiss cottage) that was until I discovered the Delaunay.

You get a sense of 'old world chic' as you step through the door, as though it was the 1920's and you are staying in The Ritz in Paris or The Doldrums Grand in Zurich. Given the location, next door to the Wardolf hotel on Aldwych, I suppose that isn't too much of a surprise. In fact it is run by the same company as the Wolseley in Piccadilly which is similar but with a more British feel to the menu.

The vast dining room with incredibly high ceilings is awash with mahogany and marble as if to cement in your mind the fact that this is a classy establishment. The clientele fits into two distinct groups: The power breakfast meeting attendees, for whom a meeting in the office just won't do and the food tourists who come to enjoy the grandeur, groups in their late twenties meeting somewhere 'a bit different'.

The breakfast menu at the Delaunay is pan-European but with a distinctly Swiss & Austrian feel. Swiss bircher muesli is on the menu along with a Swiss fruit bread called Zopf. I ignored those health conscious choices and when for an all-time Swiss classic the Potato Rosti. These are eaten the world over but have the re origins in Switzerland and many Swiss consider it the national dish. Rosti mit spiegelei is a very traditional Swiss breakfast, sometimes served with spinach. Here it was 'exactly as it said on the tin', two very well cooked fried eggs sat on top of two rosti that were straight from the fryer.
And it was very pleasant, without really getting me excited. The rosti was crisp on the outer and maintaining the flavours of the butter it has been fried it, you really get a sense that this will set you up for the day. But all in all a bit plain and a bit dull!

I had a latte which was decent as you would expect in a place like this. I also decided to give the marocchino a go. This is an espresso shot with rich chocolate and milk. Originally an Italian drink but adopted by the Swiss, not least because of their love affair with all things chocolate. If you were lucky enough to visit chocolate soup in Edinburgh before it sadly closed its doors, it tasted very similar to the liquid chocolate that they used to offer by, what seemed like, the gallon (it rivalled the deep fried Mars bar on the unhealthiness front). My issue here is that it was served in a shot glass rather than a cinema sized cup so for £4 I felt rather short changed!

The verdict
In summary: Grand, traditional but not particularly exciting. That applies to the Swiss breakfast and the Delaunay in equal measure.


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Merrybox Kitchen - Waterloo

You guessed it, I have struggled to find anywhere in London offering the full Ivory Coast breakfast experience. Surprising right?! What I have learnt however, having done some research is that the people of the Ivory Coast aren't that fussy when it comes to breakfast and traditional it tends to follow a similar menu to lunch or dinner.

So with this in mind I thought my best chance of getting some authentic West African cuisine was to try some street food. I say West African, because the place I visited actually specialises in Senegalese food, but the dish I ordered is popular all over West Africa including Ivory Coast.

I went back to Lower Marsh behind Waterloo (see the Costa Rican review for details on the restaurant on the corner), as I knew the street food market at lunchtimes has food from all corners of the globe. Sure enough, Merrybox Kitchen have a stall selling yassa fish and yassa chicken both served with jollof rice. Having looked them up online this afternoon I can find no mention of Merrybox Kitchen anywhere so let this be there first bit of PR! 
Fresh fish sizzle away on the barbecue and the smell is irresistible. I went for the yassa fish, which is in this case a sea bass grilled whole cooked with a lemon and onion marinade. That was served with a mountain of jollof rice which is lighted spiced and flavoured with tomato and pepper.

I took my breakfast and sat in the sun in Millimetres Park opposite the Old Vic. While this might not be the most glamorous breakfast I have had as part of the World Cup challenge the quality of the food soon made up for it. The fish was so fresh with a pleasantly firm texture, sure there were a few bones to pick out, but this is street food and you have to get stuck in! The marinade added plenty of flavour to the fish and the rice had just the right amount of spice.

At £5 for a whole fish and a very generous portion of rice this is great value and is likely to keep you going for most of the day.

The verdict
Brilliant stall on an under recognised street full of hidden gems - get down there!


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Garufa – Finsbury Park

Argentina is generally considered home to the best steak the world has to offer, so I was hoping that their love of red meat extended to breakfast time.

So I headed to North London to the long and winding Blackstock road which connects Finsbury Park and Highbury. Here you will find loads of small independent restaurants and cafes (a few too many with names linking them to Arsenal football club for my liking!). You have to go quite some way down the road from Finsbury Park to find Garufa an Argentine steakhouse. This is a steakhouse with a breakfast menu - cracking idea.

Exposed brick, Spanish music black and white pictures of Buenos Aires make for a relaxed homely feel. I ordered the ‘Desayuno Garufa’ – scrambled egg, Portobello mushroom, 150g rump steak, Argentine style sausage, grilled tomato, toast and butter. I enjoyed my decent (if not a little dinky) latte, whilst waiting for my big brekkie. Only when it arrived did I realise the waiter hadn’t asked we how I wanted my steak. I cut into the rump to find a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak – these guys know what they are doing, this is the only way to have a rump steak (rare is a schoolboy error with this cut). It was a high quality piece of meat, small but perfectly formed.

Sat in the middle of the plate was a mountain of scrambled egg, soft and moist they were cooked perfectly. The tomato and mushroom (with cheese on top, why not?) were good additions and the curly argentine sausage had great flavour. A beef sausage, with a high meat content, making it less moist than a ‘normal’ sausage, but packed with more beefy flavours.

If I was to have a grip it would be that there was only one very small piece of toast and I could have definitely done with some more. At £11.80 you are paying from a premium breakfast and that it what you get. Quality ingredients cooked extremely well.

The verdict
Steak for breakfast is the future, I have tasted it!


Monday, 7 July 2014

Mugi - Ealing (again)

So here is the thing. Bosnia and Croatia are neighbours geographically and whilst there are very many differences between the two countries their ideas on breakfast are broadly similar.

Croatia isn't known for its culinary culture (I have never heard anyone say "I'm going for a Croatian tonight") and that is reflected in London where, as far as I can tell, there are no Croatian restaurants. Having visited Croatia a few years ago the cuisine seems to be very Italian influenced with lots of pasta and gnocchi dishes, although this could well have been pandering to the tourists. It is a nation of hundreds of beautiful islands and so fresh fish is plentiful and that tended to be the best of the local cuisine. However, like I said, for breakfast it is a similar story to Bosnia with the Burek being the traditional start to the day.

Now local experts and patriotic Croatian's and Bosnian's will I'm sure tell you that the countries version of the Burek is the best and subtly different to the other. But I am no such expert, so Mugi seemed the perfect place to sample a Croatian breakfast and I ordered another Burek (I didn’t really but let’s pretend for the sake of my 32 nations 32 breakfasts pledge!).

The verdict
Same as last time!


Mugi - Ealing

Bosnia isn’t a country I know a lot about, in fact it is probably most synonymous with

war in the UK, which is a shame.

Let's take one small step to thinking about Bosnia differently and talk about the Burek. It's origins lie in modern Turkey but it is popular in various forms across the Balkans. So what is it? Well, it is a pastry filled with minced meat or cheese. I chose the minced meat, spinach and cheese option and one arrived straight from the oven. It was large (it filled the whole 10" plate) and had a glossy, golden finish. With a crispy flaky outer shell but a soft and moist inside this was pastry like no other. The minced meat was subtly spiced and the cheese (similar to feta) was plentiful. All of which made for a very filling breakfast.

I think it was the cheese that made with breakfast so filling and it was the cheese that I didn't really enjoy.  There was so much of it, it became a little sickly in the same way pile of feta would make you feel.

By the way, who knew Ealing was a former Yugoslavia stronghold? With Mugi on one side of the road and the corner terrace, a Serbian cafe on the other side, this is the place to come for the lesser celebrated Balkan cuisine.

The verdict
Filling? Yes. Tasty? Not really.  Nice little cafe and don't let me put you off going a Burek a go, but it's not for me.


Sunday, 6 July 2014

Mari Vanna - Knightsbridge

Walk past Harrods, past the Mandarin Oriental hotel and the Maclaren showroom within the One Hyde park complex (the most expensive retail estate in London) and modestly sat next door you will find Mari Vanna. Where else to find London's best Russian breakfast than in flashy Knightsbridge? The staff were very keen to welcome me into the dining room for breakfast despite no sign of it being served on their website or on the menu outside. And that was reflected by the fact that I, along with two others were the only people here.

The dining room felt very much like it could have been someone's front room and at one point in the buildings history it almost certainly was. There is most bric-a-brac I have ever seen in a restaurant including some huge Russian dolls (a favourite of my missus) but all beautifully presented in sideboards and glass cabinets, it added to a relaxed but classy feel.

I decided to go for the Oliver salad, sounds a world away from a fry up but it does include Doktorskaya sausage, so almost there! First arrived a selection of Russian breads and then a Russain Salad consisting of a big bowl of carrots, peas, potato, gherkin and sausage in small cubes, all in bound together with mayonnaise. 
Each spoonful gave a different flavour from the sweetness of the peas and carrots to the sharp gherkin. The sausage reminded me of my childhood – Billy sausage! The different breads were something new to me. All very dense, a bit like Rye bread, one slice was strongly laced with fennel and caraway seeds, while another was flavoured in a similar way but much more subtly. They made a good accompaniment to the salad which despite becoming a bit samey still compelled me to dollop another spoonful onto my plate. You get decent coffee in here too, my macchiato was perfect.
At £8 for the salad and bread I can't call this a cheap breakfast, but when you take into consideration the location, the service and the quality of the food it is very good value.

This is a relaxed but very well run restaurant, the service was 'proper' and attentive. There are many nice touches that give raise a smile, from the teapots filled with flowers on the tables to the bill arriving in a little purse.

Quick mention for the toilets too, where wacky bric-a-brac decor continues. There is a full library of Russian literature if you in there a while, with Russian newspapers as wall paper and mementos to Leningrad’s past footballing triumphs also hang for the walls. You can give your shoes a shine or even have a shave in here, very handy!

The verdict
Eccentric little place in an exclusive neighbourhood. Worth a visit if you are after something completely different.


Thursday, 3 July 2014

Gitane - Fitzrovia

To the north of London's shopping district many of media and advertising 'types' ply their trade and that can only mean one thing, cafes and coffee shops, lots of them. Great Titchfield Street typifies this more than most and right across the street from the Riding House Cafe (see my review from February 2014) is Gitane. This Persian/Iranian inspired cafe is modern, neat and tidy. People sit here on their apple macs supping their ‘skinny caps’, half pretending to look like they are doing something useful.

I ordered a flat white and sat down to decide what breakfast might be. It was at this point it became clear this was a cafe aimed in the main at the local clientele with Persian touches rather than the other way around. I can't blame the owners for that and so far the flat white has been delicious so what am I complaining about? I plumped for the yoghurt with granola and berry compote topped with crushed Iranian pistachios. I'm not sure how many people in Tehran will be tucking into that this morning, but I have to say it was great.

A generous portion of thick and creamy yoghurt with a blueberry and raspberry compote which was really delicious and refreshing. The granola added a sweet crunch but the best bit was the Iranian bit: the fresh pistachios. I’m pretty sure I have never had ‘raw’ pistachios before; they were softer and sweeter than the roasted salted kind I am used to. The bright green pieces added an exotic twist to the dish.

This was probably the healthiest breakfast I have had as part of my World Cup challenge and whilst I didn’t come away stuffed to the point of popping, it did set me up for the day nicely. I came away feeling fresh and ready to face the day!

The verdict
A nice hideaway from busy Oxford street with great coffee. Worth a visit for the pistachios alone!