Saturday, 31 May 2014

Monocle Cafe - Marylebone (Part II)

Did I mention that we walked up from South London to the Monocle and I built up quite the appetite?! Well, the menu has a rather Japanese vibe (as well as a smattering of American and European dishes too) and the Japanese breakfast seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.

For £7 I was served Tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette), a ball of rice covered in sesame seeds, silken tofu & pickled cucumber alongside a miso soup and a small side salad. An interesting selection!

Tamagoyaki is a popular breakfast food in Japan and is made with layers of cooked eggs and has a slight sweetness to it. Silken Tofu is similar to regular tofu in that it is made with Soy milk curds, what makes it different is the moisture content. It was served chilled and had the texture of a crème caramel, however, I didn’t get much flavour from it in fact it is pretty much void of any taste! The hunks of cucumber were only lightly pickled so still had plenty of crunch to them adding a good contrast to the eggs and tofu.

The best part of the dish for me was the rice, when breaking into the well-presented mound I found at the core flaked tuna and throughout matchsticks of fresh ginger adding a kick of heat and flavour. The miso soup was an interesting side with fresh spring onion livening it up. 

If I was to criticize, it was all a bit dry (I added soy sauce which helped a little) and the ingredients are fairly plain in terms of flavour. On the flipside it seems like a very healthy choice to start the day, certainly no sign of a frying pan having been required!

The verdict
All very different to what I’m used to but equally quite plain and a little dull in terms of flavours.

Monocle Cafe - Marylebone

Directly opposite the super trendy Chiltern Firehouse, just off Baker Street is Monocle café. If you are a celeb spotter this may be a good place to hang out, if you can’t get a table over the road! Monocle is first and foremost a magazine; “a global briefing on international affairs, business, culture and design” a world edition, printed in English, with its headquarters in London, but with links to Japan too. The café opened in 2013 and is a place to grab a coffee, pick up the latest edition of the magazine and meet fellow readers (according to the website) but you know that wasn’t the primary reason for my visit….

Pictures of all the dishes are up behind the counter, in a slightly more classy way that the standard greasy spoon set up. And on that rather global style menu is something called a ‘German breakfast’. For £5 you get a selection of breads, ham, cheese and a small salad. Having done a little research, this seems to be the way of the traditional German which surprised me a little, not a German sausage in sight! A slice of rye bread, dense with a nutty flavour and 2 slices of sourdough were fresh and tasty. 2 big slices of quality ham are a natural companion to the mild Emmental cheese, all of which makes for a good value, if not very exciting brekkie! Friends I dined with sampled more interesting choices with the beef katsu sandwich (£6) receiving satisfying nods of approval.
The Allpress brand coffee is the most popular choice on the menu however; west-end hipsters in bowties as well as regulars from the Japanese community sup the strong Arabica flat whites. At £3 a cup it isn’t cheap (compared to the well-priced food options), but it’s made well and hits the spot.

The verdict
Interesting concept café with a well-priced menu, but the German breakfast isn’t very exciting.


Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Good egg – Hoxton (pop-up)

Funky Gainsbourgh studios with its giant and slightly eerie Alfred Hitchcock sculpture is the temporary home to Brunch specialists The Good egg company. Cortado is the café on the ground floor of the modern block of flats and is currently hosting this nomad brunch club on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 4pm. The menu is loosely Israeli themed but one item on the menu fits very nicely with the nation of Algeria. Shakshuka is a popular dish in Israel but also in North Africa from where the dish originates. It is the national breakfast dish in Algeria and Tunisia and in winter is the nation’s favourite food even ahead of better known (in the West) falafel or hummus. Having done a little research I decided The good egg’s Shakshuka would be the one to trial, having recently been voted London’s best by (

We were lucky enough to score one of their outside picnic benches, located by the canal, but nice and shady, so perfect for these hot summer weekends (I have decided they are all going to be this hot and sunny from now on!). 

So what is Shakshuka? Well this particular version was baked eggs in a smoky tomato & pepper sauce topped with preserved lemon yogurt and za’tar bread. It then came with a choice of merguez sausages or grilled halloumi, or both for an extra £1.50, which is what I went for.

Merguez are mutton sausages and these had a deep meaty flavour, the halloumi was well done, not at all rubbery as it sometimes can be. The za’tar bread was a sourdough dusted in oregano basil & thyme. To be honest the herbs didn’t really add much for me but the bread was great for mopping up the rich tomato sauce. The baked eggs were delicious, with deep orange yolks running into the rest of the dish. You wouldn’t expect anything less from these guys; after all they are the egg-perts. 

The verdict
A refreshingly different full breakfast with quality ingredients. Give it a go – soon!


Sunday, 18 May 2014

El Rincon Quiteno – Holloway Road

If you are familiar with the colours of the Ecuadorian national flag then as you pass by this eatery on Holloway road, you will probably be well aware of likely cuisine within. The sign outside says open from 6.30am til 11pm but when we arrived at about 10 am on Saturday morning we were the only ones there. “Can we order some breakfast please?” I asked the lady, stood behind the counter. “OK, full English?” She says pointing to the board behind her. Sure enough a traditional English breakfast was on the list and a couple of other standard breakfast items. “Have you got a Latin American breakfast?” I asked. A chap pokes his head or from the kitchen “you want Ecuadorian food?” Two Ecuadorian breakfasts coming up! I went for the breakfast with pork belly and my friend had the beef option.
A decent cup of coffee turned up shortly after and we sat and waited, not quite knowing what to expect. The decor is simple and the place has a quite cosy feel with dark wood furniture and the walls lined with colourful paintings on wooden canvasses. There is also a spot on the wall for a photo of the Emirates stadium home to the local football team Arsenal. Indeed we were joined by some arsenal fans presumably preparing for a trip to Wembley. There were a steady stream of fans filtering past the windows filing up the local pubs.

Anyway, after a little along came the main event. On the plate was a mount of rice and beans with a fried egg, a corn fritter, a portion of plantain and a massive hunk of roasted belly pork.

The pork belly was absolutely fantastic, crisp layers of fat with deliciously tender pork meat seemed to get better with every bite. Plantain wasn't something I had tried before today and it tasted similar to banana, but not as sweet. The rice and beans were a little stodgy, but they worked well together with the other ingredients. The corn fritter I'm not so sure about. It lacked much of anything, not much flavour and a texture of wet cardboard, what it did add was yet another carbohydrate to the mix! This, all in all made for one heck of filling breakfast!

When it came to settling the bill I wasn't sure what the damage would be since we seemingly ordered ‘off menu’ but I was presently surprised when it came to £7 each, including the coffee.

The verdict
A meal that will truly set you up for the day. Belly pork may not be your first breakfast choice, but it really hits the spot.


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Diner - Spitalfields Market

The US of A – Where everything is bigger, better, faster and longer. That motto probably applies to American food as much as anything in culture of the country. And it seems to apply to the breakfast menu at The Diner too. There all-day breakfast menu is sizeable, with all the classic brunch menu items as well as (what sounded like) an extremely large fry-up. What do you mean ‘sounded like’ I here you cry?! Normally ‘The Hungry man’ breakfast would be my go-to dish, but the World Cup Challenge is about the traditional breakfasts of the participating nations and this is really just a full English in an American Diner. There are more traditional items in the list though, I almost went for the biscuits and gravy which originates from the southern states but decided in the end to go for the dish that screams the over-the-top food culture many in Britain think of the US diet: Steak and eggs.

We arrived at about 8pm on a Tuesday evening (what else is an all-day breakfast menu for!) and were surprised to find the place completely full. We waited at the bar and got seated at a booth within about 10 minutes. The décor is everything you expect of an All-American diner, with neon signs and booth-style seating.

Steak and eggs: The lavishness of steak for breakfast (even if it was in the evening) feels like a real glutinous luxury, but what do you actually get? Well, it’s a flank steak served with roasted tomatoes, smoky onions and 2 ‘overeasy’ eggs. The waitress made it clear that the best way to have this cut of steak was medium and that proved to be sound advice. Flank is a cut with lots of flavour and a bit of bite, it was nicely cooked and was complimented by a chutney-like serving of onions, very sweet and sticky. The tomatoes were sun-blushed and full of flavour. The eggs however, were a bit of a let-down. For a start, they weren’t ‘overeasy’ they were sunnyside up, that is fine by me, but why specify it on the menu and then not cook them like that?! They were also slightly overcooked – no running yolk for me.
If there is one thing longer than the breakfast menu here it is definitely the craft beer list. The craft beer revolution has taken the US by storm over the past 5 years and the Diner seems to have embraced it too with over 20 (mainly American) bottled beers and 5 on tap. I chose the Dogfish Head DNA (an Anglo-US collaboration) which was a dark American style IPA with a slightly nutty flavour.

The verdict
A well-cooked flank steak is a luxurious breakfast but the craft beer is the real winner here.


Sunday, 11 May 2014

El Vergel - Borough

El Vergel describes itself as a Latin American and Mediterranean caterers. I’m reliably informed that the menu is mainly Chilean inspired, which isn’t top of most peoples lists when it comes to breakfast. However, the weekend brunch menu here is extensive and is served from 10-4 on Saturdays and Sundays. It is a little bit ‘out of the way’ and probably felt more so on a Sunday morning than it would do during the week. It is a 10 minute walk south of the foodie mecca of Borough Market and 5 minutes from arty Union Street.

The atmosphere is relaxed, concrete and wooden benches are offset by colourful artwork, graffiti on the walls and a light sprinkling of Latin memorabilia. It wasn’t very busy when we arrived at about 11, but by lunchtime that place is almost full.
I went for the Special Latin American breakfast which was free range scrambled eggs in a mild piquant salsa sauce with chorizo, kidney beans, guacamole & village bread, with tea or coffee for £7.50. The food arrived quickly along with a decent coffee. The plate was dominated by the eggs and the beans, both of which were mildly spiced and well put together. The Kidney beans in particular were laced with chilli in a way as to not overpower the rest of the dish. The village bread was a flatbread, obviously freshly made and was perfect for mopping the guacamole and salsa sauce. The chorizo was decent, but didn’t compared to the sausage I had as part of the full Spanish at Seven in Brixton yesterday. 

Having sat around chatting for a while after breakfast, we decided to sample some of the other Chilean dishes on the menu. I went for a meat empanada, which is a bit like a south American pasty and washed it down with a Cusqueña beer (it’s Peruvian). The salsa served with the empanada was so fresh and packed with flavour. The beer is great too, crisp and malty (you can find it in most supermarkets these days) it complements Latin flavours well. Others tried the churrasco palta (traditional steak sandwich), tacos and tostadas with positive reviews!

The verdict
A relaxed vibe and well balanced dishes make for a breakfast hit.


Saturday, 10 May 2014

Seven - Brixton

España! 15 years ago people would have told you Spain don’t achieve anything in major football tournaments and you would struggle to find a restaurant in London serving decent Spanish cuisine. 15 years on things couldn’t be different, the football team are undisputed champions of the world and there are probably hundreds of Spanish restaurants in London, celebrating the varied dishes from all over the country.

Seven is one of the original restaurants on the Brixton ‘village scene’, which now boasts pushing 100 cafes/bars and restaurants (I’m guessing). It is pretty unassuming from the outside with PVC strip curtains a nod to its former life as part of the market and inside the décor is very simple with touches of the eccentric such as the table we were sat at that was made from an old suitcase. It could have easily believed I was in Lower East Side, Manhattan or Kreuzburg, Berlin.

The food then: Tapas is the order at lunchtime and early evening before it becomes a standing room only bar later in the day. But before that, breakfast and brunch is served. The full Spanish is Chorizo, Morcilla de Burgos, fried eggs, pimenton beans, tomato & toast. That’s £9.50, with a cup of coffee included.

The chorizo sausages were fantastic; one was spicy and oozed paprika oil, whilst the other was darker in colour and a more solid texture but equally delicious. Another star on the plate was the Morcilla de Burgos, which is Spain’s answer to black pudding, made with rice rather than oatmeal. Mildly spiced and soft texture complemented the chorizo brilliantly. The eggs were just right and the toast deserves a special mention too, as it was a massive hunk of fresh bread, perfect for mopping up the chorizo oils and egg yolk.

I was expecting a little bit more from the beans which were basically regular baked beans with paprika sprinkled on top art the last minute.

The verdict
Great produce, well cooked and put together to make a top fry-up!


Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Gazette – Balham

If you visit Gazette’s website, you would think this place is going to be a stereotype of everything le Français. But the style is more modern brasserie than classic bistro, which a sleek looking bar and slate topped tables. The ‘fresh frog’s legs daily’ sign remembers you that this is still definitely a French restaurant though.

Gazette is a small chain of 3 restaurants in South West London, featuring an all-day menu, from breakfast and brunch through to dinner and cocktails. And on the ‘eggs’ section of the menu is something called the Full French. The Full French is ham, omelette, sautéed potatoes with pancetta & mushroom, confied cherry tomato, brie and salad. My initial reaction to that was brie and salad for brekkie?! But ordered it I did, along with a flat white.

While we waited for the food the females in our party discussed how good looking the waiters were, and I amused myself by doodling on the slate table with the chalk provided.  The coffee was good, as you might expect in a French restaurant.

So the food: As I mentioned I had reservations, I sort of wanted to find fault with it. But when it arrived in a casserole dish it looked great. The baguette with brie was just great alongside the well cooked potatoes and pancetta. The omelette was well seasoned and the salad (gem lettuce in a mustard seed dressing) worked much better than I had expected. The ham was a little disappointing; wafer thin slices lacked much flavour.

The verdict 
A great mix of tastes and flavours, shame there wasn’t a Toulouse sausage or a bit more oomph to the ham. 


Ps: A special prize if you can spot the schoolboy error within this review!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

My Old Dutch - Chelsea

So my world cup challenge starts with the beaten finalists last time round, The Netherlands. Dutch food culture in the UK seems fairly rare, certainly nothing like the likes of Italian, French or Spanish. If you suggested going to a Dutch café to someone in Britain I suspect many would think you were proposing something other than somewhere to go for breakfast! Whether this because Dutch cuisine isn’t that different from our own, or because there is a relatively small amount of Dutch people living here, I’m not sure, but it meant there wasn’t a massive amount of choice for somewhere to go for breakfast.

My Old Dutch is a chain of 3 restaurants in London specialising in the Dutch forte: Pancakes. I visited the Chelsea branch located on the Kings road, alongside high end fashion boutiques and incredibly expensive home furnishing shops. This place certainly plays up to stereotypes of Dutch culture, which the walls painted orange, tulips on the tables and pictures of windmills hanging from the walls. Having never been to an Amsterdam café, I can only assume this is what they must be like?!

And on their breakfast menu (served from 11am – 1pm each day) alongside pancakes topped which jam or chocolate spread was the full breakfast pancake. This featured scrambled egg, bacon, fried mushroom and tomato at a cost of £8.95. When it arrived I was taken aback by the size of the plate. The picture doesn’t really do it justice; it must have been 14” in diameter. The combination worked better than I had expected, the mushroom paired with the pancake worked particularly well. The eggs and bacon were good too but the whole thing was a bit dry (baked beans would have been a nice addition). It was incredibly filling to the point that I was struggling to finish it at the end, but I suppose that is what you get when combining already eggs and bacon with a giant pancake!
The verdict
I doubt this is a traditional breakfast in the Netherlands, but it is the closest thing to a Dutch fry up we have here in London. It didn’t quite work for me, but I would recommend if you are looking for something a bit different.


Thursday, 1 May 2014

The World Cup of Fry-Ups

The premier league season isn’t even over, but I’m already looking forward to the summer. The 20th FIFA world cup in Brazil kicks off in 6 weeks and I cannot wait! I have my Panini sticker book and my wall chart is in the post. The world cup brings with it for many a sense of nostalgia of childhood and the great players of the past. For me, it is also the idea of countries from all corners of the globe coming together for a festival of football that excites me. And of course that distant dream of England winning and the national bank holiday that would surely be required afterwards.

But I’m not just a football fanatic now am I? I have decided to see if I can find a fry up or full breakfast from each country that has qualified for the finals (that is 32 by the way). I don’t even know if this is going to be possible, but where better than London to find such a diverse range of restaurants and cafes. I can’t think of many places – Manhattan, maybe?

I’m not sure how I’m going to get on, but I expect it will take me to bits of London I have been to before and introduce me to new foods and flavours. And I need your help – please let me know any recommendations or suggestions that you have! Will anything match up to the traditional Full English? Stay posted to see how I get on…..