The thing about going to a restaurant to have breakfast, is that seventy per cent of the time you could make it better yourself (and regularly do).
Yoghurt, granola and fruit? Err, just about got that mastered thanks. Bacon and egg sandwich? Well, is it ever truly satisfying more than five metres from the frying pan the filling was cooked in? Avocado on toast? Seriously, you need someone to scoop that for you?
Yep, it’s often difficult to know why you travelled for 30 minutes to pay for something this basic …
… So don’t settle for bog standard.
We want, at the very least: homemade granola; outstanding yoghurt; seasonal or otherwise remarkable quality fruit and/or compote; incredible, meaty, fatty, juicy, flavourful sausages; first class (and perfectly cooked) bacon; and, on most occasions, some sort of effort that lifts it beyond domestic – an unusual twist, or simply food that we’d never make for ourselves.
Of course on most occasions we head out for breakfast or brunch it’s to meet friends or colleagues. Needs must. Just don’t assume you’re going to have to eat through gritted teeth. Aim for one of the following instead.
Koya Bar – on Frith Street, Soho. There’s nowhere more calming or zen. Pull up to the udon noodle counter with a book, your emails or a friend, and leave sated, clear headed and ready for the day. For me it’s the Japanese breakfast of grilled fish, rice, miso and pickles that does the trick, plus a pot of Japanese tea. But if you fancy English breakfast in noodle form, or Koya Bar’s version of kedgeree, then definitely fill your boots.
Nopi -if you’re in the Soho or Oxford Street area, Yotam Ottolenghi’s Nopi (on Warwick Street) is a strong breakfast option. Stylish room mixes with a properly tempting menu – a first class shakshuka (obviously), corn and polenta cakes with avocado and eggs, coconut milk black rice with mango and banana. That sort of thing.
The Wolseley – the grand dame of London breakfasts (A.A.Gill even wrote a whole book about it). The menu is as big and busy and the place itself, but my eyes are always drawn to eggs Arnold Bennett, kippers or haggis and eggs. If your tastes are a little sweeter in the morning, their bircher and Viennoisserie are not to be sniffed at.
45 Jermyn Street – a similarly classic and classy vibe to The Wolseley, Fortnum and Mason’s restaurant covers old and new favourites – so should suit both Welsh rarebit chasers and avocado fans alike. Less clattery than the Wolseley, though, so if you prefer your mornings hushed head here.
Euston / Kings Cross
Honey & Co. – srlsly m8, take a look at their ‘Big Breakfast’ menu and tell me which of the egg options you’re going to choose. Because I can never narrow it down. If you’ve not got time to sit at the cosy Warren Street restaurant, then grab one of the ridiculously fine baked goods to go.
Caravan – for a decent attempt at an Antipodean style breakfast / brunch, you shouldn’t look much further than Caravan on Granary Square. Think quinoa and buckwheat bowls with steamed greens, egg and miso; jalapeño corn bread; a multitude of eggs; and avocado, chilli, lemon and olive oil. There’s a smaller version on the corner of Exmouth Market, and a larger beast opening in Bankside soon.
Dishoom – the bacon and egg naan roll is without doubt in the top three of London breakfast items. Though, if I’m really hungry and of strong constitution, a plate of keema per edu is also a fairly remarkable and unique start to the day (spicy chicken and chicken liver keema, fried eggs, crisp chips, bread). Dishoom have totally nailed the breakfast ‘twist’ I’m looking for. It also helps that their venues are so beautifully and cleverly decked out. The Granary Square site vies with Redchurch Street in Shoreditch as my favourite. See also locations in Carnaby Street and Covent Garden.
Granger & Co. – With loads of natural light, rose gold, pink walls, 70’s-brown seating and marble tables, Granger & Co. gets your day off to a good start even before you see the breakfast menu. Which is vast, innovative and tempting (almost too much choice). Multiple fruit and grain bowls are supplemented by delicious looking baked goods options; ‘classic’ Australian brunch items like sweetcorn fritters with bacon; and larger plates bulked with ancient grains, seeds, and middle eastern pastes and spices. It’s good. Whether you’re on your way to somewhere, or in need of a mutually convenient destination. There are two other sites in Clerkenwell and Notting Hill.
Duck and Waffle – all breakfast basis are covered, including numerous sweet and savoury waffles (and covered with quality, style and panache). But the cherry on the muffin / hollandaise on the egg is the view from the 40th floor across London. Suits both business and pleasure, though see if you can book a window seat to avoid table jealousy (this 24/7 restaurant is always rammed). Just don’t blame me or them if it’s a cloudy or foggy day.
Hawksmoor Guildhall – for two: “Smoked bacon chop, sausages, (made with pork, beef, & mutton), black pudding, short-rib bubble & squeak, grilled bone marrow, trotter baked beans, fried eggs, grilled mushrooms, roast tomatoes, HP gravy, unlimited toast”. Unless you work in insurance and need something to line your stomach for that 11am pint and 12pm clock-off, you should probably book 4 hours in a conference room and take a recovery nap when you get into work. Hawksmoor’s is one heck of a breakfast.
Morito Hackney Road – quite possibly my favourite breakfast option right now (October 2016). Morito’s wonderful Hackney outpost got even better when it launched its morning menu a few weeks ago. Everything is utterly delectable – though Moroccan flat breads and seasonal compotes, eggs with yoghurt and sage, and sausage and spinach laced scrambled eggs stand out. Twists, turns and flavour – everything you want from a restaurant breakfast.
Pavilion Cafe Victoria Park – the classic egg, bacon, sausage is pretty good, as is the lakeside park setting, but for me the reason to head here are the Sri Lankan breakfast options – string hoppers, egg hoppers, dal, potato curry. Unique and lush.
St John Bread and Wine – on the edge of Spitalfields Market, SJBW deals breakfast from 8am-12pm. Porridge and prunes, devilled kidneys on toast, and the ultimate bacon sandwich are the menu items I oscillate between. I suspect you could request a Fernet Branca, Dr Henderson or Poire William, should you really need a steadying.
Esters – the only problem with this Stoke Newington café is it’s too small. The menu varies, though you’ll probably find house Bircher muesli, toast, and poached eggs with superb herb relishes, grilled chorizo etc. I’m mostly excited by the rogue, ever-changing middle of menu option – things like smoked anchovy toast served with creme fraiche, elderberry capers, radish, fennel and a soft boiled egg.
Chinese Laundry – This “casual dinning room inspired by 80s Chinese family life and food” on Upper Street is a little bit different to, well, any place else in London. Visit from 10am on weekends and get stuck into bacon and scallion pancakes and awesome dumpling topped omelettes. Unusual and very satisfying.
The Good Egg – As you would expect given the name, The Good Egg caters for the local weekend brunch market very well, with multiple sweet breads, innovative babka, challah and pita options, buckets of labneh and an egg or two.
Black Axe Mangal – sneaking on to the list for its 11am to 3pm weekend brunch. Masses of flavour on game changing flatbreads. Hangover be gone.
M1lk – nowhere in London does breakfast better. There, I’ve called it. M1lk in Balham show that breakfast dishes don’t have to be an afterthought; it’s possible to innovate and impress as chefs strive to at lunch and dinner. Their instagram feed containing top-shots of frankly ridiculous pancake combinations constantly makes me dribble over my coffee at home. Take a look. More impressively, the actual, physical morning meals I’ve had there have never disappointed either – even taking into account the hour-long cycle to get there. Website’s crap though.
Salon – the Brixton Market Row restaurant get it right too. Even if you just stopped by for the house banana bread and homemade nutella, or Brick House sourdough and the same coffee, you’d be doing well. But their own granola, seasonal fruit and yoghurt is as good as anywhere; ditto scrambled eggs and ‘nduja on toast; roast field mushroom, pickled walnut and cow’s curd; avo with smoked pig’s cheek lardons … I could go on. With most things under £6.5, it’s either underpriced or very tempting to go for a 2-3 course breakfast. Only 10:30 onwards on weekends, mind.
Bababoom – over on Battersea Rise, this new ‘Charcoal Kebab Kitchen’ offers a very strong breakfast at the weekend. There’s grapefruit, honeycomb and nutella supported eggy bread, harissa scrambled eggs … but the full Bababoom is what pulls me in: lamb merguez, date glazed bacon, za’atar tomatoes, eggs, harissa and labneh. Sold.
Arabica – when around Borough Market in the morning, I have to admit to being partial to a Little Bread Pedlar almond croissant and filter coffee (Kenyan) from Monmouth. But if a more convivial, sit-down experience is required, then consider Arabica’s Middle Eastern menu. I like the Turkish eggs and cardamom infused coffee.
Pear Tree Café – on the edge of Battersea Park’s boating lake, Pear Tree Café serves both weekday breakfast and weekend brunch. I like that they’ve taken just a little step beyond the obvious – so smashed avocado and feta on toast comes with wood sorrel, pickled cucumbers, za’atar and chilli; the porridge is made of six grains and topped with Jersey butter, honey and apple; granola is homemade and interesting; the yoghurt on baked eggs is spiked with preserved lemon… and so on.
There’s a Granger & Co. on Westbourne Grove. Busy.
And, um, dunno. Answers on a postcard (or in the comments below). NB. it has to be really good to get a mention.