Put down your wellies – the countryside weekend has been abandoned in favour of urban brunch plans. Debora Robertson investigates what the meal has done to our weekend and how to host your own in style.
I live in a corner of London with a large Turkish community. When we first moved in – 20 years ago – I loved to sit in one of the many cafes that line the busy main street, at the weekend – sipping strong black tea and breakfasting on menemen, a scrabble of eggs, tomatoes and green peppers, or on the popular breakfast picnic of cheese, olives, tomatoes and cucumber, bread and honey, boiled egg and spicy sausage. Simply by stepping out of my front door, I felt as if I was on holiday. Slowly, over the past decade or so, even with my head buried in the newspaper,
I noticed a shift. My breakfast companions got younger, cooler. The hipsters were here and they were doing brunch.
Brunch is now so popular that it has led to some forgoing weekends in the country to sit in city cafes and feast companionably with others on eggs, good coffee and gossip. A friend prefers to invite people to brunch at her house, rather than a more formal lunch or dinner – many of the components, such as bagels, cream cheese, really good smoked salmon and perfectly ripe fruit, can be bought and assembled at the last minute. Simply add newspapers.
I first brunched properly in New York in the late 1980s, on eggs Benedict and mimosas at a place on the Upper East Side, imagining myself briefly as an extra in a Nora Ephron film. It felt like the quintessential American experience. It was only later that I discovered brunch is an English invention, with roots in the tradition of hunting lunches and their combination of egg dishes, meat pies and lots of sustaining booze.
‘I favour: a huge pan of kedgeree, lots of pastries, good bread with great jams and honey, juices, coffee’
The word first appeared in British publication The Hunter’s Weekly, in 1895. Guy Beringer’s article Brunch: A Plea made the case for this brand-new meal: ‘Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting… It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.’
Some of the very best brunches take place the morning after a big party or wedding – all the better to pour something more sustaining than Berocca into your body and dissect the previous day’s scandal over Bloody Marys (the ultimate in nutritious day drinking).
If you’re hosting, what time should you kick off? Cafes might start serving early, but, at home, I think 12.15pm is ideal. Personally, I think they work best with your oldest and dearest. It can look a bit try-hard with new people: behold how early I can get up, be immaculately groomed and proffering kidneys.
And what to serve? Please, no kidneys. Brunch can certainly present an opportunity to drag out all of those appliances you never use – waffle irons, juicers and smoothie makers – but I am inclined to keep it fairly simple. I don’t know if I could ever truly love someone who would voluntarily give over their Sunday morning to nursing hollandaise. I favour: a huge pan of kedgeree, lots of pastries, good bread with great jams and honey, juices, endless coffee and huge pitchers of those afore-mentioned Bloody Marys.
As brunch may go on well into the afternoon, possibly encompassing a walk or a film, I add things that will stretch – ham and other charcuterie, cheeses, pickles and olives. Find peace in the fact that, however extravagant your hospitality, you are done, feasted, well-gossiped, washed-up and tidied away by 6pm, blissfully unwound and ready for the week ahead.
Country Life’s top brunch spots in London
Go for parsi omelettes, the Big Bombay breakfast and the legendary bacon naans.
Various locations across London, visit www.dishoom.com
The Good Egg
Try the shakshuka, Reuben pitas, feta hash and babka french toast. The Good Egg is a popular neighbourhood joint, with food inspired by Tel-Aviv street vendors, Middle Eastern flavours and trad Jewish delis.
Kingly Court, W1, and 93, Stoke Newington Church Street, N16, visit www.thegoodegg.co
The Guinea Grill
Not so much brunch, as emperor-worthy breakfasts at this Mayfair pub. Choose devilled kidneys, smoked-bacon chops, eggs Benedict or hangtown fry (an oyster omelette).
30, Bruton Place, W1, visit www.theguinea.co.uk
Royal China Club
Dim-sum central with all manner of buns, puffs and dumplings.
40–42, Baker Street, W1, visit www.royalchinagroup.co.uk
The latest from Yotam Ottolenghi. Try the jalapeño cornbread, with scrambled eggs, avocado and tomatoes, or the grilled manouri cheese, with peaches, bacon and za’atar honey.
59, Wells Street, W1, visit www.ottolenghi.co.uk/rovi
A glamorous, glittering cafe that needs little introduction. In grand European tradition, pancakes, kippers, kedgeree, fishcakes and eggs are all on the menu.
160, Piccadilly, W1, visit www.thewolseley.com
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