I’ve always longed to belong somewhere, but it’s never happened. I don’t mean having friends and family – I have those, I’m not a freak. But I’ve never really had that feeling that you can walk in somewhere – a bar or restaurant – and the staff will wave to you and know what you want. In my fictionalised version of my own Central Perk, friends (I have friends, remember? I protest too much, right?) will come along and stay. We’ll laugh, we’ll chat. We’ll stay all day and drink cocktails.
I sometimes get cravings for waffles. Not the Bird’s Eye potato ones (although they are waffle-y versatile), but the sweet, terribly unhealthy kind. But do you know what? Not a lot of places in London serve waffles. There are more places serving American pancakes than you can shake a stick at, but there’s a waffle drought in our city.
So, when I saw Q Grill‘s revamped brunch menu had waffles on it, I knew I had to pay them a little visit. I’d been meaning to go to Q for ages anyway. So this weekend Andrew and I trotted off to Camden, weaving our way against the flow of Gooners and Man City fans that were flocking towards N5 – seemingly to our flat!
We arrived at Q and it was empty, save for another couple. The venue is pretty huge, with one side flanked by an impressive bar and the back wall is home to an open kitchen. We took one of their comfy, massive circular booths, which was probably too large for just two of us (it could’ve easily sat six) but we enjoyed it.
There was a small table laid out with fresh pastries, muffins, breads, cured meats and yoghurt, fruits and granola so you can help yourself to a Continental-style breakfast if you want. Our waitress explained we should just go up and dig in. I was on the hangry* side of my mood spectrum, so I helped myself to a slice of focaccia and some cured meats (and, err, a pain au chocolate. Don’t judge me, you massive judger).
The focaccia was great. I love me some herby, salty bread. The cured meats was actually just Parma ham, but I was onboard with that – Parma ham is my number one favourite in the world of cured meats. My pain au chocolate was HUGE. But it was also cold, which seems so sad. I feel pastries are best enjoyed warm, but maybe that’s just me? (Deep down I think it can’t just be me.)
It was around this point that the waitress came over and asked what I was doing. “Err, I’m having some of the Continental stuff?” I answered. “But are you having something from the menu too? Are you having two Continentals or one?” I was massively unhelpful here I think and said I wasn’t sure, but could we just see how we got on with what we were eating. She kind of seemed annoyed/confused but let it go. Andrew was actually too scared to go up and help himself after this, but I think this is more a reflection on how easily Andrew is intimidated that anything else.
Guess what? We did end up ordering from the menu. Our waitress was pretty pissed off. But I came for waffles, remember? And I’m a nightmare customer, right? Right!
We got a smoothie each (me: banana, strawberry and pineapple; him: kale, avocado and apple). They were both nice but really really sweet. They came in those jam jar with handles thingies, so big hipster points there.
I ordered waffles and Andrew ordered Q baked beans on toast with a fried hen’s egg on top.
My waffles arrived with a generous serving of bacon and maple syrup. They were good, but also slightly lacklustre. I mean it was what it said it was, but it was missing something to elevate it from standard to interesting. It could’ve done with some caramelised bananas or something. A dusting of cinnamon and icing sugar? I realise this makes me sound greedy, but that’s really not it. I’m just trying to be constructive here.
Andrew said his beans were, “OK. They’re baked beans and eggs, aren’t they?” I didn’t have any of his because I loathe fried eggs. Sorry. (Also, as an aside – obvz, we’re in brackets here – aren’t most eggs “hen’s eggs”? Is that worth stating on the menu?)
I did enjoy Q. The restaurant is really nice. The staff (except the one who acted like a spurned lover) were all delightful. The decor is interesting and comfy. But I think the fact it was empty made me feel sad. But at least I sated my waffle lust for a bit. And hopefully as word spreads people will fill the place up. They also have a mix your own Bloody Mary bar. I mean that sounds fun, right?
I will however be going back to Q to try their barbecue food. Their regular non-brunch food sounded delicious!
Q-Grill, 29-33 Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8AJ
Nearest tube: Chalk Farm (5 min walk)
* hangry, adj.
The state of being so hungry you feel irritated by everything and become completely unreasonable.
Example of a sentence using ‘hangry’
By lunchtime I was so hangry I almost screamed at my colleague for humming the theme tune to Black Beauty over and over.
I was invited to review Q-Grill and as such received a complimentary meal. However, this by no means guarantees a favourable review.
Some images © Andrew Phillimore. Do not reproduce without explicit permission.
So the morning after we got engaged (yeah, yeah, still going on about it) Andrew and I woke up and had champagne on our epic balcony!
Then he had bought some smart clothes for me to wear the next day and said we’re going somewhere nice for brunch. We strolled through the sunny Sunday Soho streets and jumped on a tube to Baker Street.
Andrew led the way (quelling rumours he has no sense of direction in the process) until we ended up on Chiltern Street (he took me a winding way to throw me off). I looked at him in surprise. Had he booked Chiltern Firehouse? How would he even know about the Chiltern Firehouse (although he is addicted to the Mail’s sidebar of shame).
As we were whisked into the courtyard of the restaurant by a man in an excellent hat it seemed, yes, Andrew had been doing his research. We had a table for brunch.
We were seated on some lovely 1920s-style banquettes and the windows of the dining room were wide open as it was a lovely sunny day. The service was really, really slow, but we were happy to take our time and chat about being engaged…
We ordered champagne cocktails to start. I got a strawberry and hibiscus number while Andrew went for an apricot and peach one. Mine was definitely better.
We also ordered some freshly made cornbread with smoked salmon crème fraîche, which took its sweet time arrive, but was incredibly good. Such a savoury, fishy and sharp flavour. I could eat those bad boys all day.
I then went for potato and herb hotcakes with smoked salmon and poached eggs. This was really good. The waitress tried her best to convince me to have toast with it, but I’m glad I didn’t as we totally didn’t need it.
Andrew went for lobster scrambled eggs, which were ridiculously good. So rich and full of shellfish flavour.
Ahem. Then we got some buttermilk pancakes to share. That came with fresh blueberries and blueberry compote, which were great (I love pancakes) but I’m glad I got something a bit different as my main choice as pancakes are pancakes are pancakes.
I have no idea how much the food cost (thanks Pea!) but I imagine it was pretty spendy. But the atmosphere was so lovely and it was such a special meal. Great people watching, slow service but a lot of fun.
Chiltern Firehouse, 1 Chiltern St, Marylebone, London W1U 7PA
Nearest tube: Baker Street (10-min walk)
Andrew was getting stressed about his birthday (he doesn’t like his birthday), so I asked him what he really wanted to do. His response? He just wanted to go to brunch with me (n’awww). So I decided to go to a nice (but not fancy – we’re not fancy types) brunch. I did some research and whittled it down between Duck & Waffle and The Modern Pantry. After glancing at both menus, I picked The Modern Pantry (still want to go to D&W though) as it had more things on the menu I knew Andrew would like. He loves fusion food that are packed full of lots of flavours, and head chef, Anna’s menu certainly seemed to cover a lot of those bases.
So we trotted off with our hangovers (we’d completed on our flat the day before, so celebrated hard the night before!) to Clerkenwell. We ordered our drinks, which came with speed, and started analysing the menu.
There was loads to choose from, and Andrew started looking a bit panicky that he wanted everything.
In the end we went for, ahem, three dishes to share.
This is grilled cornbread, chorizo, a fried egg, charred sweetcorn, avocado and red pepper salsa. It was pretty dry, but the egg broke open to reveal a soft and silky yolk which helped the whole dish massively. There was a gentle hum to the dish, but it was really surprisingly light.
We also ordered the sweetcorn, feta,green chilli & curry leaf waffles, smoked streaky bacon with maple syrup, which sounds INSANE, and it was – but in an amazing way! It was so packed full of different flavours and everything was balanced perfectly, so in a bit you’d get fluffy waffle, sharp cheese and then sweet maple syrup, plus a faint after taste of curry – it was extraordinary but an absolute triumph. Anna is obviously a master at flavour combinations.
The last thing we ordered takes 20 mins to cook, so it was perfect timing for us to take a break and compare hungover notes (results: we were both hungover).
Then it arrived: raspberry and ricotta pancakes with berry and liquorice compote, crème fraiche. Oh sweet lord. The pancakes were fluffy and light and the compote cut beautiful through the creme fraiche and rich pancakes. They were extremely filling, so I started to feel quite sick by this point, but boy was it worth it.
The Modern Pantry is something a little bit special. There were lots of people in there celebrating stuff (a groom’s party who were suited and booted, drinking champagne pre-ceremony, a couple who had just got engaged and were celebrating with their excited friends), so it created this lovely atmosphere, yet it was relaxed and informal, with perfect service.
Andrew claimed it to be the best brunch he’d ever had, so it was a birthday winner!
The Modern Pantry, 47-48 St Johns Square, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 4JJ
Nearest tube: Farringdon (10 min walk)
This Sunday I had a hot date with one of my closest friends, Ames, and Andrew. Without any deliberation we selected Caravan for the venue of said hot date.
Caravan is located just north of Kings Cross station, underneath Central St Martin’s. It faces out onto Granary Square, which had loads of weird events going on – something about the industrial revolution. This seemed to involve dressing pre-pubescent children up as chimney sweeps and someone screeching along to “Who Will Buy” from Oliver. It was a no from me.
We arrived at 1pm at Caravan and was told there was a 45 min wait. No worries, I thought, it means I get to spend more time catching up with Amy. However, an hour came and went… We were sat after 90 mins, but I am not really sure it’s worth a 90 min wait. You can go away and they’ll text you when your table is ready, but we were stuck in some pseudo-Victorian nightmare and just wanted to eat.
So anyway, yeah, cut to the chase – we got a table…
I ordered a salted caramel hot chocolate, which sounds incredibly sickly. I don’t really like sickly things, so I have no idea what came over me – I think I was discombobulated from the Industrial Revolution outside. In fact, it was absolutely delicious. It tasted like a creme brûlée in a drink. I pretty much drank it like a shot.
Food-wise, I ordered baked eggs, tomato pepper ragout, Greek yoghurt, chorizo sausage with sourdough toast.
It looked kind of on the small side when it arrived, but was actually incredibly rich. I’m glad I got the chorizo though, mostly because it’s my fave. The egg yolks were cooked all the way through though, which was a massive shame. The ragout was nice and punchy, and the bread soaked it all up nicely.
For some unknown reason (again, I blame the child slave labour homage outside), I ordered toast too. It came with tiny pots of homemade jam. The jam wasn’t actually that good – pretty flavourless – but the jars were cute. I shared the toast with Amy, as I felt totally sick by this point.
Amy and Andrew ordered jalapeno corn bread, fried eggs, black beans and guindilla pepper. I had a bite of Andrew’s, as I badly love corn bread. Again, the yolks were cooked through, which seems like a pretty easy thing they were getting wrong. There also wasn’t much of the dish, and not enough sauce, so it was kind of dry.
Andrew also ordered some kind of amazing museli thing, which was honey roasted. It was incredibly rich, but very yum. Not very healthy I don’t think though.
The service was good at Caravan though, after we got past the hostesses (who seemed to have mastered the art of flouncing past mass hoards of people vying for their attention). The atmosphere was really buzzy and it was great people watching. I would go again, but perhaps if I had the day off and could go when it’s less busy. Having said that, there are lots of amazing brunch places in London that means cafes and restaurants really need to work hard to gain my loyalty and I’m not sure Caravan was really on its game on Sunday.
Oh, the bill came to just under £50 for three, with three hot drinks.
Caravan, 1 Granary Square (off Goods Way), London, N1C 4AA
Nearest tube: Kings Cross/St Pancras (5 min walk)
Yeah, I’m obsessed with brunch, OK? Sometimes I even cook it myself instead of going out. I know – big whoop. When I got my Love Food Market hamper I went on the hunt for good meals to eat chilli jam with. I was more interested in the chilli jam really, the meal was the accompaniment. I found this recipe, which is ideal for a lazy weekend brunch meal, or even a weekday supper. Whatever, just eat it as your mouth will be pleased about it.
Corn Fritters with Bacon & Avocado
Serves 4 | Prep: 10mins, Cook 10mins
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red pepper, diced quite small
1 fresh red chilli, diced really small (seeds removed, duh)
50g self-raising flour
1 egg, beaten thoroughly. Go on, get in there.
3 tbsp milk
1 + 1/2 large cans of sweetcorn (actually, I just whomp in as much as looks right)
Handful of fresh basil leaves
8 rashers of smoked, streaky bacon (it being smoked is very important. Don’t settle)
Juice 1/2 lemon
2 avocados (give ‘em a squeeze to make sure they’re ripe, yeah?)
1. Heat 1tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan for about 2 mins. Then whack in the peppers and stir them around for about 5 minutes, until they’re a bit soft and smelling GOOD.
2. Add in the chilli to the peppers and fry for a bit longer – 2 mins. Tip out the peppers and chilli into a little bowl and put to one side. Turn the heat off.
3. Sieve the flour into a largish bowl and make a well in the middle with the back of a spoon. Chuck your beaten egg in the well and stir it in slowly (I tend to use a balloon whisk for this. I like my balloon whisk). Then add the milk until it’s all combined with no (or very few, none of us are heroes here) lumps.
4. Drain the sweetcorn well. Then whack it into the batter you’ve just made in the bowl, along with the chilli and the pepper from your little bowl. Chop up all your basil and add that too. Give it a good old stir so all the veg is covered in the batter.
5. Put the grill in your oven on to high and stick your bacon under the grill. Keep checking on it – you’re going to have to multitask from now on. Be brave. If I can do it, you can. You want your bacon to be crispy but not black. Flip it over from time to time. It won’t take long – 10 mins?
6. While your bacon is grilling (we’re multitasking, remember?), heat about 2 tsps of oil in your frying pan (doesn’t have to be clean from the peppers). Don’t let it get searingly hot – just medium/high heat. Then use a tablespoon to drop spoonfuls of batter into the frying pan. Try to put them in so they make puddles away from each other (I do three at one) – 1 spoonful a puddle. They spread, so watch out. Let them cook for about 2 mins, then use a fish slice to flip ‘em over and cook on the other side.
7. Get a plate out and put your pancakes on it. Pop them in the oven (you can check on the bacon now too) and then make another batch. This means everyone can eat together in harmony.
8. Once all your mixture is gone, pop all the pancakes in the oven for a bit (check the bloody bacon will you?). Now to make the side bits.
9. Chop up and peel an avocado anyway you can. Make the dressing by mixing the rest of the olive oil (look, a small glug if you’re having trouble keeping track) and the lemon juice together in a jug or bowl.
10. Arrange your pancakes and bacon on the plate with the avocado too. Drizzle over the dressing. Serve with Tracklement’s Chilli Jam – no other jam will do, trust me, we’ve tried.
11. Eat and enjoy your weekend.
Adapted from BBC Good Food.
So having moved slightly further north in North London, to Finsbury Park, I’m enjoying exploring places that before seemed a schlep (I am the first to admit I am lazy and Zone 3 seems like a foreign country). This weekend, with time and inclination on our sides, we decided to explore Crouch End. By “explore” I mean eat so much brunch we felt sick and then get the W7 back to Finny P.
Having read quite a few favourable things on Twitter, I was happy to stumble across Gail’s Bakery and so I convinced Andrew we needed to try this place (he rarely takes much convincing!). The front of the shop is a counter full of delicious-looking food. Out the back there are tables, big and small. It was nice and bright, with plenty of bright April sunshine filtering in through the large windows. The place was busy but we found a table easily enough, and then we got down to the serious business of ordering.
We both went for Brioche French Toast with rhubarb compete and greek yoghurt. Andrew also got us a ham and cheese croissant to share. I also got a hot chocolate and Andrew got a flat white. The hot chocolate was delicious – very, very creamy. It gently coated my tongue in unsophisticated, milky hot chocolate – definitely child friendly! Andrew, a man of few words, claimed his flat white was too milky and large.
Yeah, OK, not much to look at. But crikey, it was bloody good. The croissant itself was buttery and light, the outside flaking into delicious melt-in-your-mouth crumbs with every bite. Inside, the cheese was piquant – a good, strong, mature cheddar – and the ham was, well, ok, the ham was nothing to write about so I shan’t. BUT it was the best (ham and) cheese croissant I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a fair few. I’m not like, the expert on them, but I’ve had a few OK. Let’s not make a big deal out of my lack of credentials here.
These came quickly, and were served by pleasant staff who were efficient but nondescript (the way I like my wait staff to be in eateries of all levels. I’m not there to make friends with them). There was a short-ish wait for our French Toast – 15 mins – no big drama. I’d had that croissant (well, half, I shared with Andrew), I was OK to wait 15 minutes. Sheesh.
So, the French Toast arrived. It looked great, but I was a little sad that there wasn’t much compote. I mean, it’s in season now – gimme a bit more. The brioche was in hearty slices though and beautifully crisp on the outside and nice and fluffy and sweet on the inside.
The compote itself, apart from being sparse, was a bit flat. I’m a bit besotted with rhubarb – I grew up on the stuff. Seriously, it was the go-to Hedges pudding in our house. My Dad grew it (still does! Hi Dad!). We pick it fresh, my mum stews it up (hi Mum! I’ll get in trouble if I don’t say hi to her now) in a big pan with a bit of sugar and then we eat it up. The smell of stewing rhubarb is the smell of my childhood (that irks me in how middle-class that sounds, but hey ho). So I like my rhubarb nice and tart (so tart my American sister-in-law grimaces and has to add extra sugar to hers – hi Irene!). This was too sweet. It was Irene-suitable sweet. So I felt it lacked a little of the rhubarb flavour. Wow, that was a diatribe about Gail’s Bakery rhubarb. Sorry. I’m passionate about those red sticks ok?
Other than that lack of flavour, the dish was good. We certainly felt sated afterwards.
So would I recommend Gail’s Bakery? Sure, go for it. But there are A LOT of kids in there. They’re nice kids – there wasn’t a tantrum or snotty nose in sight – but they’re everywhere. I guess it goes with the territory of being in Crouch End. But the food was good, the drinks were OK and it was great people watching. I’d definitely go back, but maybe on a week day before playgroup kicks out, or for take out.
Service – 4/5
Venue – 4/5
Value – 3/5
Overall – 3.5/5
Gail’s Bakery, 48 The Broadway, N8 9TP
** Gail’s Bakery can also be found in the salubrious endroits of Battersea, Bloomsbury, Chelsea, Chiswick, Dulwich Village, Exmouth Market, Hampstead, King’s Road, Notting Hill, Queen’s Park, Soho, South Ken and St John’s Wood. Anywhere middle-class, essentially.**
Nearest Tube: No idea. Most people seem to have 4x4s and no need for the tube. You can get the W7 from Finsbury Park tube station (Wells Terrace side) up there though.
Since moving to Finsbury Park a lot of locals have said “Oh, have you checked out The Front Room yet?”, so I knew it would have to be one of my first stops (after Petek and Dotori – more on those another time!). The Front Room is a cafe situated on the “up and coming” (but still rather grey) Tollington Park in Finsbury Park.
We popped in one rainy Saturday morning for brunch, and it was just the right, reassuring level of busy. We were seated right away and then took a look at their reasonably priced and decent-length menu. Cue shoddy picture:
My dining companion and co-brunch fan, Andrew, went for The Front Room Breakfast. He explained that he had to get the full English out of the way so he could then focus on other items on the menu on return visits. I went for the Pancake Special with a side of bacon. I also got a standard English Breakfast and a freshly squeezed orange juice (both good and strong) and Andrew got a white Americano, which he deemed “good”.
The food arrived really quickly and looked great. Andrew’s full English wasn’t swimming in grease and had generous portions of all components. My pancakes were nicely presented… See photo…
The bacon was tipped on by me in a haphazard fashion, so that makes it look a bit rank. Anyway, the pancakes were ok – a bit pappy and dry. The fruit and yoghurt was nice and fresh though. The bacon I could have taken or left. It was generally OK. The eggs benny on the other table was giving me food envy, to be honest.
The staff were lovely though, the service was quick and the atmosphere nice, laid back with a bit of buzz.
Service – 4/5
Venue – 3/5
Value – 5/5
OVERALL – 3/5
The Front Room Cafe, 158 Tollington Park, N4 3AD
Nearest Tube: Finsbury Park (5 min walk)
The Front Room is open 7.30am-6pm Monday – Thursday, 7.30am-11.30pm Friday, 8am-11pm on weekends.
I love a portmanteau and I love an excuse to eat, so brunch is my heaven. Also, who can actually be bothered to get up for breakfast on a Saturday? Crazy people, that’s who. I think everyone should do away with weekend breakfasts and just admit that brunch is the way forward.
I’m going to be doing reviews of brunch as I eat my way around London. Here is my first one – and it’s going to be a hard one to beat.
The Table on Southwark Street is one of my all-time favourite restaurants in London. It’s close enough to the attractions of Southbank and Borough Market to be easy to get to, but far enough away that not everyone knows about it. Their canteen-style lunches are incredible during the week, their evening meals are some of the best food I’ve had in London and their brunch… well, read on.
For weekend brunch, it’s table service, and you sit on long canteen-style tables. It’s a really upbeat, happy vibe in there, with an open kitchen so you can nosy at what other people are having!
I like a varied brunch menu. Sometimes I’m in the mood for the traditional Eggs Benedict, but I don’t always want egg all up in my grill. Sometimes I want an American treat of pancakes, and sometimes I might just want an English breakfast (I know it’s brunch, but whatevs, I’m a maverick). It’s HARD to find a brunch menu that covers all bases and is still exciting and well-executed. But The Table delivers on this. There are delicious smoothies (I recommend About Last Night – a refreshing and fruit blend of apple, banana, green grapes and spinach), there’s cocktails if you’re feeling fancy, there’s a Borough Full English (two fried eggs, bacon, pork & leek sausage, ham hock baked beans, grilled tomato, Portobello mushroom and sourdough toast) and there’s the ol’ Eggs Benny. BUT there’s other stuff too. The Table are pushing the boat out, so get right on board. The sweetcorn fritters excite me (sweetcorn fritters with char-grilled tomato compote, baby leaf spinach and hollandaise) as does the chorizo stack (I love me some chorizo!). There are also varieties of pancakes and waffles. After some torturous decision-making, I went for the pancakes.
I’ve had pancakes in my time guys, but these were the kind you dream of when you’re hungover and don’t want to leave your bed. They had crispy, salty, deliciously-savoury bacon, there were pools of thirst-inducing maple syrup and the bananas cut through it all with a kind-of-not-at-all nod to fruit. The pancakes were deliciously fluffy. I did not want this brunch to end. I want to go back there right now, at 7pm on a Sunday night to eat it all over again.
My dining partners seemed to enjoy their brunches too, with everyone agreeing it was a hard act to beat. My pancakes cost £8, which I reckon is pretty standard for brunch-y type places in London, and it was better than any other brunches I’ve had so well worth the money.
In general, I cannot recommend The Table enough – but definitely make the effort to go for their brunches. You’ll be dreaming of it all week after.
Service: 3/5 (we had to wait a little while and were starving!)
The Table, 83 Southwark Street.
Nearest tube: Southwark (5min walk), Waterloo (12min walk), London Bridge (15min walk).
Brunch is served between 8.30am and 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays only.