When I reflect on my recent trip to London, my memories are colorful. Even in the dead of winter, when the city by all accounts should have been grey, dreary, and cold, it surprised me with its vibrancy and life. London is a patchwork quilt; one that has been in the making for centuries, with bits of ancient history sewn in alongside the shiny and modern.
It feels like this place is bursting at the seams with culture. In just a short walk, you can hear any number of different languages being spoken on the streets. With each impulsive turn down a side street, you’ll find something new and delicious to experience.
As I mentioned in Wednesday’s post, British food has not had a great reputation historically. Some criticize it for so much appropriation of cuisines from other cultures, others claim that the only good food in London is available to the ultra-rich. In my mind, while these statements appear to be based in some fact, there is a lot more to the story - especially today. For one thing, the Brits seem to have wholeheartedly embraced the slow food movement, with local, organic, and sustainable cuisine available everywhere you look. There are independent operations abound, serving up everything from explosively flavorful foods inspired by global cuisine to thoughtfully reimagined versions of British classics. It feels like there is so much good food to try in this bustling city, and I’m positive that in the few days we were there, we weren’t even able to scratch the surface.
And if there’s one thing I learned while in the U.K., it’s that these folks know how to brunch. Seriously. A full English breakfast is the ultimate brunch fare - a indulgence sure to heal any damage done from a night at the pub, and that will more than qualify as enough caloric intake for two meals.
So let’s dive right in, shall we? Below is a list of our favorite breakfasts and brunches that we had while in London... it’s the Great British Brunch Off!
Where The Pancakes Are
Can you think of a more delightful concept for a restaurant than a place that serves all manner of pancakes? I can't. And as someone who's ultimate favorite food is pancakes, this is my kind of place. Where The Pancakes Are serves savory pancakes, sweet pancakes, baked Dutch Baby pancakes, and vegan pancakes. And they're all delicious. Even my dairy-allergic husband was on cloud nine. I only wished I could have tried everything on the menu - it was nearly impossible to choose.
My husband opted for the "Breakfast" savory pancakes, which is a delightful riff on the full English breakfast. His delicious vegan pancakes (as mentioned, the poor bloke is allergic to dairy) were topped with a sunny side up fried egg, and were paired with bacon, roast cherry tomatoes, sausage, portobello mushroom, and baked beans.
Because a good Dutch Baby is truly a beautiful thing, I opted for the savory one: with soft goat's cheese, parmesan, cheddar with thyme and rosemary, served with bitter salad. I don't normally love goat's cheese, but let me tell you - this was phenomenal. It was soft, fluffy, creamy, and cheesy all at once, with the loveliest, most delicate flavor punctuated perfectly by rosemary. I would order this again with no hesitation.
Owner Patricia was so sweet to help guide us through the menu and made us feel at home. The café was gorgeous inside, and was flooded with beautiful morning light from the huge floor-to-ceiling windows. During the summer, their outside tables will surely get a lot of use - I can't imagine a lovelier way to spend a morning than by devouring some of these delicious pancakes outside on the patio!
For a day when only the most glamorous brunch will do, there is Berners Tavern. Berners is extravagant: glittering orb-shaped chandeliers hang from an impossibly intricate ceiling, illuminating walls crammed with art in glittering gilded frames and rows of plush circular banquettes. It's rather like dining in the lushest of palaces; it's worth a trip just to experience this restaurant's great interior design.
Luckily, Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton has the goods to back up all that glamour - the food is delicious, as well. We started with something healthy to drink - for my husband, the spinach banana smoothie, and for me, the kale apple cucumber lime juice. Both were refreshing and delicious; the perfect jolt of nutrients that we needed after so much traveling.
My husband ordered another riff on the English breakfast, served with a real black pudding - something that had until this point been elusive. A classic component of an English breakfast, this blood sausage may not look pretty, but I've been assured it was scrumptious.
Shamefully, I was feeling like I needed something on the health-conscious side the day we visited Berners (it's easy to overindulge on vacation, and sometimes you need a break!), so I went for the... wait for it... avocado toast. I know, I should be ashamed for ordering California's number one brunch item while overseas. But I couldn't contain my curiosity, so I ordered it - and I wasn't disappointed. Overall, the eggs we ate in England were fantastic - especially the Clarence Court free-range eggs served at Berners Tavern. So yeah, it may not have been as fancy as Sqirl's famous avocado toast, but it was pretty darn tasty.
Brown & Rosie
After several days straight of incredibly filling (and delicious) full English breakfasts, we were ready for something a little bit different. Luckily, just a short walk from our hotel was Brown & Rosie, an adorable Australian-style café serving up fantastic coffee and fresh, colorful food. We loved the relaxed vibe at this adorable eatery, as well as the attention to detail and design (that logo, though!).
Here, we opted for variations on eggs-on-toast: for my husband, the simple poached free-range eggs on sourdough toast, and for me, the mushrooms on toast. As simple as it was, the eggs on toast was one of my husband's favorite breakfasts the whole trip - the ingredients were simple and of excellent quality, so each component was given the chance to sing.
My dish, the mushrooms on toast, was filling and flavorful. I loved the chickpea puree, which added a creaminess that paired nicely with the perfectly-browned mushrooms. And that yolk... such a vibrant orange. The coffee was delicious, made with flavorful espresso and sweet, creamy milk - it even rivaled some of the best cappuccinos I've had here at home.
Brown & Rosie would be a perfect spot to stop for a quick breakfast before a day of sightseeing, or a nice place to relax and work for an afternoon. We were enamored by the beautiful treats hiding in the pastry case (especially that dreamy gluten free cake), but again, our tummies could only hold so much. Until next time.
It's important to remember that a good marriage involves some form of compromise. So when your husband wants to go on vacation, you can probably infer that he also wants you to stop always trying to find the best restaurant in town and instead just eat something so he can go and see the things he wants to see. Which I guess is fair, right? Not everyone travels for the sole purpose of trying new food. So, without his asking (I'm trying to be a good wife here, after all), I championed the idea of our eating breakfast in the hotels a few times. And to my delight, both hotel restaurants stepped up to the plate with some winning breakfast spreads!
The first, Hunter 486 at The Arch Hotel, offered both a menu of hot a la carte dishes and a continental breakfast buffet. Their vegetarian full English breakfast was hearty and satisfying, and I especially loved the roasted portobello mushroom. On a morning when I wasn't feeling so well, I opted for a bowl of porridge with fruit, and it was exactly what I needed - a nourishing bowl of goodness. My husband mostly stuck with the continental breakfast, of which the standout was surely the fresh baked bread with honeycomb - quite a treat that we'll have to try to replicate at home one day.
The second was Apero Mediterranean Restaurant at The Ampersand Hotel, a beautiful space tucked away in the hotel's basement. Unfortunately for my husband, this restaurant did not have much available that was dairy-free, so he was restricted to some plain eggs - though they did seem able to accommodate most other dietary restrictions. However, I'm happy to announce that Apero holds the title for best vegetarian English breakfast - and I tried quite a few of these during our trip. Their addition of tangy fried halloumi really added some extra oomph to the classic flavor combination of egg, tomato, and mushroom. I ate this breakfast before catching an early flight back home, and I am so glad I dragged myself out of bed to do so - it was the perfect end to our trip (for me. Sorry Husband).
Honorable Food Mentions
While this is a brunch blog, I feel that I can also assume that our readers are interested in other types of foods - at least on occasion. So, without going too far into detail, I'd like to offer a quick rundown of some other delicious bites we enjoyed while galavanting through London.
Borough Market is a must-visit for any food lover. It's a sprawling outdoor food market with stalls offering everything from mulled wine and stinky cheese to fish and chips and homemade fudge (yeah, you know I walked out with a big bag of fudge). The line for the Ethiopian food curled around its stall and down the block. The fresh fruits and vegetables were piled high, begging us to take them home. We tasted as much as we could, and everything was delicious. As far as we could tell, you can't go wrong.
Afternoon tea is an obligatory activity while visiting England. Skipping it would not just be blasphemous, it would be silly. Especially when so many places offer tea with bubbles - a.k.a. bottomless champagne. Yes, friends, afternoon tea with champagne is the cure for jet lag - I tell you this with confidence. We wandered into the Library Lounge at the Marriott after running away horrified by the mobs of tourists around the London Eye (an attraction you can skip, by the way), and were delighted to find that they were able to take us without a reservation. Everything was tasty, and they even offered a completely dairy-free high tea service for my husband. And with bottomless champagne, well, how could you go wrong?
For an ancient history buff like my husband, the British Museum is absolute heaven. As much as I adore museum days, I also know that it's important to take some time to relax and recharge during a full day of perusing the collections - and the café at the British Museum offered some truly delicious sustenance. We enjoyed this fresh, flavorful lunch while relaxing just steps away from the art. The slight touch of sweetness from the sprinkling of chocolate on top of my cappuccino was a treat - it's something that's common in the U.K. and Europe, but not so much here. Delightful!
Beyond these, there were so many incredible dinners we enjoyed. We loved everything we tasted at Wild Food Café, a restaurant serving up organic, vegan cuisine in the most gorgeous way possible. The flight of desserts was a revelation, and my husband was so excited to indulge in some dairy-free dessert.
For our Christmas dinner, we ventured out for Indian food - a staple cuisine in London, and one of our favorites. Bombay Palace was just a short walk from our hotel and had a menu packed with tempting options, and even a number of items that could be prepared without dairy. Our favorite dish was a starter called Achari Murgh: grilled chicken marinated in pickling spices. Unusual and delicious!
Then there was Spring, Skye Gyngell's gorgeous, ethereal restaurant that served us mouthwateringly delicious dishes crafted from the finest seasonal ingredients, including an appetizer that featured a delicate cloud of burrata, a perfectly cooked steak, and a dairy-free chocolate sorbet that was basically life-changing.
The Grazing Goat in Marylebone offers a bit of the country in the middle of the city: its gastropub occupies the first floor of the small 8-room hotel, replete with rustic wooden furnishings and cozy mood lighting (which, while romantic, was terrible for photographs). The food is a seasonal take on classic British cuisine, sourced sustainably and locally. Everything was delicious - especially the light and flaky cod.
And for our fancy night out, there was Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, a two-star Michelin restaurant inspired by historic recipes (you can imagine the history buff ate that one up...), that wowed us with every bite. The service was impeccable, the wine was perfection, and almost every dish was a knockout. We loved the little bits of history offered here and there, though we could have even done with more. All in all, a memorable experience!
And one last important mention for a foodie visiting London - you must at least do a quick walk-through of Harrods' food departments. There are delights in each room, from pastries to fresh fruit to prepared meals, and wandering through, it feels never-ending! Unfortunately we weren't hungry when we visited, so we didn't taste any of these treats, but it was still a treat to oogle all the beautiful food.
In a city as big and as historic as London, it's obvious that a short visit won't be enough to take in all that the city has to offer. I've already got a mile-long bucket list for when I return, including Dishoom, Kaffeine, and Sketch - though I'm sure by the time I return, with all the wonderful progress the London food culture is making on a daily basis, there will be even more delicious restaurants to visit. I can't wait!