Thursday, 22 April 2010

When brunch became lunch at Bistrotheque

Brunch (n.): A meal typically eaten late in the morning as a combination of a late breakfast and an early lunch

The second best thing about brunch (the first is so obvious it doesn't need saying... oh, ok then: decadence, booze and a lie in) is that it is a cool word. It's a portmanteau, which is a blended word, like 'smog', from 'smoke' and 'fog', and 'motel' from 'motor' and 'hotel'.

I only learnt that today but it's already stored up there in my grammar greats with onomatopoeic and palindrome...

But back to the best meal of the day: it occurred to me over brunch, munched to the mellow tunes of a rose-haired pianist at Bistrotheque in east London this weekend, that the distinction between brunch and lunch is blurring, or perhaps that was the peach bellini I had to start...

If one eats before brunch, does it become lunch? It was just a snack on some wholesome breakfast loaf before I left the house (and good job too or I'd have been joining in the chorus of Piano Man before the starter had arrived).

So, yes, we had a starter... and a main course... and a pudding... and a glass of wine. Does it stop being brunch yet? I hope not.

It was called brunch on the top of the menu, and that is good enough for me.

Back to the food. Anchovy salad used young spinach and green beans, roasted hazlenuts, set off with a hint of burnt orange and the most perfectly on-the-soft-side boiled quails eggs that have ever melted in my mouth.

We stayed briny for two mains of fish and chips (crisp sumptuous chips, dropped-off-the-back-of-the-boat fresh fish and a side of oh-so-sweet and minty crushed peas with thyme) and seabass (fresh and supported by a quintet of cute queen scallops and some mysteriously un-metallic, and once again very youthful, spinach).

A pudding was necessary - we didn't want the experience to end... and so it was fortunate that a vanilla-rich, creamy banana custard tart and glorious ice cream with crunchy caramel peanut bits did not disappoint.

The service was first class, the vibe was laid back, chatty and happy. I can't wait to go back.

27 Wadeson Street, Poplar, London E2 9; tel. 020 8983 7900;

Brunch for two cost £98 including two courses, a cocktail and glass of wine each. The set menu is £17.50 for three courses Sunday-Thursday before 7.30pm.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

London's free 'fry-up': for one week only

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but breakfast is a different matter... If you get yourself down to Holborn this week, you can get a fry-up, no strings attached (bar the Facebook group sign up and potential for marketing emails from Tefal for eternity if you forget to opt out, of course).

I popped down to the pop-up today, called the Greaseless Spoon, to check out the so called "healthy" and "low fat" fodder... Tefal wants to show off how it can make 3% fat chips and low sugar jam.

It's offering British classics for free, among them the reinvented fry-up, sans grease.

For starters, some of us want our fried eggs swimming in grease. My Mum tilts her frying pan and spoons fat over her bubbling fried egg to make it that bit more greasy, so I'm not sure she'd be blown away by this cooking revolution.

I'm a little more open to the concept - I'm a Lean Mean Grilling Machine fan... I use one for grilling asparagus, chicken breasts and tuna, but for me, nothing beats bacon and sausages baked in the oven. It's healthy and it doesn't need any clever gadgetry.

The London Review of Breakfasts wasn't impressed by the eggs and the lack of hash browns, but loved the mushrooms, because they were swimming in butter!

Sign up for your free fry-up, and come back to tell me what you thought... just don't compare it to the indulgence of a normal fry-up - yes, it is sugar and fat that makes stuff taste good.

The Greaseless Spoon is at 7-8 Little Turnstile, London WC1 7DX from Monday 19 April to Friday 23 April, 9am – 4pm
Book tickets here:

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Recipe: Easy dairy and sugar-free breakfast loaf

"Fat free" rarely, if ever, means just that. But with this breakfast loaf the only fat that goes in is the blob you use to grease the tin, and the only sugar comes from fruits.

It's a recipe that my mother-in-law passed to me, and so I shall pass on to you.

Granted, you need to make it a day or so ahead because of the soaking and cooking time, but once made it lasts for a week or more in a tin and makes a healthy tea time treat with tea.

We had it for brunch with fruit salad, yoghurt and the leftovers of my pistachio and rosewater cake from Claudia Roden's wonderful Arabesque cookbook. But more on that another time...


450g coarse-chopped dried fruit (cranberries, dates, apricots, blueberries and raisins worked well for me)
240ml of fruit juice or tea (I used apple juice but I hear Earl Grey tea works beautifully)
125g self raising flour

Soak the fruit overnight in the juice or tea. Stir in the flour (mix well). Bake in a greased loaf tin for 2-2.5 hours at 130 degrees C.

Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Breakfast included: Halkin Hotel, London

Good muesli is easy to come by these days, whether it’s in a posh box, in a Tupperware at home or served in a side street cafe. Great muesli is less easy to find, but I made an unexpected discovery last week in Belgravia.

OK, so it comes with a Belgravia price tag, but hear me out.

A Michelin-starred Thai restaurant might be an unlikely spot for a killer muesli, but the Halkin’s home blend is worth the trek into sloane territory.

The Halkin’s Nahm restaurant serves some astonishingly good aromatic, innovative Thai food in the evening, but a cracking hotel breakfast spread in the morning.

There’s a touch of the orient in the fruit selection – Thai mango and papaya with a squeeze of lime were sensationally sweet, lurid and delicious. Bar the spicy omelette, with it’s kick of red chilli and thin, just done egg, there’s nothing more Thai-inspired on the menu – it’s classic breakfast dishes there after.

There’s no buffet, which smacks of refinement – no filling your plate here – you order each item a la carte, and if you’re paying for it separately, you’ll order carefully.

So, back to this muesli.

Baby figs, goji berries, seeds, oats, oat bran, nuts and raisins, stirred through with yoghurt and topped with berries. It was nutty, just sweet enough, with a creamy texture and immensely satisfying.

There’s not a lot more to add about this place – no-one comes for the atmosphere – it was quiet the weekday morning I visited and the decor is understated, almost to the point of bland – burnished gold pillars, natural wood slatted divides between tables and pared-down colonial style wood and wicker back chairs.

The crockery and cutlery is lovely – antique silver abounds; the service is attentive and the waiting staff are as sharp-suited as the guests.

Details: Nahm, The Halkin, Halkin Street, London, SW1X 7DJ; tel. 020 7333 1234

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Recipe: rhubarb and rosewater breakfast compote

This morning’s breakfast was inspired by a recipe I read some time ago while salivating over the wonderful blog for rhubarb and rosewater crumble.

I love the perfumed aroma of rosewater. Just one whiff takes me back to sipping rose-scented mint tea in Morocco or sitting in the shade of an orchard drinking rosewater and cardamom coffee in Oman.

When I’m at home in London I get my fix at Comptoir Libanais – its Lebanese breakfast spread includes the guzzle-it-in-one-slurp rosewater and strawberry smoothie that is heavenly creamy and fragrant.

Rhubarb is still the forced variety at this time of year – it comes in lithe succulent pink stalks that are perfect for poaching with something a bit sweet and something a bit aromatic.

This morning I made enough for about four servings. I poached four rhubarb stalks, chopped into about 2cm chunks, with two tablespoons of agave nectar, a cinnamon stick, half a cup of water and about 5 drops of rosewater (taste as you add it but you might need a fair bit to counter the tartness of the fruit, especially if it’s outdoor rhubarb).

Poach it over a low heat for about 20 minutes (this can be done the night before) and serve warm on top of yoghurt with a sprinkling of seeds and/or muesli.

If you’ve got some left over, it makes a cracking dessert – in a ramekin topped with yoghurt and sugar, finished under the grill to brulee the top, or do a cheat’s crumble by topping with a sweet toasted cereal like Jordans Crunchy Oats and a blob of cream or ice cream.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Best cafes: Leon, various locations, London

This week Spring arrived. Well, in the world of Leon is did, even if the British weather wasn’t playing ball.

What does spring mean for breakfast? A compote tweak that takes us from snow capped hedgerows to sun-dappled fields... or rather blackberry to strawberry.

The Leon is stirred into porridge, smoothies and knickerbockerglories (the yoghurt/fruity/granola pots), and I tasted all three this week at the Spitalfields branch of Leon.

The porridge (£2.30) came in a generous heaped serving and was stodgy (in a good way), creamy thanks to the whole milk and spiked with the tartness of the blackberry compote.

The knickerbockerglory (£2.85) was creamy and indulgent – the fruit one was a little sweet for my breakfast tastes but the granola and blueberry version was good and had the layers muddled throughout.

I followed this with a breakfast bap (£2.65), which come with bacon and sausage or just the latter. The meat was first class and perfectly cooked – crisp but not overdone. The baps were wholemeal with floured top and crusty outer edge but still squeezeable enough to grip the contents and fit in your mouth without an ungainly jaw dislocation.

Both come with Leon’s own tomato sauce. It doesn’t have the piquant kick of Heinz, but also doesn’t have the sugar – it just tastes of well seasoned tomatoes.

You can wash it all down with excellent coffees and teas that include fresh ginger and mint. There’s also carrot and orange fresh juice (£2.50) or power smoothies (£2.75); breakfast in a cup.

It was almost empty when I visited, but you’d expect that on a weekday morning. That said, there was plenty of takeaway trade with porridge, coffees and baps the favourites.

The interior is Leon stylised – gun metal chairs on distressed broad dark floorboards, huge industrial metal lampshades, exposed pipe work and personal touches like a shelf of books, family photos and bric a brac. Diners sit at long communal tables or more intimate banquette seating around the edge.

There’s plenty of competition is this part of town – from Canteen and Giraffe next door, Pod near the station and the countless independents in Spitalfields like Market Coffee House and The Luxe. Put down that bowl of Sugar Puffs, city workers, you are spoilt for choice.

Leon Spitalfields is open from 8am weekdays and 9am weekends