Monday, 10 October 2011

Best breakfasts: St Ali, Clerkenwell, London

I knew I was going to like St Ali. It's got two strong breakfast credentials... 1) it's in the heart of brunch country (Clerkenwell/NW, home to Modern Pantry, Providores, Caravan etc) and 2) it's Antipodean owned and run, as per the above, so that means good coffee and innovative breakfasts.

The venue used to be a bar - I remember drinking vodka-lemonades there many moons ago - but has been transformed. The look is shabby cool, with bare brick, exposed metal piping, school-style chairs, mix-match tables and salvage-looking art and furniture. There's two floors so the queue (and there usually is one on a weekend morning), goes pretty quickly.

The staff are knowledgeable, efficient and fun (we were asked by the barman, 'why no vodka' when we ordered a Virgin Mary...)

There's a coffee roaster on site and the brews are something special - the drip coffees, which come on a tray in a simple glass jug, are for the aficionados, but the frothy ones, for us philistines, are pretty good too. There's also fresh juices and a load of teas on offer.

The menu is divided into breakfast, brunch and lunch, going from toasty/oaty through to eggy/beany to meaty/veggie.

The breakfast items haven't got a look in on either of my visits, but the St Ali apple bircher muesli with labna, new season British strawberries and toasted pumpkin seeds (£5.25) sounds delicious, as does the 'Banana Republic', homemade banana bread toasted with date and orange jam and espresso marscapone (£4.75).

Breakfast also includes a DIY fry-up with options such as thyme-roasted mushrooms and grilled halloumi to add to the eggs, toast and tomato kasundi (a delicately spiced chutney).

The brunch menu is where the real innovation comes in - a favourite of mine is 'My Mexican Cousin', consisting of the Kiwi classic, corn fritter, topped with baby spinach, grilled halloumi, kasundi and poached eggs (£9.25). It is hearty, wholesome and delicious. The fritter is chunky, firm and not remotely oily and the halloumi is thin, so not too squeaky, topped with a perfectly cooked egg.

Another favourite order, despite the name... is 'Dutch Oven' (Google if your vocabulary isn't as immature as mine...). It's house-braised beans on sourdough toast, salted ricotta, lemon, mint and a poached egg (£6.75). There's a mountain of large, tasty beans with just enough bite, on a wedge of sourdough. It's a healthy option, perfect if you want to indulge in one of the weekly changing muffins afterwards (coconut, mango and white chocolate I seem to remember ion my last visit).

Service is quick but you can linger over coffee without being hurried out. The food is colourful, imaginative, hearty and worth paying just under a tenner per brunch dish. As for the lunch menu, why would you bother with these, and the likes of French toast with vanilla marscapone, black pudding on toast with apple-chilli jam and avocado and feta crumble with pomegranate to choose from...

Details: St Ali, 27 Clerkenwell Rd, EC1M 5RN, tel. 020 7253 5754; Open 7am-6pm 7 days a week. No bookings taken

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