All good things come to an end and that is even true when it comes to eating out. As anyone that has ever read one of my restaurant reviews will know I have been a loyal fan and regular brunch visitor at Workshop Coffee for a few years now. However a change in menu that saw my two favourite dishes disappear ( replaced to my annoyance with none veggie friendly options), less friendly staff and a hike in price, for me a £3 flat white no matter how perfectly brewed really not excusable, meant that I eventually felt no other choice but to embark on a search for new places to spend my favourite mealtime of the week at. Luckily living in east London I have a growing choice of cafés and restaurants that try to do something a little different with their brunch offerings at my disposal and depending on whether you fancy something sweet or savoury has seen me discover some unexpected gems, able to fill the void left behind by Workshop!
The Breakfast Club Hoxton
I have always been rather critical of the Breakfast club for a few reasons. It is the type of place included in most semi cool guide books and as a result more often than not filled with hordes of tourists, prepared to queue a good hour to tick it of their "to do in London" list. I for one detest both waiting for my food ( especially if hungover and before coffee) and tourist traps where restaurants tend to get away with rather mediocre fare to high prices, knowing that of course most customers have come for the experience and not high culinary standards. I had been to a few of their branches many years ago but found them rather cramped ( especially the soho restaurant) and my savoury dishes nothing out of the ordinary. However after a sudden craving for pancakes a friend of mine vouched for the greatness of the stack of fluffy doughy goodness served up at the Breakfast Club and I reconsidered my initial hesitation. Living literally around the corner from the Hoxton Breakfast club I put my doubts aside and gave it another go and was pleasantly surprised! Yes, there was a queue but the wait was short and service friendly. Once sat the room was spacious and atmosphere unrushed, not a given considering the queue outside. Once we had ordered, for me the classic pancakes with berries, vanilla cream and a jug of maple syrup and for my meat loving best friend Abigail pancakes with the addition of a mountain of various meat, we knew we had come to the right place. Generous portions, beautifully flavoured cream and a stack of fluffy and delicious pancakes completely hit the spot and was great value for money at £8 for my portion. The menu caters for every taste though I think for me the Breakfast club is my new to go to for that certain pancake craving I get every few weeks. Even if the Breakfast club isn't the most edgy place it is a London brunch institution underrated by many Londoners!
Ozone Coffee had been on my brunch map for some time but once again it's proximity to Workshop coffee, located just off Old street roundabout, had seen me reluctant to take the plunge and try somewhere new and unknown. After another underwhelming Workshop experience however ( spending just under £20 on a minuscule portion of eggs, beans, mushrooms and a coffee) I was determined to give it a go, especially after having a glimpse at their rather enticing and veggie friendly menu. With their own coffee roastery, Ozone is housed in a slightly industrial inspired, big, bright and welcoming place and me and my brunch buddy instantly felt at home perching on one of their benches. Coffee, of course, is a matter of pride here and for a reason. My flat white was smooth, strong and one of the best I have had in London. The food too is imaginative and full of fresh flavours. We settled for the mushrooms on sourdough with Swiss cheese and a dollop of creme fraiche, simple ingredients cooked perfectly, and chips ( and what chips with their crispy skin on and sea salt flakes on top) with aioli, one of the best I have had to date even when compared with more famous burger bar ones. Paying under £15 each, we left stuffed, satisfied and already discussing what to try next time. I have a feeling Ozone will become a regular weekend spot of mine in no time.
This year has
already been marked by two big occasions. I have now lived in England for 10
years and I got my first tattoo just before my twenty-second birthday. The two
may not seem connected at first but this bit of ink under my skin has
been a symbol of me finally accepting and celebrating my lack of one set
national identity and one place I call home.
in American typewriter font on my ankle, is a German word with no direct
English translation that denotes a sense of being at home without an actual
physical place to call so, home in essence where the heart is, not where a
passport or accent may place you. For me in particular this has a twofold
meaning. In times where people change occupations and locations without the
blink of an eye I find it hard to understand how we are still so set on an
outdated and one dimensional idea of national identity and how not committing
to one makes you apparently appear a little "lost". I make both a
terrible German, I don't eat sausages and hate beer, and a pretty rubbish Brit
( do not ever ask me to make a cup of tea because I wouldn't know how to) but I
am both a proud Londoner, the place where I have created a life for myself and
European, Europe for me a set of diverse states we can freely travel and work
across that despite all its problems has guaranteed centuries of peace.
On my first day at
school in England I was called a Nazi, yes the person doing so was another 12
year old with, I am assuming a rather limited, grasp of history, but it was not
the last time I was made to feel distinctly different because of my slight
German accent and the resulting 'foreignness', something that I think should be
no issue whatsoever in a time where hardly anyone can say they are purely
Britiish or purely whatever, I for one rather proud of my complete mish mash of
heritage ( quarter German, quarter Finnish, quarter Russian and quarter Czech
if you care to ask).
I can now say I am
a little German and a little English in mentality and a lot of that has shaped
who I am, a chance to live in different environments, a facing of different
social parameters that I cherish rather than resent. I would have probably had
an easier time in my teenage years without the move across the channel but I
have learnt to see the good and bad in every country, no where is perfect and I
have very much accepted that I have accumulated bad traits both of the English
( no longer am I hundred percent punctual) and German ( I still struggle to
queue for things) kind, but all of these little quirks have made me who I am
and that is neither or, an attitude fitting for a world that, as cliche as it
sounds,is becoming one big village, full of world citizens.
The tattoo has a
second more personal meaning to me too. Through circumstance I lost a so to
speak conventional family which didn't prove too easy at a stage of my life
when the transition from student to working adult was already a challenge in
it's self. I don't have the safety net of a family to go back to if I loose my
job or a boy lets me down, I don't have a place to spend Christmas at and I
don't get that parental praise we all need once in a while. However I have in
the last two years managed to find friends that are like my family and
managed to make London my home, a place where, at least for now, I have
arrived and feel at ease. I played with the idea of getting this tattoo for
almost two years but it was when both those two ways of belonging fell into
place that the time was right because for me 'Heimat' is where I am happy no matter
what country, city or house I am in and my ankle will remind me of that in the
years to come, no matter the geographical location.
Apart from my undying love for macaroons ( though I feel they are anyway too pretty and too much of a special occasion treat to consider an actual food which is also why I don't consider them to be containing calories obviously), I have never been a big fan of the French cuisine. It isn't known to be particularly none-meat-eater friendly and for one of my French friends living in London makes it near impossible not to veer back towards a bite of foie gras when she is back, she more a vegetarian by taste and for health than of course animal rights in this case. This all resulted in a rather mediocre culinary experience on my trips, though I did enjoy the copious amounts of patisserie goods, and meant that I was never much tempted to seek out French food in London.
However two recent discoveries have changed my opinion for the better, maybe aided also by my new found love of red wine that served as perfect accompaniment for the dinner I enjoyed at Le Mecury. Located on upper street in Angel, for me one of the nicest streets in London with a quaint neighbourhood feel, Le Mercury completely surprised me with it's authentic French cooking, incredibly good prices, intimate atmosphere AND very good vegetarian choices. Once sat down at one of their tiny tables with a candle lit on top, Le Mercury has that certain old school "ideal place for a date" vibe that in London too often gets lost in restaurants with fancy new concepts and purposely " unfinished" interiors that just end up looking a little try hard. Yes, you aren't going to be getting the newest culinary creations here but after all neither do you in a lovely Parisian bistro and neither did that limit my enjoyment of the dishes. Everything from the grilled goats cheese salad for starters to my incredible gnocchi with butternut squash sauce for mains were perfectly seasoned, well presented and a real bargain considering that all main courses are priced under the ten and all starters and dessert under the five pound mark. Meat eaters will be pleased that this also means rump steak and the, by my dining companion highly recommended, lamb are included in this, making Le Mercury an affordable yet tasty and sophisticated place to enjoy a dinner, of course with one of their equally well priced bottles of red wine to wash it all down with. It may only look like any bistro you would find in Paris but Le Mercury is a great little gem in the middle of London with that same passion for food and wine that I became so enchanted with on my last two visits.
As far as street food goes crepes are of course another French institution and one that is also not easily found done well in London ( I have to say that I myself am often biased to go for the thicker and less sophisticated American pancake version for brunch). Whilst in Paris however I discovered the wonders of a savoury crepe after enjoying one filled with smoked salmon at 3 am after one too many cocktails. Keen to find a version in London I was happy to discover Creperie Du Monde on Chatsworth road. With a menu solely focused on savoury and sweet crepes, each sounding incredible ( oreo cookies, butterscotch sauce and cream anyone?) I couldn't help but make a trip there for brunch. Though service was a little off and waiting times just about bearable, the crepes served were definitely worth it. I went for the brunch favourite - smoked salmon, poached eggs, hollandaise and asparagus, served on a whole wheat crepe ( though you can of course also go for the classic white version). Made right in front of you, the crepe was paper thin, delicious and worked perfectly with the toppings. Though not as cheap as their Parisian counterparts ( my crepe was £7.50) it was a great brunch alternative and I can't wait to return to try some of their sweet options. Another piece of Paris in the midst of London I shall return to more often!