Tag Archives: brunch

Lantana Cafe, Shoreditch

I’ve openly declared my love of brunch plenty of times here, in particular the boozy variety, but where did it all start….well a trip to Dublin where friends introduced us to the past-time at one of their favourite haunts Dillinger’s started the love affair and the rest is history. A couple of weekends ago we had a long overdue catch up but without crossing the Irish Sea, as they now live in London which is great for us! Being within easy driving distance we arrived at their flat in the Hoxton area of the city and deliberately hadn’t eaten all morning in readiness for late Saturday brunch and an ensuing all day session. A spot of research pointed me in the direction of Lantana Cafe on City Road and we arrived during what seemed peak time – just before 12pm, joining the back of a queue 5/6 deep.

After waiting around 10/15 minutes a member of staff looked at the queue and proceeded talking to the front half taking note of party numbers, whilst ignoring the rest of us! Pretty poor form, the issue was they hadn’t got an overall view of numbers they could’ve seated customers much more effectively with the tables they had remaining. Unfortunately they didn’t, so when it was our turn to be seated next, staff hadn’t accounted for our party of five and the next available tables only accommodated couples or a group of four. Basically meaning people who’d literally just walked in got seated straight away, we’d been waiting at least 25/30 minutes by then. All that without any form of apology whatsoever, we’d hoped for a better start. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand how it can be when a place is busy and staff are trying their best to please everyone. I’ve worked in restaurants and been in the same situation, but the basics should be paramount.

After one further wait we sat down, we quickly perused the food menu and briskly got our drinks order while we had the attention from a staff member – all zoning in on cocktails. The waitress asked if we’d wanted any coffees, we and simply replied ‘oh no, cocktails please!!’ A few Bloody Mary’s, an Aperol Spritz and mimosa ordered, it took a little while to get them so in the meantime we nabbed a staff member to take our food order. Aperol Spritz and mimosa are hard to get wrong and as it turned out were thirst quenchingly refreshing, however the Bloody Mary’s were very much on the tame side, lacked kick and were due a couple of twists of cracked black pepper, tabasco and some celery salt.

img_5995

The food looked great, but it didn’t arrive at the same time, with one of us having a sizeable wait (actually the whole table, because we didn’t want to be rude and start eating) and once again no apology when it was brought over.

Service aside, my breakfast burger was just what I needed with a really tasty meaty/herby sausage patty, crisp streaky bacon, a perfect fried egg with compulsory runny yolk, avocado and a little kick from a chilli ketchup. Supposedly there was some smoked cheese in the mix – the cheese element was definitely apparent, the smokiness not so much, whether it actually needed it was another question. On paper it sounded a lot, but in reality it wasn’t too large, I didn’t feel overfaced and if I’m honest was a bit relieved, especially knowing full well how all day sessions with these lot pan out.

img_6011

There was a similar feeling about the food across the table – we couldn’t grumble on portion size, the food cooked well, was tasty and did what a good brunch does and set us up nicely for the day ahead. There was spicy chorizo, runny poached eggs, silky scrambled eggs, salty crispy bacon and charred halloumi there to please. It was the niggles with service that made our experience really frustrating, and it was a shame because for me, having great service is so important! Apart from the initial wait, trying time after time to get the attention of waiting staff, and it wasn’t if we weren’t making it plainly obvious, while staff wandered past us countless times, without even an acknowledgment to the point where we just gave up. 

img_6008
Corn fritters stacked with streaky bacon, fresh spinach, roast tomatoes, smashed avocado, lemon crème fraiche with extra chorizo and halloumi cheese
img_5999
Poached eggs and pork and leek sausages on toast
img_6002
The Full Lantana – poached eggs with fried potato bread, bacon, roasted mushrooms, house baked beans and extra black pudding

img_6009
Scrambled eggs with streaky bacon on toast

Overall the food at Lantana was great, the Bloody Mary and their service needs work. 

Lantana Cafe

Unit 2

1 Oliver’s Yard

55 City Rd

London

EC1Y 1HQ

Ox Club @ Headrow House, Leeds

The Leeds food scene continues to grow from strength to strength, and one which has stood out from the crowd of this new breed is Ox Club. Anyone who loves food, who’s been in Leeds over the last year will probably have eaten something from Belgrave Music Hall conjured up by Ben Davy, the mastermind behind Dough Boys, Patty Smiths and British Street Food Award winners Fu-Schnikens. Ox Club’s hangar steak had already become a hit after a few flirtations at Belgrave, however it was their highly anticipated opening in Headrow House, even though delayed which became a bonus early Christmas present for Leeds folk. Its launch had the desired effect with a steady stream of yummy photos filling my Instagram feed, doing the inevitable and making me very eager to get my chops around some Ox Club fare! 

With dismay I thought it may be months until I’d be back in the north, but the food gods looked favourably upon me with a mates’ birthday dinner. Reading the news literally made me whoop with utter joy, so I decided to try brunch too – nothing wrong with a double whammy, eh?!

img_5643

Having seen the space in its early building site days and as Big Lil’s, its previous guise, the place is completely transformed with an understated dining space – bare wood, concrete floors and white painted brick walls. An open kitchen is adorned with the beast of a Grillworks Grill, providing the fire power to bring out the best in local produce showcased in the menu. Their thoughtful menus salute inspiration from a range of food cultures, in particular from a trip in North American with influences subtly reflected.

IMG_5677

Let’s start with brunch first – as per usual drinks to whet the appetite were of major importance with a Bloody Mary, Ox Club have a pimped up version with a simply genius move of using their very own steak infused vodka…yes you read right – S.T.E.A.K I.N.F.U.S.E.D V.O.D.K.A! So not only is there a balancing act from a smack of Tabasco heat, tomato sourness etc….there’s also steak meatiness! At the time this was the only brunch cocktail on the books, much to my disappointment, so I stuck to a trusty North Star coffee. 

Service is relaxed and easy going, all in a good way as people don’t take themselves too seriously here, but still give a helping hand with the menu if required. Expect food that’s something a little different from the norm – where boundaries are pushed as far as mainstream breakfast or brunch goes. There were three of us, but four dishes ordered – why? Well, I’m basically a greedy little bugger and didn’t want to settle on one, ordering a conservative two.

For all establishments serving breakfast/brunch it’s hard to get away from having a version of the full English on the roster. However, similarly to their evolution of Bloody Mary they have their own take which includes pork belly, German sausage and home fries. With extra bacon added on the side the other half was suitably well fed to tackle the rest of the day. In fact, the pork belly was so good they should put that on the sides menu, because I’d be all over it!

Ox Club breakfast

Kimchi chicken was my first port of call – the amalgamation of a multitude of tastes and textures playing around in my mouth was a joy! Crispy chicken, sourness and heat of fermented kimchi, balanced by the nutty wild rice and the addition of a fried egg with runny yolk makes it a winning dish!

img_5688
Kimchi chicken

Cassoulet was my second choice – a comforting dish with some tasty elements; in particular the sausages and Guinea fowl. However it lacked a little something, mainly because the flageolet beans were a touch under seasoned.

img_5690
Cassoulet

Their evening menu follows the small plates trend with dishes like hangar steak, ox cheek and razor clams, as well as plenty to tempt vegetable lovers. Notably a roasted cauliflower plate that’s quickly gained cult status and been at the forefront of diners memories!

Highlights off the menu were many, my favourite picks – chicken schmaltz, not on the menu as such but it was an opening gambit I’d be happy to start a meal with any day! Some restaurants may offer olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, not here – this nectar from the food gods was basically like chicken dripping, or in my mind roast chicken in liquid form. 

img_5744
Chicken schmaltz

The burrata was another favourite, something so simple giving maximum pleasure – beautifully creamy and smokey, treated simply with fennel, lemon and black pepper was a treat!

img_5754
Smoked burrata
img_5745
Nocellara olives on ice, orange and bay
img_5749
Ham hock rillettes, pickles and sour rye

Melt in the mouth Ox cheek that’d been cooked until its meaty gelatinous texture lovingly gave up in my mouth, bringing along with it deep flavours – sublime! Hangar steak beautifully cooked, a little more salsa verde with its umami herbiness would’ve made it even more awesome. It came with cracking chips too, with smoked sea salt and Bloody Mary ketchup – they’ve really thought of everything! 

Ox cheek 
img_5762
Hangar steak with salsa verde and watercress

Roasted cauliflower – this supposed ‘side dish’ has been winning the hearts of everyone and I’m not surprised. I’ve tried this veg roasted a few times, not always successfully. When done well it’s incredible and full of flavour, the innate taste of the vegetable changes and it’s brilliant at taking on more intense flavours. With a piquant romesco sauce and flaked almonds it’s a must order dish, even if your not a fan of the veg, this dish could win you over.

img_5766
Roasted cauliflower, romesco sauce, almonds and sherry vinegar
Coal roasted beetroot, goat’s curd, muscovado walnuts and chervil

Dessert-wise the lemon tart was always my first choice, I’m not the greatest dessert lover usually, but I can be tempted by something citrusy and this is one of my favourites, so much so it was our wedding dessert. As this only needs a few ingredients a lot can go wrong, so a pastry that’s short and crumbly is compulsory, filled with a silky creamy lemon filling, possessing a sharp enough hit of lemon just enough so you don’t wince. Ox Club’s was right up there and top notch. 

img_5786
Lemon tart with meringues and cream

It was only a matter of time before food maestro Ben Davy and his pals would open up a fully fledged establishment, with grown up plates of food which don’t cost the earth – Leeds is a very lucky place to have them! 

Ox Club

Headrow House

Bramleys Yard

The Headrow

Leeds

LS1 6PU

Birthday brunch @ Balans Soho Society, Kensington 

If an actual reason was needed for Sunday brunch, then the morning after a night of birthday celebrations is as good a reason as any!! We’d stayed the night at a mates in Fulham and wanted to keep things local, no one fancies traipsing across London in search of a morning feed after a late night! Balans Soho Society had a good combination of location, menu choice and price so after a short hop on the bus to Kensington High Street we were there and within minutes we’d ordered a compulsory bloody Mary and prosecco!

 

IMG_5481

IMG_5482

Their all day brunch menu has a mix of global influences resulting in a wide choice, including eggs Benedict, masala omelette, quesadilla, roast chicken and bacon cobb with ranch dressing or Thai inspired rare beef salad.

Welcoming, friendly service and a relaxed, warm atmosphere made it a good place to spend a few hours while we gradually woke ourselves up from the night before. My High Society Eggs Benedict was basically a pimped up eggs Benedict with additional crispy bacon, avocado and lobster. Avocado seems to have cult status at the moment, so any dish where it graces a presence tends to be a popular one! I would’ve liked more acidity in the hollandaise and would criticise the meagre amount of lobster on the plate – I’d built my hopes up after spying an Instagram photo which had a far more generous amount! Despite any minor faults it was a yummy plate of food though.

The Soho Full English – this classic breakfast can sometimes look like a car crash on a plate, however there are some, such as The Greedy Pig’s version (full on meat or veggie alternative) which always looks picture perfect and delivers on the aim of satisfying the morning hunger pangs. This one looked the part with the compulsory elements spruced up with poached eggs, field mushrooms and potatoes and was well received.

The birthday girl was celebrating another year with French toast and a scattering of banana, strawberries and syrup. This would’ve been the last thing I would’ve chosen, with my hatred for bananas and sickly sweet syrup. However, who was I to argue when the birthday girl who normally eats very slowly and predictably finishes her plate last, was the first to finish and by a long stretch at that!  

Masala omelette was a tasty affair – well spiced with a whack of chilli heat, cooked so soft in the middle and sat alongside their fried potatoes making it a filling mid morning meal! 

All in all Balans is a good brunch option in London, fairly priced and with a few spots around the city your not limited by location. 

Balans Soho Society

187 Kensington High Street

London

W8 6SH

Sheaf St. Cafeteria, Leeds

Living down south means missing out on new openings and playing catch-up on visits back, this was the case with Sheaf St. Cafeteria and their collaboration with Laynes Espresso. Opened in early August and located in a much neglected part of the city centre, the Victorian building where Duke Studios now resides has been rejuvenated into an uber-cool space ideal for work and play, whatever takes your fancy.

If you’ve been to Belgrave Music Hall for Layne’s Sunday Brunch, you’ll probably be familiar with the veggie menu, including avocado on toast, shakshuka, pancakes and braised beans. Of course, where there’s Laynes expect first-rate coffee, here they’ve diverted from their regular roasters Square Mile to using coffee from Workshop instead.

It’s common for the humble egg to be a breakfast/brunch favourite, never more so in our household where it’s a definite staple and I love them cooked in any form! Since starting their Sunday brunch service, Laynes’ shakshuka has been a popular choice on the menu, hardly surprising to see it here then. Baked egg dishes are yummy because they’re so comforting, eggs work perfectly with other tastes and flavours – the warming background of spice and chilli heat, oozy eggs enveloped in an aromatic pepper/tomato sauce, all mopped up with a chunk of buttered sourdough – you can’t go wrong!! It’s also for satisfying both veggie or carnivore, add a little Merguez or chorizo or now a think about it a hit of Nduja in there and jobs a good ‘un!

This version had lots going for it – a gloriously runny yolk, lots of peppers and red onion still with a touch of bite in a thick tomato sauce. If I’m picky I’d say it could’ve done with more spice and chilli heat, but that’s totally my preference. My day still started off pretty well nevertheless!  

Sheaf St. Cafeteria

Duke Studios
3 Sheaf St
Leeds

Little Berlin Jaunt

Turn back time to last weekend, along with thousands of others I completed the Berlin Marathon – a goal of mine for the last ten months. 

With a couple of travel guides reused from a previous visit and some research scouring local blogs I’d got together a list of food spots worth trying out. However, with all the best intentions my priority was still the marathon and with time taken to travel and the need to collect my running pack from the event’s expo, it left us with Saturday and possibly Sunday after the race, depending on the condition my body was in to explore and try things out. 

Here are some photos from the weekend, some of the food was a bit hit and miss in terms of quality and at times we experienced complete disasters with service to the point of walking out of one restaurant:

Preflight brunch at Heston Blumenthal’s The Perfectionist’s Cafe in Heathrow Airport – limited on gluten free options for the other half and whilst my eggs and bacon on a muffin had lots of good point to it, such as crisp bacon and great poached egg with a glorious intensely orange yolk, it was all a bit too precise and nice. Cocktails were good though, their Bloody Mary came with its very own tabasco filled pipette so you could alter it to your taste. 

Brunch at The Perfectionist's Cafe, Heathrow Airport
Brunch at The Perfectionist’s Cafe, Heathrow Airport

   

Tired and needing food quickly after hot-footing it to the Berlin Marathon’s running expo to pick up my race pack, instead of finding one of the places on my list, we succumbed to getting food from one of the events traders with typical Berlin fare – Bratwurst, currywurst and fries, it did the job satisfying any hunger pangs.

Berlin Marathon Expo, curry wurst, brat wurst and fries
Berlin Marathon Expo, curry wurst, brat wurst and fries

Saturday morning started off well with brunch at Parker Bowles, in fashionable district Kreuzberg. Open all day, their menus go from breakfast through to dinner, including a range of omelettes which we both went for. Great that they all start off being veggie, but can be pimped up with extra bacon or chorizo if you fancy it, our omelettes with a couple of fresh juices went down a treat!

Saturday brunch at Parker Bowles
Saturday brunch at Parker Bowles
Parker Bowles brunch omelettes
Parker Bowles brunch omelettes

After wandering around the city for a few hours, my legs started getting tired and I didn’t want to ruin myself before the race the following morning. Realising it was also way passed lunchtime, readers my know that lunchtime in our house is 12pm – it was nearly 3pm, we found ourselves at Gendarmenmarkt and stepped into the nearest Italian we could get a table at, everywhere was either predictably heaving or wasn’t really suitable.  Good old marathon special of linguine al bolognese was perfect and a bit of a bargain too!

Marathon pasta - at Amici in Gendermenmart
Carb loading Marathon Special – Linguine al Bolognese!!

One disadvantage of eating lunch late was knowing we’d probably be eating dinner fairly late too, in hindsight we should’ve booked somewhere, but we didn’t and we’ve learned from our mistakes! The first restaurant we tried – Ristorante Malatesta, we’d been given a table about to be cleared in their outside dining area, and were asked to stand and wait for it to be done. Ok, no problem this would’ve been fine, but it took so long we ended up looking like complete lemons stood next to the front door. Eventually it was cleared and we plonked ourselves down with a couple of menus I picked up from the side, we then watched as waiting staff basically whizzed around completely ignoring us, when we did manage to get eye contact they joked if we were ready to pay the bill!!!! We hadn’t even ordered,  let alone eaten anything!!! Not at any one time did a member of staff give us the time of day –  it was truly horrendous!! I know it was very busy, but there’s one thing being busy and making an effort to keep customers happy, it’s completely different when the staff are completely oblivious! We ended up walking out completely frustrated!!

So still on the look out for a feed, we ended up in another Italian a few blocks down the road, its name I’ve forgotten though. We were slightly more lucky this time, this time our order was taken but took an hour to get to us, we even worked our way through a bottle of wine which seemed to trigger some action from staff…I wonder why?! Apologies for the sarcasm, this is completely for want of a better phrase a first world problem and life could be a million times worse, however, it’s not the best when you know you need to eat, get a good nights sleep if possible, get up early to run in a race you worked towards for ten months. At least this place, did try to make amends for their confusion and delays, but I think I was so peeved I couldn’t be bothered with the whole thing – I just wanted to eat and go to bed! Like I said earlier, in hindsight we should’ve booked and have definitely learned the hard way!!

Saturday night - trying my best to carb load for the race!!
The night before the race, trying my best to carb load.

The race itself was amazing and tough in equal measure, the crowds were fantastic and it was wonderful to run with so many thousands of people from first-timers to the world’s elite at the same time; approximately 40,000 had entered the race and 36,000 finished it! Having the chance to see parts of the city I’d never seen before was a treat too and getting a new PB was the icing on the cake!

I distinctly remember nearly two years earlier after running my first marathon, I hardly ate anything, a few crisps was as much as I could handle. This time I was on much better form and actually managed a tasty plate of Augustiner sausages on mash and white cabbage at Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt. Such a different experience from our attempts at dinner the night before – it was just as busy but service was jovial, friendly and efficient, our server also gave great recommendations in particular the sweet mustard condiment that was offered.

Post race refuel - curry wurst, sausages and mash
Celebratory post race refuel at Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt – curry wurst, sausages and mash

The next few hours were spent resting up and having my legs rollered to stretch out the muscles – trust me they needed it, followed by dinner at well known North African restaurant Baraka. Reminding me very much of Leeds’ Caravanserai or one of my current local favourites Jeitta in Woking, the lady who served us was friendly and efficient, from a menu that’s not massive by any means there’s still enough choice to suit. I found the food tasty, in particular the tagine with meatballs and cous cous which was delicious. 

IMG_4533

Baraka - hummus with fried lamb, tagging Marrakesh and shish kebab with bulgar wheat and rice
Baraka – hummus with fried lamb, tagging Marrakesh and shish kebab with bulgar wheat and rice

I’m sure I’ll be back in Berlin again as it’s got so much to offer with its cultural heritage and the fantastic food and drink scene, next time I’ll be a spectator if the race is on so I can make the most of it.