Weekend brunch is the in meal in London, and London is a city that does it better than almost any other. The sheer diversity of London’s multicultural capital means you can get classic greasy spoon cafes (a total misnomer since many are superlative at the classic English breakfast – like The Haberdashery), the new wave (eg. Good Egg), the mediterranean style (eg. Ottolenghi), and many other twists – like my recent visit to the excellent Dishoom.
In fact, brunch venues are springing up everywhere, characterised typically by the fact that they combine traditional breakfasts, tempting sweet dishes, many more exotic and more substantial savouries, cocktails, wine, bubbles and many more drinks in addition to teas and coffees, plus an ambience to savour. It’s not uncommon that they keep service minimal, but they are closer to the true brasserie in spirit.
On this occasion, my party and I were looking for a brunch in the Shoreditch area. In researching the options I came across The Book Club, yet another characterful room in the East End serving up a canteen menu of breakfast feasts and visual arts. How perfect is that? Even the table tennis and table football seemed a strangely perfect fit for the premises, just as the Laundromat Cafe in Reykjavik had the ideal range of distractions to keep you entertained as you whiled away a few contented hours.
I would have booked, except they don’t take bookings for less than about a dozen people – so instead arranged to meet my daughter and a good friend there at 11. I needn’t have worried: I managed to park easily right outside TBC, got a table and was sipping coffee contentedly while reading my lines for that afternoon’s rehearsal while my party arrived variously on foot and by tube.
A negative word to start with though. Alas, the beans in my coffee had been over-roasted, resulting in a harsh and bitter flavour. This might be just a one-off so I won’t make too big a deal of it, though I hope by the next time this mistake will have been corrected.
That apart, the only real criticism I have of TBC is that there were not enough soft seats and that a few cushions would not have gone amiss. Also the acoustics are such that I wish there were a volume switch to turn it down a tad – maybe some ceiling insulation could cure that? Everything else won huge praise from team Millward, and I was especially delighted with the fresh orange crushing machine that churned out top notch juice.
Two of my party went for the same dish, with variants: avocado with lime and citrussy sumac on toast, the usual collection of foliage, poached eggs, a drizzle of pesto and either smoked salmon or bacon. Each appeared to have a whole sliced avocado atop excellent toasted artisan bread, and portions such that both my guests struggled to complete their plates.
Best of all, these were proper poached eggs, as you can see in the picture – perhaps a more common sighting these days, but they almost completely went out of fashion for a long while, or were done so badly they looked regurgitated. By comparison, these poachies were a thing of beauty, a gentle and organic rippling pattern contrived by putting soft eggs into warm water, then moulding and nurturing them into the right shape and for the requisite time such that the deep yellow yolk bleeds over the avocado toasts – bliss! Would that every poached egg were so perfect.
As for mine, a big potato cake came topped with caramelised onion, and shared the plate with luscious scrambles, roast tomatoes and a good handful of watercress. I supplemented this with a portion of thick-cut bacon of the type my mother used to get from a market stall in Stockport. Rarely if ever do you see bacon cut so generously, but the texture provided a perfect way to enable the full dry-cured flavour to come through – and as we all know, the smell and flavour bacon is the one meat that would tempt even staunch veggies.
Coffee notwithstanding, I’d be very happy to while away more hours of food, drink and conversation at the Book Club (there are plenty of options for each, but you must supply your own conversation.) It’s a wonderful place for Sunday brunch and I have pleasure in recommending it.