Brunch in London remains divisive, despite its (British) origins as the louche feast that delivers the best of both — a ‘Sunday meal for Saturday night carousers.’ A brunch invitation raises spectres of time-restricted levity fuelled by uric fizz, bland Bloody Marys and either cack-handed egg cookery or a new (read: tired) iteration of avocado on toast. But it doesn’t have to be that way, for London is heaving with restaurants that give the portmanteau repast ample opportunity to reclaim its dignity: eat brunch, don’t ‘do’ it.Read More
The Ultimate Brunch Restaurants in London
Eggs, avocado, dim sum, tacos — and so much more
Balady is an Arabic word that can mean home, but also homeland and when applied to something like an aubergine, it can mean a local or heirloom variety. The name is written out in both Arabic and Hebrew at this Temple Fortune cafe, nodding to the complex interaction of people that has created the food it serves. That food, all made in house by the Sabbo brothers, is a labour of love and generosity. Falafel so herby the insides look like emeralds, with hot crusts that crack on teeth; sabich as hefty as cannon balls, fluffy pitta containing and soaking up freshly fried aubergine, hard boiled eggs, hummus, chilli sauce, mango pickle, and chips. This is before mentioning the absurdly good shakshuka and cauliflower shawarma, heavenly chips, or weekend specials, like cigars filled with chopped fish, kuba soup, or fish kofta stews inspired by the duo’s Moroccan grandmother.
British caff culture, that of strong teas and stronger cafes in big white mugs and plentiful plates of fried food, is so enduring that cafes often try to get in on it and all too often completely [bleep] it up into a hollow tribute act. But Norman’s, between Tufnell Park and Archway — is a “British cafe” with soul to match the aesthetics, both forward looking and in touch with the city’s cultural roots it takes nourishment from. Brilliantly brewed coffee from Dark Arts comes in a big mug — filter is the choice here — to be slurped alongside butties, fry-ups, and specials like bolognese on chips.
This unfussy Stoke Newington cafe strikes the balance between neighbourhood fixture and city-crowning superstar with effortless panache. Brunch is for Saturdays, and the weekend special at Esters is always outstanding: perhaps ‘cochinita pibil’; perhaps Sichuan-spiced pork shoulder; perhaps a pressed duck hash; always based on respectful globetrotting and ingredients from a market down the road. Weekly stalwarts like a kale and sorrel rice bowl — sometimes a salad — clever use of fermentation, outstanding cookies, and quality coffee give the whole thing a sheen of sunny, LA confidence. If London had a Sqirl, this would be it — without the mouldy jam kitchen.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Feroz Gajia is defining the halal brunch scene at Bake Street, a café in Lower Clapton. Recent hits, including a range of superb tacos, are currently on hiatus until May, but samosas, the returning makhani fried chicken bun, and a legendary smash burger still form part of a rotating cast of covetable specials that come and go to tempt the queue’s hypebeasts. If it’s eggs that are required, order chaka: poached eggs in tomato ragout with spinach and yogurt. The name is inspired by Turkish chaka breakfast and the Bake Street dish draws influences from it, plus shakshuka and menemen.
It’s always been worth fighting through the Arsenal FC match day hordes in Holloway to hit up this cult-hit, Shaanxi region-specialist for generous heady plates including cold skin liangpi noodles, pulled pork burger and biang biang noodles in an assortment of hot, sweet, piquant guises. Now there are no hordes, Arsenal’s form is in the toilet, and the noodles are still unmatched.
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On opening, Jolene swiftly won the hearts of Newington Green locals, and with its serene decor, friendly staff, swoon-making wine offering, exceptional house pastries, and failsafe, rotating small plate menu it’s easy to see why. Its curried egg, spinach, and crumb; fried eggs and potatoes with jamón, and toastie are must-haves. The duo behind Primeur and Westerns Laundry have lifted the curse on this particular parcel of real estate, expanding the bakery’s offering with Big Jo in Hornsey.
Sunday Cafe & Restaurant
Go early. That’s pretty much the only useful piece of advice for those bent on avoiding what can be one of the city’s fiercest queues, and a particularly brutal one for those yet to get their daily fix of caffeine. Once through the door, any further advice is moot — there really aren’t that many ways to go far wrong with a breakfast and brunch menu so long on inventive-but-still-comforting dishes like buttermilk pancakes and corn fritters. Anything involving smoked haddock, whether a chowder, or a ludicrously restorative riff on Welsh rarebit, may well be the best possible course of action; a side of banana bread should also be mandatory. Do not plan any strenuous activity for the afternoon.
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It is well-documented that an environment will enhance a given eating experience, and Towpath’s canalside surrounds do its dishes, scratched up on a blackboard, every favour. The fried eggs with mojo verde are a justifiable classic of the morning offer, but there might also be porridge with brown sugar and walnuts, or, if arriving at just the right moment, snow-white goat’s curd propping up heads of confit garlic, again on toast.
Saray Broadway Cafe
The best £3.80 in the vicinity of Broadway Market is spent on gözleme from greasy spoon Saray Broadway Cafe. Upon unfolding the flaky Turkish flatbread from its paper bag, it might appear too big for one person alone to eat. But this is wrong. Between the lacy layers is a scattering of feta and shredded spinach, made to the perfect ratio that’ll have anyone coming back for another bite rather than being overwhelmed. This is always a “rip it and tear it” situation.
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This airy Mediterranean Hackney haven — sister restaurant of iconic Moro — is renowned for head chef Marianna Leivaditaki’s devilishly moreish small plates, which can discreetly tot up to a hefty bill. Their weekend breakfast, which features Turkish menemen eggs and a jamon and Tetilla toastie, is easier on the wallet, without sacrificing a crumb of enjoyment. Pro tip: Only a fool would swerve pan con anchovy.
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Honey & Co. Bloomsbury
The Big Breakfast with green shaksuka is a marvel, but as it’s only served till 11:25a.m. — and only sadists demand ‘brunch’ pre-midday — get stuck into masterful mezze, followed by individual mains such as Essaouira fish tagine with Cornish sea bass, chickpeas and swiss chard in chermoula sauce; or roasted mauve aubergines with a BBQ tahini crust.
Catalyst, helmed by Vasilis Chamam and Alex Gkikas, might be the archetypal London breakfast cafe of the 2020s. It roasts its own coffee and does it very well; it serves a recognisable litany of British cafe foods — bacon sandwiches, scrambled eggs, hopefully soon, a sandwich with black pudding — but inflects all of these with the tastes and ideas of its owners’ heritage. There’s a coffee sriracha with heat that blooms like water hitting its filter coffees; a halloumi katsu sando; rotating dishes of the day like cuttlefish with greens or avgolemono. With so many of London’s best greasy spoons run by Greeks and Greek-Cypriots, it feels like both an inheritance and an evolution. Weekdays only, but brunch is still primetime.
It’s advisable to lure a couple of mates to this beguiling, plant-filled, bastion of contemporary Sephardic cookery — if only so that ordering the entire menu becomes a sensible prospect. (If flying as a duo, opt for the house set.) Bubala’s dishes, including: ful medames, lovage pesto, yoghurt, homemade malawach; halloumi with nigella and black cumin seed honey; confit potato latkes, toum, Aleppo chilli; fried aubergine, zhoug, date syrup — may not be super fancy, but they are, unfailingly, delicious.
Each Koya site offers a classic, nourishing ‘Japanese Breakfast’ (grilled fish, rice, miso, pickle) as well as smartly wrought bastardisations intended to woo the gaijin, including both udon noodle and rice porridge takes on the English breakfast, replete with fried egg, bacon and shiitake mushrooms. Smoked haddock and poached egg kedgeree, a satisfying spin on the Brit-Indian favourite.
JKS’ latest (Gymkhana / Trishna / Hoppers) is pitched as a sports bar-cum-army-mess replete with billiards and tap rooms, and a secret poker table — and, yet, they get away with it, with aplomb. Indian barbecue, to be shared, is the thing here. The vast weekend menu stretches over six sections so sip an ‘Ooty Town Bloody Mary’ and split a tawa masala lobster and shrimp kati roll while choosing a sizzler or whatever wood-smoked glory is on that day.
Naming a range of brunch pitas after Greek gods while plying locals with homemade doughnuts pretty much captures the vibe at Kanenas, a sunny neighbourhood cafe in Ealing that allows diners to have eggs, but on a croissant instead of toast; cinnamon buns; Greek-style iced coffees; and pastourmas or soutzouki in the stead of bacon and common-garden sausage.
Diners can sample chef-proprietor Edson Diaz Fuentes’ personal favourites, including a failsafe hangover cure from his university days in Yucatan: huevos motuleños with salsa roja on tostadas, topped with bacon, cheese, and plantains. Tacos now dominate the brunch offering, sporting soft-shell crab; black beans heady with avocado leaf; and a dessert of churros with cajeta and cinnamon sugar.
The Snapery @ Maltby Street Market
It’s hard to choose between The Snapery’s cinnamon and cardamom buns. [ed. note: it is not. cardamom.] so it’s probably best to order one of each. The former with warming cinnamon is sweet, sticky and swirled, primed to unroll the buttery dough all the way to the squidgy centre. The latter has an enriched, fragrant cardamom dough, is rolled in cinnamon butter and braided beautifully, wrapping itself up. Get them at Saturday’s Maltby Street Market or order online and collect from the south Bermondsey bakery.
Traditionally a weekend family outing, indulging in dim sum is always a rewarding call. So make for Michelin-starred A. Wong in Victoria, (arguably) London’s smartest Chinese, where those divine dumplings are available individually, the best of which are the xiao long bao, topped with tapioca pearls.
La Chingada Mexican Food
The beauty of tacos is that they’ll hit the spot whether a little something or a hand-held feast. La Chingada in Surrey Quays is the place to go for corn tortilla morsels that come topped with carnitas (confit pork), cactus leaves, suadero (confit beef) or al pastor (pork and pineapple). A couple of tostadas de tinga — crispy, crunchy fried tortillas filled with chipotle pulled chicken and piled with beans, shredded lettuce, cream and cheese — are also a must-order, with Sunday specials often including lamb birria, brick-red and hearty.
Smack bang amid Duke of York Square, one half-expects dazed shoppers to bounce off Vardo’s glass walls like so many exceedingly coiffed pigeons. And yet, inside this purpose-built pavilion, all is serene. An evolution of the Caravan concept, much of the menu will be familiar to the mothership’s regulars, but within these surrounds, even long-standing Caravan classics such as seasoned rice with hot-smoked salmon, miso mayonnaise, pickled ginger, furikake — taste that little bit better. Soft boiled eggs, garam masala labneh, fenugreek-chilli butter, and toasted chickpeas on grilled flatbread are a Vardo-only standout.
Strolling around idyllic Bonnington Square is a balm for the soul by itself — it’s easy to forget this oasis is just around the corner from the labyrinth of roads and relentless traffic outside Vauxhall station. And deli and cafe Italo makes the leafy neighbourhood even more dreamy. As it gets chilly, order a steaming bowl of porridge laced with maple syrup or one of the mega sandwiches on ciabatta. Think sausage and braised onions or good tomatoes and a fried egg. Browse the windows for any deli bits then head around the back to pick up the food. There are tables out front, or find a nook in the gardens opposite.
The team behind Clapham darlings The Dairy, Sorella and Counter Culture’s oyster bar, grill and bakery opposite the American Embassy remains a brunch paradise in lockdown — even without the live jazz soundtracks on Sunday afternoons. Fuss-free yet opulent remains the mantra, with the kitchen’s pastries paired with London honey or Baron Bigod, and the promise of brunch meal kits in the future. Or there are oysters and pasta, for something a little more substantial. Nothing will arrive that doesn’t elicit a gigantic, greedy smile.
Natalie Tangsakul’s Northern Thai and Isaan cafe-deli is the best thing to have happened to Imperial Wharf since the Overground. At the far westerly end of the Kings Road, it’s open from breakfast until dinner. The menu encompasses pastries (keep an eye out for the pandan croissants), curries (gaeng phed ped yarng, grilled duck breast in red curry with sweet lychees and cherry tomatoes, is a star dish) and plenty of north eastern, herb-fragrant salads. Eating in has now resumed, but there’s also takeaway and a well-stocked Thai grocery section for click-and-collect.
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Variety is the spice of life at Zeret Kitchen, a Camberwell staple since the 90s. Injera, slightly sour, spongy, fermented flatbread, comes topped with a host of dishes to dip, scoop and feast on. Qwanta firfir and ye-beg fitfit are typical breakfast dishes on the menu – stews made with shredded injera and beef and lamb respectively. But really, whatever you order will make a banging brunch, whether you need to soak up last night’s booze or satisfy a growling appetite.
Nandine - Vestry Road
What marks Nandine apart from all its competitors is the level of care, skill, and soul put into the food on an almost microscopic level. It’s one thing to make hummus well, but it’s another to nail each of the eleven components of their mezze, from the taut texture of vine leaves to the notes of smoke in the aubergine qawarma to the crystalline finish on the meat kubba. Each mouthful always has something to surprise and delight: simple rice or cabbage dishes are judiciously anointed with judicious use of stewed fruit, or fresh herbs like mint and parsley. This is not a cuisine that is a stranger to dill. The very best thing though is at the original Nandine: a Kurdish breakfast comprising in-house yoghurt, white cheese, fig jam, honey, bread, and salad, a platter that is somehow simultaneously frugal and completely luxurious.
A Balham treasure, Milk’s weekend-only specials, announced solely via instagram, have even brunch-deniers queueing on the regular. And with dishes such as buckwheat pancakes with roast apricot, lavender and bitter citrus cream, half-baked almond cake crumb — their reasoning is clear. No faux ‘barista coffee’ here — a good relationship with top Berlin roasters the Barn endures.