Nothing quite screams ‘bank holiday weekend’ than a leisurely Sunday roast, followed by a nap on a giant double bed in one of Somerset’s multitude pub with rooms. The Swan does all of these things will aplomb: the young staff deliver great plates of roast beef, fresh gnocchi and delicate crab washed down with local lagers or a multitude of wines by the glass, while upstairs the rooms are cool and inviting, with woolen throws and tartan armchairs adding a touch of texture to otherwise neutral Farrow & Ball tones. Ours had a small balcony overlooking the main strip of yellow stone buildings, the nearby church chiming on the hour to complete the Archer’s feel; better still, a claw-foot bath and a host of Bramley products meant an afternoon bubble bath in the sunshine (pint included for good effect).
And of course, one of the best bits about an overnight stay is the fact that breakfast comes with it. Like their dinner menu, the focus is on local fare – the bread comes from a bakery a short stroll from the door, and bacon is home-smoked; elsewhere suppliers are listed on the chalkboards around the bar. The menu is simple and traditional, and offers plenty for those less egg-averse than me (my bacon and mushrooms on toast looked somewhat lacking without the mound of scrambled egg). Nonetheless, with ingredients this good the flavours win the day, and, importantly, the coffee is just as well-sourced and made with equal care.
There’s plenty to love here, and lucky locals flock (expect a troupe of chinos and well-polished sprogs mussing their Sunday Best in the garden out the back). For those less close, it’s worth the journey – come armed with the papers and your PJs and you’ll be in for a weekend treat.
Price: from £3 (toast & jam) to £11 (The Swan Full English) B&B from £85.
The Runcible Spoon is tucked up one of Bristol’s infamous hills, though thankfully only a short hike from Stokes Croft’s centre and therefore unlikely to put off all but the most hardened of calf muscle. It’s been overseen by a handful of different owners, all committed to keeping things fresh, seasonal and as local as can be, and its latest incarnation tows the same provenance-conscious line.
On a chilly March morning, the tall windows steam, hiding the inside from view. Stepping across the threshold is like dropping in to your favourite aunty’s living room: eccentric nick-nacks, pot plants, creepers, antique cutlery and a wonderful old original fireplace set the informal tone, while 6 Music on the radio and the friendly, laid-back staff add a touch of cool. It really is a teeny space – the studious chefs can be seen through the hatch to the kitchen and the bar is within touching distance; long-legged stools and a benchtop by the door help them to squeeze sociable diners in.
With a focus on quality ingredients, the brunch menu is short but compelling: bacon sandwiches with onion marmalade, veggie and full English breakfasts, avocado flat breads with poached eggs. Facing my ovophobia head on, I opted for the baked eggs with chorizo, and wasn’t disappointed. This is brunch in its truest sense, with potions so generous you won’t even remember lunch exists: along with smoky choizo, creamy eggs and sweet peppers, there was a side of properly buttered sourdough, too. Coupled with some decent flat whites this was an excellent way to start a Saturday – and for those who don’t believe in early rising, it’s served until 3pm.
Price: from £2.50 (sourdough toast and cinnamon butter) to £8.95 (Big Breakfast).
Corn Street is having something of an identity crisis. Once the Stella-spattered playground for sports fans and students on the hunt for cheap beer and an argument, it’s now the home of some rather classy establishments helping to raise its reputation from the spew-flecked gutter: Pata Negra and The Ox are doing good things for Bristol’s carnivores, while The Birdcage and Small Street Espresso round the corner are bringing quality coffees to the sleepy masses.
The Cosy Club (newest edition to the relatively well-known chain) seems to fit in the middle of this new mould, serving breakfast through to dinner in the stunning situation of a former church and banking hall. Think vaulted ceilings, cornices and marble floors, all set off with chandeliers and a family of stuffed deer heads nestled amongst oil paintings and ancient flags. The staff are dressed in natty waistcoats and deliver jugs of water while menus are perused; a gleaming bar is tended by similarly fashion-conscious baristas who polish glasses and concoct mid-morning cocktails.
There’s no doubt the setting is sublime . And yet. When coffees come there’s something lacking in their construction, with flat whites quickly dissolving into a tepid milky americano, and, though the menu is well stocked, the food is delivered a touch to soon to be truly freshly made. The ingredients are fine, with local sausage, bacon and black pudding, but the execution a little lacklustre (the Egg Poacher’s potatoes were underdone, my mushrooms somewhat sad and cold). There’s nothing that couldn’t be solved with a little more time and care, but for now the style outweighs the substance. A shame, as with such a large and unique space, this could be an excellent and popular addition to Bristol’s ever-blooming foodie reputation..
Price: from £1.75 (toast and preserves) to £8.95 (steak and eggs).
At 10am on a Saturday morning, No. 12 is stacked floor to ceiling with children. They spill out onto, under and into the handful of tables available, cosying their way onto window seats and other people’s chairs. As you’d expect, there’s a sense of weekend chaos in the air: toast crusts and pastry crumbs fly, and over-caffienated parents read stories at a rate of knots. The staff assure us this is nothing new, and indeed they squeeze past tiny heads and adult legs like pros, delivering piping hot coffees and plates of fresh breakfast with a patient smile.
Having hovered long enough to bag a table, we set about devouring crisp, fresh pastries and well-made coffees before moving on to the main event. The menu is short and satisfying: there are bacon or sausage sandwiches and a pork pattie creation that stands 4 inches tall. Veggies (a popular breed in Easton) are served by scrambled eggs or waffles with fresh fruit, and trays of freshly made granola bars and cakes wend their way from the kitchen at the back. As well as café food (for which they won a Bristol Good Food Award) there’s a deli that provides artisan cheese, charcuterie and craft beers to the foodie masses; take-away coffees prove popular, too, with the barista ready to share a laugh while whipping up the perfect flat white.
By 11, the children have dispersed, their parents no doubt taking them on to their third breakfast or pre-lunch snack. Meanwhile, those unencumbered with heirs can order another coffee and settle back (perhaps letting a soupçon of smugness creep in). A popular spot, and rightly so – just pick your times carefully if you want to avoid the miniature hoards.
Wooli – straight-talking, no-nonsense beauty sandwiched between the sea, meandering river and national park. The brunch setting at Waves is sublime – from the back deck the river flows, the fish so close you could tickle them. The mangroves around are full of life: pelicans, cormorants and sea eagles face off against one another in the hope of bagging a morning snack; in the ocean across the road, dolphins can be spotted patrolling for their breakfast.
After a morning’s “surf” (10 ways to fall off a surboard) we retreated to the cafe, one of a handful of buildings that makes up the bustling centre (there’s also a bowling club-chinese-bookies-pub, and a post office). The staff looked somewhat surprised as the two of us in an otherwise empty cafe created the morning rush, gave us a semi-friendly g’day and took our order.
Flavours were simple – their mushrooms on toast constitutes mushrooms, and toast – but hearty, with excellent portion sizes and good quality ingredients. And, despite the warning from a fellow coffee snob, our flat whites were surprisingly good, too.
This being Wooli, things run at their own pace. Drinks might turn up late and the staff might not always be on show, but a teenage kitchen porter can usually be rustled up if you really need something. And, with a setting as bucolic as this, you’re best to sit back and take you’re time anyway.
Price: from $7 (cheese melt) to $17.50 (Big Breakfast).
Last weekend it was wet. Cats-and-dogs, heaven’s opened, where’s Noah when you need him? wet. As we squelched through Queen’s Square, mulched leaves fusing to our feet as rain drops filled our pockets, a small black sign glowed in the distance, it’s white Swedish font making it look all the world like welcoming Bang & Olufsen store, but with promises of coffee.
And very nice coffee it is too. As well as the house there’s a guest blend that makes all the right provenance noises – single origin, natural process – and the baristas make each cup carefully, no matter what the well-heeled clientele request (soya-decaff lattes proved particularly popular. Shame really.) The interiors match the minimalist signage, with the ubiquitous exposed lightbulbs, brushed steel and plain wooden tables made softer by the low ceilings, quietly cool music and a well-formed list of menu options chalked up on the wall.
As well as simple options – toast from many breads, fresh pastries, granola – there are some bolder offerings like brioche French toast with chai spiced plums and maple syrup, or mushrooms with thyme wrapped goats cheese and a poached egg; the Egg Poacher’s eponymous breakfast choice came with smoked bacon, harissa and rocket in a roll that was artfully crammed into his face, lest the eggy goodness escape down his chin.
During the week this place fills with busy bankers, office workers and freelancers, dropping in for giant toasties or stocked salad boxes. At the weekend, the pace slows and shaggy-haired creatives, offensively well-off students and day-glo’d gym folks can take their time over brunch that’s served ’til 2pm. With another site recently opened in Clifton, there’s little doubt that Spicer & Cole are here to stay. Head for a corner table and settle in.
Price: From £2.25 (toast) to £6.95 (brioche French toast & chai spiced plums)
Shoreditch – the kind of place that wholeheartedly embraces its own stereotype, and no more so than in #GuardianCoffee ensconced in the @BoxPark, sandwiched between an #Apple store, #Nike shop and something so urban and artisan it didn’t even have a hashtag (an @BoxPark naming convention, which tells you about as much as you need to know).
It’s like stepping into a version of the future where politically left-leaning, bearded baristas rule the world: the Guardian headlines are projected onto the walls, coffee-related Tweets run along the bottom and a constantly updating Instagram feed keeps all informed about the latest in sepia-toned latte art.
It’s all very meta – as well as free copies by the door, there are screens on every table and iPads at the counter, ensuring you don’t miss a second of the latest edition of the Guardian. The update everyone’s surely waiting for, however, is on the digital leader board, where every drink purchased pips the cappuccinos against the cortados, macchiatos against mochas, in a never-ending feud not seen since the Montagues and Capulets failed to get along. Even the wallpaper is self-referential, with picnicking hipsters on fixed gear bikes printed repeatedly around you like a middle-class hallucinogenic migraine.
This being Shoreditch, the clientele are achingly hip, with grown men rolling in on Brompton-style scooters and beautiful women, clad head to toe in black bar their neon Nike Airs and ombre hair, ordering coffees to go, forgoing pastries in favour of a caffeine hit from “London’s leading micro-roastery”, Nude Espresso. The coffee is good, and – for London – reasonably priced, but for this cynical Scot, the heavy handed concept somewhat overwhelms the quality. Despite being a regular liberal Guardian fan, I left feeling like I’d been beaten over the head by Saturday’s bumper supplement edition (magazine and all), and been asked to pay for it afterwards.