Hobbs House Bakery, Gloucester Road, Bristol

Always a recognisable addition to menus and A-boards across Bristol and the south west, Hobbs House Bakery has expanded from supplying excellent baked goods to cafes and restaurants across town to their own little place on Gloucester Road. The design and typography is instantly recognisable, repeated across framed examples of old bags and flour sacks, on posters and menus and on take-away bags: ‘Put bread on the table’ is their motto, and this they certainly do.

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It’s not all about bloomers and ryes, either; their brunch menu includes waffles made from an ancient sourdough starter, salsa verde and roasted tomato on toast as well as the mountains of freshly made pastries, cakes and savouries stacked up on the bar. Coffee comes from the equally identifiable Extract and is served in lovely earthenware cups and everything can be taken home to enjoy at your leisure – including, of course, that morning’s loaves that line the shelves in the window.

It’s undeniably good food, well made with excellent ingredients, and I’m not usually one to begrudge paying for quality when the alternative is so grim. Having said that, paying £9 for a single waffle topped with eggs and cheese or £3 for a slice of toast makes even this brunch snob wince. There’s a sense, too that they’re still bedding in – on our first visit the cafe was in chaos with orders going missing and a persistent but intermittent alarm going off from the kitchen throughout. On our return, the chaos has subsided (though our coffee orders were still wrong) but, strangely, the alarm persevered; a function, it turns out, of their bread oven which may help prevent burnt bottoms but isn’t best placed for such a small space.

Chaos aside, they do know their baking. On inclement days there are table outside that save you from the noise and there are worse ways to start the morning than gathering up some of their finest pastries for a lazy brunch at home. With time, the edges might be rubbed off and this will be a fine place to linger. For now, though, I think I’ll be taking my almond croissant to go.

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Milk Teeth, Portland Square & Albatross Cafe, North Street

Though we’d purposefully made few plans this summer, it turned out to be just as busy as ever. With long weekends and trips to the seaside, the requisite hen dos, weddings, festivals and after parties, family to visit and friends to host, this year we fall into Autumn with a pleasantly knackered face plant.

So it’s in this sleepy frame of mind that we seek quiet shelters from the hubbub; places to linger and ponder life outside the windows. As luck would have it, two recent additions to our cafe rotation offer just that: the rather lovely Milk Teeth on Portland Square, and a rival in restfulness, Albatross Cafe on North Street.

Milk Teeth is a cafe-cum-store which prides itself in being part of the BS2 community. Great big windows let light stream in over well-worn wood and a hotch-potch of furniture; there are posies in recycled bottles and an old piano in the corner waiting for a tickle. The central bar boasts a beast of a coffee machine and a selection of cakes and biscuits, while elsewhere there are pickles, jams and juices to stock up on.

On each visit the baristas (spectacularly bearded or ‘fro’d) are unfailingly kind and relaxed. A smooth and funky soundtrack flows at just the right level, making you wish other cafes nearby would take note and stop trying to turn their early morning shift into a tribute to their former rave days. The coffee is delicious, and that’s really all there is to it: simple, satisfying, and really rather nice indeed.

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Albatross Cafe is a recent addition to the increasingly hip North Street, now peppered with independent studios, a plethora of coffee shops and all the vintage homewares one could need. Taking a sidestep from the usual stark black-white-and-exposed-lighting interiors, it instead opts for a 70s San Francisco feel, with cacti, Formica tables and wicker chairs all brought together with a pleasing spearmint and pink colour scheme.

A simple food menu offers sourdough toast with spreads or avocado, pomegranate and feta; buttermilk pancakes or toasties and some delicious vegan baking with the best no-butter icing around. Coffees and cakes are served on beautiful handmade pottery (also on sale) and there’s a grown-up menu of cocktails and bar snacks for those who linger long enough for a sundowner.

Ever the sign of a properly relaxed establishment, the friendly owners could be found enjoying their own spot in the afternoon rays when their customer were attended to. Though they’re very new to Bedminster (no sign of a website, yet) there’s no doubt they’ll fit in just fine here.

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Tradewind Espresso, Whiteladies Road, Bristol

Setting an alarm on the weekend is sacrilegious enough. Setting an alarm for sport on a Sunday one step closer to insanity. So to set an alarm for Sunday sport that never materialises is damn near devastating. We were two Lycra-clad women with nowhere to go. But then, of course, came the salve and the saviour to all unmade weekend plans – an impromptu brunch.

With some mild jostling and promises of caffeine partners were pulled from their slumbers and a small party set off for the freshly-washed hills of Whiteladies Road. Though the street was calm we quickly found that we weren’t the first to cotton on to Tradewind Espresso, as the small cafe was full to bursting with groups of washed out parents and soggy dog walkers. Luckily for us they have a space outside rigged up with an almost entirely shower proof roof. Decked out in in wood and free of sunlight its somewhat like stepping into the hull of a boat, with rainmac’d pensioners and shaggy-headed students making an unlikely morning crew.

Peering at our menus in the half light we were soon salivating at the imaginative options before us. Avocado pico de gallo with salmorejo, french toast with rum and caramelised pineapple, spice chorizo with pineapple relish and padron peppers – this was clearly a place more interested in inventive cooking that followed the seasons than the standard full English and scrambled eggs on toast. Duly warned in stern terms that menu alterations were not an option, we chose a good selection from which we could sample, and weren’t disappointed by our choices (a side of the delicious spicy chorizo also an excellent addition). Though expensive, the coffees were well made and delicious, and in all felt the bill represented good value for excellent ingredients and a kind and helpful staff.

Fully fed, we were ready to brave the rain for the journey home. And, having exercised our brunch muscles there was only one thing left to do – retreat for a well-deserved nap.

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Price: from £3.50 (toast & jam) to £9.50 (The Full Easterly).

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G’s Brunch Boat, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam – synonymous with long, beautiful people perched on bicycles; dozy teenagers weaving from coffee shop to coffee shop; a penchant for deep fried and round foodstuffs and, of course, canals.

This being our second visit to the city we’d already walked the main galleries and museums, squeezed into Anne Frank’s tiny house, acted cool in the red light district and got lost in the series of cobbled streets connected by bridges that all look remarkably alike. We were in search of a different way to explore the city, and had been pointed to a tourist attraction with a twist – G’s Brunch Boat, a hip-hoped themed canal barge that also happens to serve a great breakfast.

Having wandered the Keizersgracht multiple times, we eventually found our docking spot and clambered aboard with a handful of tourists and the laid-back staff. Once on our way we were settled in with a ‘sober’ (an alcohol-free drink) and a cup of coffee while a waiter dressed in shirt and leather apron took orders for our ‘tipsy’ – drinks that ranged from the classic Bloody Mary or mimosa to a glass of red wine or a Dutch beer. While a heavy hip-hop beat acted as the backdrop we were allowed to peruse our menus made from old records as Amsterdam life slid past. As the bucks fizz buzz kicked in we waved at locals tending to their bicycles and peeked into the opulent apartments above, making up lives for the gorgeous inhabitants framed in the city’s resolutely wonky windows.

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In honour of our host city we both chose waffles and bacon, and the plates were delivered with some speed from the tiny kitchen at the front. For dessert, more waffles (this time the syrup-filled kind), more rounds of coffee and drinks or food for those so inclined. Fully fed and slightly merry, we settled back to take in the rest of the trip, skirting around the space-age Nemo museum and heading out across open water before tucking back in to the narrow canals to return us to where we started. Waving (and weaving) as we left, we agreed – while not cheap, it’s hard to imagine a more relaxed and distinctive way to enjoy breakfast on the water.

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Price: €39.50 per person

 

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Kingsmead Kitchen, Kingsmead Square, Bath

In a busy square in the centre of Bath al fresco diners, vegetable stall holders and off-key buskers with a penchant for Ed Sheeran come together. It’s a popular spot with locals and tourists, away from the long and swarming shopping streets that require nimble footwork to avoid being mown down by buggies armoured in shopping bags or selfie-stick toting school groups with no periphery vision.

Though the strained notes of Galway Girl persisted as a backdrop, at Kingsmead Kitchen it was a scene of relative calm. Indoors it has a distinctly bistro feel with a series of specials chalked beside the bar, a recently buffed coffee machine and an impressive wine selection to choose from. Diners at marble topped tables were neatly packed together, the friendly staff employing impressive hip flexes to weave between them as they delivered great plates of stacked salads, sandwiches and breakfast fare. Outside a series of metal tables were waiting for those willing to brave the British summer – with half an eye on the brooding clouds above us we decided to brave it, not least in the hope that we might witness the long-suffering stall owners lobbing this seasons’ best root vegetables at the guitarists in an attempt to make them stop.

Despite a tempting list of specials – smoked mackerel and spelt salad, venison ragu – we aimed for the all day brunch items, opting for shakshuka and an omelette the size of the Egg Poacher’s head. Italian coffees came in proper crockery (praise be) and, though less full bodied than we might have hoped, were well made nonetheless. The food was hearty and generously portioned, though the proudly local and well-sourced ingredients could have benefited from a little more seasoning.

Though fully sated we had to leave disappointed – there was to be no show down between teenage buskers and the kale-weilding traders today. Nevertheless, it was a perfectly pleasant spot to linger in – and an ideal haven in which to rest before rejoining the dithering masses.

Price: from £4.95 (bacon sandwich) to £9.95 (Kingsmead Breakfast).

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Spoke & Stringer, Harbourside, Bristol

In a little corner of the ever-developing Harbourside there is a shop-cum-cafe that is the pantheon of all things trendy. The shop is artfully decorated with expensive jumpers, leather goods and a casually placed bicycles that are worth more than the rest of the gear combined. Their website is scattered with headlines like cryptic crossword clues: ‘Triumph Bonneville Bobber Unveiling Event’, ‘Wavelength 245’; messages clearly meant for those initiated only.

The cafe next door takes a similar approach, the subtle signage and roped-off outdoor area giving the impression of exclusivity that even stretched to a small queue of people waiting hopefully at the door. It being the first sunny Saturday of the spring, the tables inside and out were full, and creatively pierced staff did a fine job ferrying rounds of drinks to patient diners as the kitchen struggled to meet the demands of the well-scarfed hordes.

Finding ourselves perched on high stools in a much coveted sun trap we glanced through the menus and it was soon clear that the food matched the fashionable surrounds: avocado, samphire, harissa and chimichurri were all regulars, ingredients combined in interesting ways to complement the more standard offerings of poached eggs on toast, shakshuka or a full breakfast. It all sounded undeniably delicious, but, with half an eye on our bank accounts, it was a struggle to find anything for much less than a tenner.

Feeling a little like the poor cousins at the wedding we decided to go rogue, opting instead for food meant as sides or starters, hidden as they were under a section named ‘Custom Parts’. This caused a moment of confusion that led to the Egg Poacher’s fresh croissant arriving well before my sourdough toast, but the added touch of spiced plum jam and real butter rolled in salt flakes made for a delicious start to the day.

As tables emptied and quickly filled again around us, we were left to enjoy our coffees and the waterside view. It’s a fabulous spot for people watching, where boat folk, families and modish couples in matching sunglasses bring their variously pedigreed dogs to mingle. With summer fast approaching there’s no doubt Spoke & Stringer will continue to fill – if you save the pennies and make an early start, there won’t be many finer positions for a sunny brunch.

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Price: mains from £6.95 (banana panackes) – £9.50 (Full English). ‘Custom parts’ from £3.50 (toasted sourdough).

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Pigsty & Mokoko Coffee, Whapping Wharf, Bristol

Though construction has been going on for some time now, Whapping Wharf still seemed to spring up from nowhere, the once dead space next to Bristol’s iconic cranes suddenly crammed with sleek timber-fronted cafes and fashionably renovated containers.

The Wharf is very much in the vein of development elsewhere, pointed towards a young and affluent clientele most likely furnished with at least one toddler and a spaniel (either of whom could be called Rufus; a toss up as to which one is on a leash). On a frosty January morning brightly cagouled couples manoeuvred their ‘transport systems’ and welly-clad tots between huddles of beanie wearing hipsters, with only a stream of boisterous City fans trundling past breaking the carefully cultivated calm.

Within a relatively tight space there are a host of eateries to chose from, as well as a wholefood supermarket, a grandly named flower emporium and a couple of independent off licenses. Sporting fuzzy heads from Friday’s over-indulgence we opted first for Pigsty, one of the many new businesses encased in upcycled containers – and this one is full of bacon. Run by three brothers behind The Jolly Hog and one rugby player, these are folks who take provenance very seriously. Promising meat from happy pigs, their sausages were as flavoursome as you’d hope, and while their coffees were small they were sapid and satisfying, too.

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After a meander around the M Shed and the excellent Wildlife Photography exhibition our need for sustenance returned, and where Whapping Wharf is concerned your only ever a spaniels’ throw from an artisanal roast or two.

Enticed by great windows luxuriating in the winter sun we soon joined the queue at Mokoko Coffe & Bakery, a neat space filled with wooden booths and skinny stools, all within view of the open kitchen. While busy staff were stretched to deal with the weekend crowds, a beautifully made almond and pear muffin and some satisfyingly large coffees eventually gave us all the energy we needed to make the long journey home.

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