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.
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.
Price: €39.50 per person
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.
Price: mains from £6.95 (banana panackes) – £9.50 (Full English). ‘Custom parts’ from £3.50 (toasted sourdough).
To unite the Egg Poacher and Brunch Hunter clans, a suitably smart breakfast venue was required – up stepped Salt Cafe in the heart of leafy Morningside. The stretch of shops along the main road haven’t always fared well, but Salt seems set to stay, offering excellent coffee and a simple brunch and lunch menu for the well-heeled masses.
Inside the interiors take a nautical theme, with great hulls from old rowing boats on the walls, a central bar of wood and metal, and great rolls of brown paper listing the daily specials. Bulbs are fashionably exposed, tables neat and hewn from burnished metal, all built to seat a reasonable number of covers for a relatively small space. Staff are few and very friendly, quick to deliver an excellent flat white while menus are perused.
For brunch the offerings are reassuringly familiar: Eggs Benedict, Florentine and Royale, granola, a selection of pastries – and there are daily smoothies, milkshakes and wicked sounding breakfast cocktails to clear the weekend’s fog away. There are local sausages, Scottish fruits and beers from nearby breweries; flavours are fresh and perfectly seasoned.
Salt was doing a roaring trade on a Thursday morning so will fill up fast at weekends. Head there early (brunch starts at the very reasonable 10am) and grab a table by the window to watch the day trundle by.
Price: from £5 (granola) to £9.95 (full Scottish breakfast).
There are some mornings where it’s perfectly necessary to hunt out booze at breakfast time.
Our heads foggy from last nights’ festivities we wandered the lanes of Brighton, navigating a warren of retro emporiums, free-range market vendors and psychedelic postcard shops to find ourselves, at last, at the sea. Greeted by the somewhat sinister scene of the burnt-out pier with a backdrop of brooding storm clouds, we made haste towards The New Club, a diner with a reputation for encouraging drinking way before the watershed.
There is food too, of course. For those able to get out of bed before 2pm they have a robust brunch menu with a heavy emphasis on reconstituted pig. Brilliantly, bacon features just about everywhere: atop their infamous ‘dirty burgers’ and even in the booze. For The New Club is the home of the ‘Breakfast Club’, a pig-infused Bloody Mary with pickles and their own special spicy sauce thrown in for good measure.
This is not for those who think tomatoes are meant for pasta sauce and pizzas; in all honesty, it spoke a little too much of passata for my taste, too. But the bacon-infused vodka is a stroke of genius, and those who enjoy a Bloody Mary or Caesar will be happy here. For those of a more delicate disposition, there’s a host of other brunch cocktails with enough liquor to stave off any two-day hangover (my Kentucky fizz – Woodford Reserve bourbon, Prosecco & fresh mint – was divine).
If you need something to soak up the liquor, aim to get their before the lunch menu kicks in. Their warm pretzels with salted caramel and buttermilk pancakes (with, you guessed it, maple bacon) have had good reviews but their burgers were a little tasteless and heavy on the condiments. Then again, two cocktails in and you’ll just about forgive anything.
Price: from £2.50 (toast & jam) to £9 (full breakfast). Cocktails from £7 (Bloody Mary).
The breakfast stars have aligned over Stokes Croft. The Bristolian has been a familiar sight in Picton Street for years, though its once grubby interior has had a spit and polish and it’s come up shining: on a sunny Saturday the pine floors, bright lanterns and fairylights make the place the feel like the inside of one giant toy box. And it’s full of good food.
The Bristolian is the best of what this city represents – all are welcome, from St Andrew’s poi performers to dads on the morning shift, freelance parents with free-range toddlers and last night’s casualties, invited in from the walk of shame and offered a sympathetic ear and a constant supply of coffee. In fact, this place is the perfect hangover cure, with Bloody Mary and her mates making an appearance, as well as an impressive breakfast menu that will suit all appetites.
Top of the list is the Bristolian Fusion, a Mediterranean delight full of deliciously spiced chorizo, salsa and fried potatoes; their full English is a carnivore’s dream with their bacon and sausages declared the best ever by the Egg Poacher – praise indeed.
This microcosm of Montpelier comes with all the extra options you’d expect – vegan and vegetarian, soya milk and super salads; there’s bread for sale from the wonderful Hobbs Bakery, home-baked cakes, proper leaf teas and a full-bodied coffee. Get here early to avoid the rush – by 11 most of the ‘Croft residents are awake and ready to descend on the tightly packed tables. But it’s worth the squeeze – this counts as one of the best breakfasts yet.
Price: From £3.50 (muesli & yoghurt) to £7.95 (Bristol Fusion).