The brief hiatus between Christmas and New Year is often referred to as ‘Betwixtmas’, a a sparkly, magical sounding time deserving of its own fanciful characters and festive cheer. There should be soirees where everyone dresses in velvet and cocktails are served under heaving yet tasteful chandeliers. Frosty days should be spent yomping out into the countryside, spaniels in tow; at night the children will play together quietly while grown ups lounge beside the fire.
The reality is often a little different. Parties have been banned until at least the 31st; the closest you get to velvet is the soft and over-washed pair of PJ bottoms you haven’t stepped out of since Christmas night. The only festive characters are the ones left to repeat on the TV and the kids are both exhausted and riding high on the never ending supply of selection boxes. It’s a time to give in to the inevitable and shelve being presentable until 2019. You may as well just have that cheese plate as a second breakfast and be done with it.
Slovenly and indulgent as this is, surrendering to such a low bar does however have its downfalls: when you find you actually do have to step out into the fresh air, the watery wintry light can be cruel. The power of speech has left you, leaving a stream of baffled neighbours and shop assistants in your wake. You’re sporting 8 different nail varnishes from a 6 year old manicurist. You appear to have been dressed in the dark by a toddler. All of which is a challenge at the best of times; more so when you find yourself pulling up at the doors of a rather grand looking Lake District hotel.
Thankfully this particular hotel is both grand, and very understanding. Another Place does a fine line in understated grandeur – everything is beautifully presented, but your entirely encouraged to wander around in your bathrobe. It’s the perfect prescription for post-Christmas jitters: beautiful rooms with excellent beds and claw foot baths, a pool and sauna with lake and mountain views, kindly Northern massage therapists to work away knots left by passively demanding relatives. Children are welcomed with board games and cleverly secreted away bean bags and games consoles under the stairs; at night the lounge becomes an indulgent adults-only space with roaring fires and smart waiters who bring warmed bottles of red to your spot on the sofa.
There are also food options for every taste. For those still game for a three course dinner, the fine dining restaurant awaits. Those of us open to the idea that not all festive meals need the calorie content for an Arctic expedition can opt for dinner in the bar instead (even more excellently, dogs are welcome here too). And it’s worthwhile leaving some room – back in the dining room, breakfast is as good as the rest of the rest of the stay would suggest. It is “DIY”, but in the most refined sense: a row of waffle makers, freshly cooked local sausages, bacon and eggs, artisanal breads and freshly made mueslis and juices encourage multiple courses. Pink-shirted staff take coffee orders and there’s a happily relaxed conviviality amongst the varied clientele, with toddlers still in their onesies tucking into giant plates of eggs on toast as hikers fuel up for a days’ hike in the hills, the rest of us happy to sink into the freshly delivered papers and – go on – just one more round of toast.
Price: rooms from £180 (breakfast included).
Often the best lazy weekend brunches happen by accident. Following a lovely evening of comedy and beer gardens on a Friday night, we ambled inevitably to the chat about plans for the rest of the weekend. Ours was to be a decidedly, determinedly quiet one, with all alarm-capable technology banished to the no-man’s land beneath the bed for 48 hours.
Our friends, being the sort to arrange a dinner party, game of squash and macrame workshop on a ‘quiet’ Wednesday evening, were of the mind to fit in breakfast before they set off for a weekend in the country. Luckily for us, this didn’t require an early start, so a beer-soaked agreement was made to head east for brunch, sometime before 2pm.
Remarkably, and despite varied strengths of hangovers and navigation skills, we all found ourselves at Dela at the same time. As it was midday already there were tables to spare (with Easton a young family’s game, cafes are often quietest when those in the student-y north are just waking up) and we slid into a booth that gave us the best views of the light and plant-filled space. An open bar and kitchen was astir with activity, the spirits selection refracted sunlight from the huge windows and the decor was soothingly minimalist and calm – the perfect spot to clear the previous evening’s fog.
This being a Swedish-inspired eatery (‘dela’ means ‘share’ in Swedish) the menu offers some Scandi options such as a sharing board piled with smoked trout, boiled eggs and rye bread or a Danish Bloody Mary; there are also more familiar options like toast and jam, bacon sandwiches and granola. Starting with enormous fresh pastries (the cinnamon buns are a must) we moved on to our main brunch plates, adding extras such as goats curd and bacon to our already generous poached eggs and greens before rounding everything off with excellent fresh juices from the bar.
Duly stuffed, it was time to wend our way – our intrepid friends to their weekend full of activity; for us, a fearless journey back to bed. For those with less pressing deadlines, there’s always the option to segue straight into Dela’s evening menu and intruiging cocktail list – certainly one for another, less hungover time.
Price: from £3 (toasted sourdough & jam) to £8.90 (smoked mackerel Dela bowl).
Having made a much considered leap into part time working, I had a week to fill between jobs. The time was mine alone to spend in the city I’d called home for over a decade – a first for me, and an exciting prospect.
To kick off a week of contemplation and relaxation, I’d booked myself into a conveniently timed event run by the Sisterhood Camp Community – an organisation run by a lifestyle blogger Lou Archell, positioned as a chance to reconnect personally and network with like-minded women, with a focus on self-care, meditation and communal dining.
I approached with some trepidation (“lifestyle blogger” summoning Gwyneth Paltrow and her eye-watering jade eggs) but Lou and Chinese herbalist Gemma offered a friendly welcome as women arrived. This being a networking event in the Instagram era, there was also a photographer and a carefully set stage at the very beautiful Forge: the simple kitchen at the back adorned with wooden bowls of bright vegetables and fresh bread on the counter; flowers in repurposed jugs; a rainbows’ array of exercise mats on the floor. The morning started with a yoga session quickly followed by a led meditation – both intensely relaxing to the point of falling asleep mid-reverie (I’ll never know how I found myself to be in that forest planting the acorn of a good idea…I just hope I didn’t snore.)
The main event was the communal brunch cooked by the talented Steph Boote, with a focus on seasonal ingredients served in multiple courses. Given the holistically minded and health conscious crowd, I was heartened to see others hoe into great doorstops of sourdough and real butter before plates of wild garlic soup, poached eggs on a bed of leeks and romesco sauce and delicious panna cotta arrived. There were cafetieres of coffee and herbal teas to follow, allowing us to chat into the afternoon; an eclectic crowd, there were nurses and teachers sat with performance artists and entrepreneurs, full time mums, authors, engineers and government workers. It was this positive sense of mixed conviviality that lasted the longest – a lovely opportunity to speak to women about a variety of things.
It was, of course, a very middle class group – not a criticism in and of itself, but certainly not an experience accessible to all. And it’s definitely not cheap – while everything was well considered, and great quality, I’d hesitate to spend the money again. That said, for those better off or seeking a sybaritic treat, it’s a very nourishing way to spend a morning. Bring your Instagram handles and leave your cynicism at the door.
Price: £125 (9.30am-2.30pm). Early bird prices available. See website for details of next event.
In Leeds, there is something for everyone. Dressed up clubbers mingle with hirsute hipsters in many and multifarious bars and breweries; bag-laden shoppers, students and tourists do-si-do around the centres’ streets and arcades. There are posh restaurants and brand name bakeries, deconstructed cocktails and real ale pubs (one the finest, a combination of rough and ready boozer and fantastic drag queen cabaret).
Away from the centre there are student-y enclaves in the suburbs and a host of green spaces to walk out in; one such, Headingley, has a bustling high street, a wonderful early 20th century cinema, and Sebby’s, a cafe-deli on the popular Otley Road.
Inside the space is stripped back and simple, with cement floors and exposed brick walls. Colour comes in the tropically themed art and fabrics and a garden centre’s worth of hanging plants, tiny squashes and cacti. The open kitchen is framed by counter tops and cake stands groaning with fresh baking and sandwiches and diners sit on a diverse selection of furniture. Outside is equally simple and inviting, with wobbly tables migrating to the sunniest corners (a perfect spot for Blue the Wonder Dog to snooze in).
Apart from the cakes there’s a fantastic brunch menu to choose from, all served until 4pm. Inspired by their travels in America, the owners offer breakfast burritos and Mexican corn hash, as well as poached eggs on toast, 3 egg omelettes and ‘Eggs Sebby’ – poached eggs and avocado nestling on a bed of hash browns. It’s unfussy and delicious, and can all be washed down with pots of Yorkshire tea. And, this being the north, you won’t bankrupt yourself in the process. Lovely stuff.
Price: from £3.50 (bacon sandwich) to £8.50 (large English breakfast).
Muiño cuddles up next to some of Bristol’s hippest restaurants (Pasta Loco, Bellita, Bravas…) and offers a menu clearly intent on capitalising on the fashionable foodie set who come here. The evening menu offers seasonal British fare in the now ubiquitous form of ‘small’ and ‘large’ plates, all sourced from the south west and its surrounds. There’s a healthy cocktail selection and a strong wine list, too – surely making this an intriguing stop for Bristol’s refined – and unforgiving – diners.
Brunch is a more familiar affair, with weekend standards such as the full English, Eggs Benedict and smashed avocado on toast, alongside a ‘bottomless Prosecco’ offering lifted from London’s latest breakfast trends. The provenance is equally notable in the morning menu, there are good vegetarian choices and the coffee is decent, too. They’re generous in the option to swap and add extras – the cheddar and leek patty was a definite plus – and yet, it still felt like something was missing.
The portions are fairly small (not unusual in Bristol, yet worth mentioning when dishes are close to £10 each), and the flavours less exciting than they could have been. The full breakfast was a little lacklustre with limp bacon and a watery tomato, the pancake a single coin slathered with runny compote; the huevos rancheros came without the expected chilli bite. With a touch more seasoning and some more generous plating the local ingredients could have packed a proper punch.
There’s much to like here: the staff are fun and welcoming (even allowing Lola, the miniature schnauzer, to be smuggled under the table) and the fresh, calming interiors make this a refined place to dawdle in of an afternoon. But with Cotham Hill’s capricious clientele to contend with, the devil will most definitely be in the detail.
Price: from £7 (smashed avocado on toast) to £9.50 (large traditional).
No. 25A is the younger sibling of Easton’s No. 12 yet feels decidedly more grown up. The grand copper wall is matched in details around the room, from the exposed light bulbs and script on the board outside to the giant numbers inlaid in the door. Despite a nod to an industrial theme it’s welcoming and warm, with an excellently mellow music selection, lovely staff and the bustle of the Old Market shut out behind you.
Everything is stylish and nothing over-complicated. The brief menu offers sourdough toast and jam and homemade granola for breakfast, they make excellent coffees and source outrageously good pastries from their friends Farro: the cinnamon buns and crisp, sticky almond croissants are as big as your head and come highly recommended. There are sandwiches and salads for lunch (including the suggestively labelled ‘meat in a bun’) as well as a real ale pump and a selection of wines for an evening soiree.
And there’s space for all and sundry – business folk swing by for a caffeine hit ahead of the morning commute; music sorts in uniform black hang by the bar and down espressos as fuel for the night ahead; mums park prams and decamp to the space downstairs for a debrief. All are welcomed and many appear to be locals, greeted by name and engaged in a good dose of banter before they set out from the warmth into whatever Old Market has in store.
Price: from £2.50 (toast and jam) to £5 (tart with salad).
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.
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.