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).
Having only just set up shop, Bakers & Co were opting for a soft launch of their new, San Francisco-inspired venture this weekend. The Gloucester Road contingent clearly had other ideas.
Thankfully we’d set the alarm for this one, breezing in by 9am to find only a few bleary-eyed parents perusing the freshly printed menus. By 10 there was a small queue forming at the bar and out the door, such has the buzz been about this latest addition from the folks behind the hugely popular Bravas on Cotham Hill.
The place is pure California, with sunshine-yellow awning, stripped wood and shining chrome contrasting Mexican ceramics in the kitchen, the central point to the neat space. Little picnic benches and a handful of stools along the bar accommodate a surprising number of covers, with just enough room in between to fit the regular traffic of buggies that will no doubt be seen here: offspring are catered for with their own portions and there’s an early morning small bites menu served from 8am to fuel those who have forgotten what the words ‘lie-in’ ever meant.
Making the most of our early start, we opted for salted chocolate and hazelnuts on sourdough and a pot of delicious blueberry yoghurt and pomegranate to go along with excellent coffee and freshly squeezed fruit juices. Chefs quietly prepped around us as we ate, great handfuls of coriander, avocados and limes being carried to and fro and a tower of freshly made maple buns appearing on the bar as if by magic. Later, the main menu proved even trickier to choose from with an eclectic selection ranging from huevos rancheros to the full Baker’s breakfast. The Egg Poacher went all out with pork belly, sweet potato bubble and squeak and (naturally) poached eggs, while I opted for the lighter but equally delicious goats cheese, honey and thyme on toast. The flavours pop and everything’s beautifully made, with a nod to their suppliers on the menu reinforcing the idea that everything has been carefully considered here.
Bakers & Co should get used to being this busy – with food this good, it’s destined to become a Gloucester Road favourite. Lucky, then, that they’re also blessed with a lovely staff to manage the hungry hoards (even the chefs got stuck in to clearing tables with a smile). My advice? Get there early. This is soon to become the hottest brunch ticket in town.
Price: from £3.50 (starters menu) to £9.95 (Baker’s breakfast).
Zazus has been a Bristol regular for a few years now; for a time, they moved restlessly from area to area, not quite content in their pokier spaces in Stokes Croft or Clifton village. Finally they’ve settled in the northern quarter of Gloucester Road and it seems a perfect match: as couples move towards Horfield in search of a strip of grass and space for a toddler, ZaZus offers a family friendly space around the corner with just the right amount of street cred to keep their friends coming, too.
Toby stays at the helm, moving around the floor like a foodie, moody rock star, but with time to greet familiar faces. The rest of his staff are good looking and efficient, though less warm in the bustle of a busy Saturday service. And they are busy – it doesn’t take long for the wooden tables to be filled, and even in gloomier climes the outdoor area will fill. There’s a distressed, Scandinavian feel to the surroundings with wooden floors and cool tones, there’s modern art on the walls and an electro soundtrack playing in the background. As you’d expect from the crowd, there are crayons, high chairs and stickers books to keep small ones entertained – and noise. Lots and lots of noise.
The food, however, is dependably well-sourced, using quality ingredients from largely local sources. Egg fans are well served: the Egg Poacher’s chorizo and black pudding hash with poached eggs and hollandaise were declared “awesome”, while you can have them served every which way elsewhere on the menu. I was less impressed with the veggie breakfast – the bubble and squeak was slightly bitter, the spinach a little too well-cooked – but in fairness my own ovaphobia had it’s part to play here. Their coffee, however, is excellent.
Zazus’s has a loyal following and it’s serves it’s neighbourhood well. Perhaps in a few years’ time we’ll be back with our own bundle of joy in tow; for now, I’ll leave the colouring-in books for someone else to enjoy.
Price: from £3.50 (bacon bap) to £7.50 (chorizo and black pudding hash).
The Thali cafés have been blazing a sustainable trail in Bristol for years with their original restaurant in Easton soon being joined by sibling ventures in Montpelier, Clifton and Totterdown. Their newest inclusion serves lucky Southville – a place quickly becoming the place for hip young families seeking good living without skimping on the delis, bistros and pubs run by the tattoos-and-vintage-hair-dos crowd more readily available north of the river.
They’ve landed next to the Tobacco Factory in a huge, warehouse-like space, but the food and the service are just as good as in their more intimate venues. Breakfast is a recent addition, but shouldn’t be missed – you can opt for a traditional aloo paratha or a more familiar full English, though the latter brings an Indian flavour in gunpowder potatoes, coriander infused sausage and homemade tomato chutney; all meals come with hot, milky chai which transported me back to my days of traversing Kerala by train (all that’s missing is the wallah).
They’re generous with the portions and happy to add extras, so the Egg Poacher’s carnivorous breakfast came with the King of All Breakfast Additions – lightly toasted halloumi – as well as all the regulars you might hope for (excellent crusty toast, fried tomatoes and great, thick rashers of bacon). They are resolutely friendly, and all are welcome – children can (and will) run free and have their own portions while those looking to start the weekend properly can opt for a pint of Kingfisher, straight from the tap.
Price: from £1.50 (Chai & toast) to £7.25 (Thali festival fry up).