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).
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).
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.
Price: from £3.50 (toast & jam) to £9.50 (The Full Easterly).
I’m not really designed for London. I always forget the last bit to topping up my second hand Oyster card, have been stuck in the ticket barriers more than once and cause mass confusion whenever I offer someone space to go past me in the mad dash to get, well, anywhere. However, while I’ll probably never desist in commenting on the pure massiveness of the capital, I have come to learn that London, it bite-sized bits, can be very enticing. Victoria Park is one such city soupçon, recently home to one of my favourite couples who were keen to show me what their borough had to offer when it came to breakfast. Enter The Pavilion.
On a blustery Sunday we carried our heavy heads and delicate bellies to the eponymous park, already bustling with beautifully coiffed runners and smart children straight from the Boden catalogue. It’s clearly a local favourite, and with a glance to the chalkboards above the kitchen it’s easy to see why. As well as the regular attendees on the menu (Eggs Benedict, the full English) there’s egg curry with idiyappam (Indian noodles) and a host of interesting options for vegetarians; their milk comes from “happy cows” from one farm, their ingredients are organic and the bread is made on site.
It’s a popular choice for those with sprogs in tow, the small space indoors filling up fast with harried-looking parents being pelted with mashed banana. If you can bring (or borrow) a stiff upper lip you can join folks outside dressed in oversized coats supping flat whites as they contemplate the swans, gamely resisting the chill winds while dodging flying serviettes and plastic cups. You might even be joined by Crufts-worthy dogs snuffling for scraps while their owners dash inside for take-away coffees. Whatever the weather, the food is worth the visit: their bacon sandwich on grilled sourdough was the perfect balm to a banging head, matched nicely with expertly made coffee and freshly-pressed fruit juices downed in one dehydrated gulp.
Price: from £5 (granola & yoghurt) to £8 (Farmhouse breakfast).