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).
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.
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.
The Buttery is a Bristol institution, a firm favourite for the mix of canal boat dwellers, office workers and tourists that gather around the Harbourside in all weathers. It’s a bit like stepping back in time – chips in cardboard cones, milky coffees served in brown glass mugs from your granny’s days – and there’s something reassuring about a place that has stayed committed to simple food without the words “hand-crafted” “traditionally sliced” or “rustic” anywhere in sight.
The Buttery itself is a tiny shed from which breakfast favourites are despatched with aplomb – bacon butties, fried egg rolls, sausage baps, any and all combination of the three with extra portions of cheese, black pudding or mushrooms to create a truly cholesterol raising start to your day. On busy weekends you take a number wait – but there’s plenty of aquatic life to contemplate with tug boats, pirate ships and irate swans all competing for space in the busy waterways; you’re likely to be joined by pigeons and the odd hungry dog as your orders arrive through the hatch wrapped in a single white serviette.
In Bristol we’re blessed with many fine eateries, all proclaiming a passion for provenance, few food miles and artisanal beginnings – undeniably worthy, but often beyond the means of many. And it’s here where The Buttery proves its worth – a no-nonsense greasy spoon serving cheap and tasty breakfast to Bristol’s finest.
Price: from £2.20 (bacon roll) to £4.90 (bacon, sausage and cheese baguette).
At the turn of the year it’s always tempting to tell all those who proclaim it’s time for a “new you” to “naff off” – whatever’s right or wrong with you at 23.59 on the 31st December, you’re likely to be much the same at 00.01 on the 1st (if a little shoutier, backcombed and more glittery). So, with the aim of not making any new year’s resolutions whatsoever, it seems apt to write about the most un-organic, un-seasonal, downright unhealthy breakfast joint in town – The Princes Pantry – perfect for those with a hangover that lasts well into January.
In an unassuming hut on the corner of a busy T-junction, the Princes Pantry has been attracting its own loyal band of clientele for years, all in search of something fried between slices of white, square bread and cooked on a skillet that was last cleaned when news of the Millennium bug spoke of our almost certain demise.
Breakfast options have their own imaginative titles – “Cardiac Arrest”, “Gut Buster”, “Beast” – and are handed to you wrapped in white napkins or encased in polystyrene. Most of the early morning crowd opt for the traditional Breakfast Roll, with or without added sausage, bacon and/or fried egg and all the sauces you’d hope for (red. And brown.) Tea and coffee come from massive urns on the counter and if you’re feeling particularly fancy you can opt for a baguette instead, or even mayonnaise.
In recent times they’ve diversified for the lunchtime crowd and offer homemade soups, falafel, pizza or slices of avocado to nestle in your BLT. But, without a doubt it’s at its best providing cheap, breakfast favourites to the hungry masses. A greasy spoon and proud – as well it should be.
Price: from £2.10 (bacon roll).
Every so often you find a place so good you don’t want to share it with anyone. But, in the spirit of intrepid brunch hunters the world over, I’m duty bound to write about a tiny and terrific place on the bridge that links Bristol north and south – the Smallest Coffee Cabin in the World™ – that manages to pack more personality, quality and service in its wardrobe-like proportions than a thousand Starbucks could ever hope for.
Nestled on the Prince Street Bridge, it looks right down the harbour, past the famous cranes and steam trains to the left, the bustling waterfront with its plethora of canal boats and passenger ferries on the right. One tiny table and two chairs, replete with vase of flowers, are squeezed onto the pavement and there’s just enough room indoors for two or three (depending on your full-fat-or-skinny preference) when the wind picks up. Inside it’s like a nautically themed Broom Cupboard – mercifully duck-free – with curios that hang from the walls and line the shelves; the menu is chalked up behind the bar and your barista is dressed in full chef whites. Those in the know had already texted their orders ahead, and it’s clear it has its fair share of regulars, all here for one thing – the coffee.
There’s a house (or hut?) blend and a weekly guest coffee and each order is made with care. This is a place in no hurry, but you can while away your time reading the ‘Facts of the Day’ or, if you’re lucky, spinning an old Game of Life wheel for a freebie. Once ready, the coffee is a treat. My house blend was a smooth, subtly syrup-y delight, with just the right amount of dark chocolate bitterness and the perfect coffee-to-milk ratio for a proper latte; there are soya options and flavours to add, too (their hazelnut mocha is legendary).
This is the ideal place for busy folks in need of an early morning pick me up, and there’s food on the go in the form of freshly made crepes with all the fillings you could hope for or homemade tiffins and flapjacks. The service is sublime, and, better still, there’s a discount before 10am to make those dark winter mornings all the brighter. Go forth and be happy.
Price: from £1.80 (latte, before 10am).
The Galley sits between a rock and a wet place – on one side you have Hotwells Road, home to sinister looking pubs and fast food joints; on the other, you have the river and it’s swans, boat folk and masochistic rowers on a mission to reach the end of the course before their extremities fall off.
Inside, double glazed windows shut out the road noise and seats at the back show a better view than Hotwells Fried Chicken. The walls are adorned with nautical nick-nacks, vintage signs and globe lanterns and a soulful soundtrack plays – though by the third round, Al Green had started to grate a little. It’s not a huge space, so choose a table away from the coffee machine – and caffeine seekers should be prepared to order more than one vintage tea cups’ worth if they want to wake up properly.
Brunch comes from a short menu, and traditionalists will be happy – the full English comes with beans and fried bread, decent bacon and herby sausage; those looking for something a little different might opt for duck eggs on sourdough with spinach, and there are veggie options and lighter bites (granola, crumpets and homemade jam) too.
The ingredients are local and good quality, but breakfast feels like an afterthought here: I’ve heard great things about relaxed, raucous dinners, their Sunday roasts look fabulous and the cream heavy cakes testify to a fine afternoon tea, but there was something a little lacking from the morning menu. A chilly interior, hard wooden pews and a slightly distracted service meant we didn’t stay for long – those looking for a place to linger over their brunch would be better served elsewhere.
Price: from £2.50 (crumpets) to £6.50 (full English). Cash only.
People make haste, while the sun shines, to the riverstation – and for good reason. Nab a leather sofa by the window and you might think you’re somewhere altogether more European: the sun’s rays bounce off the water and red-faced sailor types chug by in their boats, while shifty-looking swans prowl past on the lookout for arms to break and, possibly, the Queen.
Early-risers are treated to a proper breakfast – muesli, fresh pastries, bacon sandwiches – but the lazier amongst us need not fear as there’s a robust brunch menu served until well after lunchtime. As well as eggs every-way, there’s French toast with bacon and maple syrup and duck eggs or mushrooms with parmesan on toast. For hunters of a classic brunch like me (I steer more towards breakfast than lunch) it feels like a fairly reduced choice, but if you’re happy to expand your dining horizons mid-morning, there’s sausage and mash, smoked haddock risotto and caesar salad; best of all, they do a mean Bloody Mary so you may decide to forgo food in favour of a more liquid reward for another week conquered.
The staff are busy but friendly, and despite my longing for a lie in you might not want to leave it too late as the best seats will fill on a sunny day. Kids eat free until 6pm so it’s a firm favourite with the babes-in-arms set and can be noisy, and you may find you’re politely asked to eat up if there’s an event on in the afternoon – so do phone ahead at weekends. The food is good and the coffee is great, and the kitchen staff are clearly well-versed in provenance. It’s not the cheapest, but you’re paying for quality and a relaxed, friendly service – and, of course, the swans.
Price: from £3.50 (French toast and maple syrup) to £8.50 (sausages and mash).