The last gasp of Gloucester Road that congregates around the Arches is often the popular hub for students and weekend drinking, when every inch of al fresco space is taken in summer and dark and cosy bars fill on rainy Autumnal nights. But travel north and things get more interesting still – amongst the greasy spoons, hardware shops and sports bars are a healthy smattering of new and interesting independent businesses: a pub in an old drapers, a Persian-Korean fusion restaurant and the best Thai in the city, a comic and beer emporium and FED 303, an excellent addition to the north Bristol cafe trail.
FED 303 certainly ticks the modern Bristol boxes – hanging plants, chalkboard menu and soothing electro pulling in parents with babies, business people on morning meetings and commuters taking a caffeine detour. But where some places seem to think it’s only about appearance, this cafe clearly believes in its own enterprise. The staff are friendly, taking time to chat and check their punters have all they need; babes and dogs get a cheery welcome, as do local celebrities who pop in for a quick debrief in the kitchen before heading on.
Most importantly, the food is fantastic – there are plenty of options all invested with intriguing flavours that make the ingredients sing. Perfectly poached eggs on French toast and roasted tomatoes proved popular with our Monday morning crew, while eggs atop rich harissa tomatoes, kale and sourdough were delicious and satisfying.
This being our pre-wedding breakfast, we decided to stay while our friends and their teeny milk guzzler moved on to a baby stand up show (this is Bristol, after all). A second coffee and freshly baked chocolate and hazelnut bun polished off an excellent morning’s dining. A truly excellent way to prepare for a week of wedding madness.
Price: from £2.95 (sourdough toast) to £8.50 (harissa spiced eggs).
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).
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.
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).
Melbourne and Bristol have a lot in common – a competitive street art scene, randomly changing weather, narrow alleyways hiding well-loved eateries and a whole herd of hipsters around every corner. It even has a north/south divide, the rivers Avon and Yarra dividing the cities’ inhabitants into rivalries not seen since Coyote vs. Roadrunner.
It could be argued that where the cities most align is in their respect of the most sacred of weekend meals – brunch. When in Australia we spent a good proportion of our days moving from cafe to restaurant and bar being served by beautiful people in tiny bowler hats and tattoo sleeves, and in Melbourne the food is particularly great. There foods from across the world combine into great plates of breakfast fare – and they take their coffee very, very seriously.
So it’s perhaps surprising that Melbourne hasn’t come to Bristol sooner, as it has now in the guise of Ceres, a sparkling new start-up cafe in the fashionably ramshackle Stokes Croft. Across the road from the great vintage market and nestled between dub-themed cafes and Halal grocers, it’s minimal signage and stark white interiors give a sense of someone having just moved in. The homemade feel continues inside, with simple wooden tables and upholstered crates for chairs, a few key pieces of graffiti, a shining coffee machine, and not much else.
Once your eyes have adjusted to the white wall glare they can settle on a truly excellent breakfast menu – baked eggs, sweetcorn fritters and smashed avocado, smoked salmon bagels, bircher muesli, pancakes with salted caramel and banana… The flat whites – surely a requisite when dealing with Antipodean baristas – were as strong as you’d expect and, in a post-brunch delirium, the inch-high millionaire shortbreads were just too tempting to ignore.
Barman and chef both mingle with diners and have a cheery word for the local business people who drop by for take-away sandwiches and afternoon treats: they’re clearly doing all they can to join the community. And, with a passion for good cooking and a brunch menu this interesting, perhaps even those south of the river might beat a path to Ceres’ door.
Price: from £2.50 (toast and Vegemite) to £8 (avocado, marinated feta and poached eggs on sourdough).
Lodging in Clifton – where the Brunel bridge is a short stroll and the morning alarm comes from the peal of church bells and the occasional hot air balloon passing overhead – is no real hardship. At the weekend the streets are taken over by alfresco cafes and organic grocers and the pavements throng with freshly pressed Hilfiger shirts, boat shoes (no socks) and a menagerie of coiffed poodles, bichons and French bulldogs. The delis do a roaring trade; there’s even a man in a beret and a Breton top who sells garlic from the basket on his bicycle.
Yet it was walking through Stokes Croft where I truly felt back at home. Here the dogs are multitudinous and mongrel and the streets heave with deep bass and dreadlocks in various stages of construction. But while the setting couldn’t be more different, the creep of the ‘DIY Dalston’ mould is equally plain to see, with yet more black-walled, drop-lit, pallet-heavy bars and cafes filling shop fronts and abandoned spaces. Thankfully there are those that resist scrawling sans serif font across their plant-filled windows or hanging a fixed-gear bike on the wall to justify their prices.
One such place is Door & Rivet, hidden in the crypt of the old Baptist Church on Upper York Street. It’s corrugated frontage makes an understated welcome, but the promise of good coffee and Saturday brunch were all it took to lure me in. Inside it’s darkly inviting, with a collection of mismatched tables and chairs at the back and an open kitchen, giant coffee machine and well-used record player up front. The 70s soundtrack proved a little fierce first thing, but the narrow alleyway outside boasted plenty of space to dine, so long as we didn’t mind mingling with the pigeons.
We lingered over coffees as we waited for our food – here everything is freshly made and demands a little more time. Having opted for the small breakfasts (one veggie, one meat) we were greeted with a great pile of good food – well-seasoned bubble and squeak, homemade baked beans and excellent eggs, alongside delicious sausages or grilled halloumi and a proper portion of sourdough toast. It was all so excellent we decided to stay, ordering more home-roasted coffee to enjoy in the unseasonable September sun, the friendly staff taking the time to chat and explain why decaff coffee is the work of the devil and therefore banished from this, the holiest of breakfast places.
Brunch lovers, rejoice.
Price: from £2.50 (granola) to £9.50 (Big breakfast).
On a grey and windy Sunday that surely heralds the start of Autumn (apologies to those who blinked during summer – you missed it) the Tobacco Factory market still shines, cheerily decked in candy-striped awnings and bright white tablecloths, summer tunes blasting in an attempt to drive the clouds away. There’s an eclectic mix of things on offer here: tiny clay dolls huddle together on one stall, retro jumpsuits and faded slogan T-shits hang from another. There are bottled potions to spice up your morning tea, handmade furniture and homemade curry kits, local art and enough LPs to make Fat Boy Slim feel positively malnourished.
While there’s plenty to peruse and many a trinket to buy, one of the main draws is the food court that sits near the back. Having packed our Macs and set off with our usual food-based enthusiasm, we’d actually arrived before the majority of the stalls were open. Luckily (and in what is surely a clever marketing ploy) the Rolling Italy coffee stall was set up early and doing a steady trade.
As we drank our first, very excellent coffees the market slowly began to fill with a cross-section of Bristol’s (mostly) middle class. Cyclists in full gear swinging by to pick up fresh bread packed carefully in to panniers, grey-haired couples being led by dogs that ranged from bear to floor mop and arty students with canvas bags and turned up trouser cuffs all mingled, carefully stepping between the market’s most obvious clientele: young families. The market, is seems, offers a kind of Mecca to those with tiny people in tow; there’s enough confined space for toddlers to roam while dishevelled dads and morning-eyed mums make haste towards sustenance and the ever-necessary caffeine. As the day progressed the child population increased, many adding tricycles, scooters and the occasional well-staged meltdown in to the mix of legs and leashes.
Turning our attention back to our own bellies we decided it was time for round two and were drawn to the chalkboards of The Muffin Man & Co. I opted for the breakfast classic: fried egg, sausage and bacon jam between a lightly toasted English muffin, while the Egg Poacher upped the ante with the addition of melted cheese and a chunk of pork belly. After a minutes’ pause while we figured out how best to tackle the stacks before us, we were soon tucking in and following the golden rule of breakfast – don’t think about the mess, and clean up once at the end.
Round two duly demolished, we considered removing ourselves from temptation. It didn’t last – Rolling Italy called once again, this time with the addition of a sugar coated ricciarell, a Tuscan macaroon filled with almond and orange, and surely too light to be truly bad. Finally setting off for home we braved the knee-high hoards and emerged into the open – highly caffeinated, full of food, and very happy indeed.
There had been a brief hiatus to my stay in Bogota. It being the festive season I decided to come over all Chris Rea and drive (fly) home for Christmas as a surprise for my family, and in particular the new baby who was topping up the female to male ratio in our immediate set up quite nicely. It also meant abandoning the Egg Poacher for 2 weeks, who coped admirably despite enduring illness, a set of new front teeth and the impolitely timed construction work going on above our flat. Nevertheless, by the time I was getting ready to pick up my backpack again I was receiving photo updates showing him with all hair shorn from his head, wrapped in a blanket, in the dark. Probably time to make a move.
I’d spent a week in Bogota before I left, so setting down amongst the mountains and passing the many and various walls covered in street art on the bus felt like returning to familiar ground, helping me not to feel too spun around by the last fortnight of festivities, and the fact that less than 48 hours ago I had been sitting in my family home with a sleeping niece in my lap. Despite recognising the sights, there was much still to explore, and this time with my own personal guide who’d spent a lot of time walking the city (though admittedly mainly to and from the dentist, chock full of painkillers).
Our first stop would be Azimo’s, a cafe-deli-bakery accommodatingly just around the corner from our apartment in the Macarena neighbourhood. We already felt at home in this part of town as it bore an uncanny resemblance to Stokes Croft in Bristol where we’d lived for 5 years before jacking in all responsibilities: local breweries, cosy restaurants, the occasional bleary-eyed ocal with a few opinions to holler into the dark night. Azimo’s followed the same creative, gentrified pattern we’d seen elsewhere with a space full of sunshine from the enormous sky light, recycled lampshades, walls dotted with chalkboards and potted plants, a focus on local and organic, and a cool and well-heeled clientele.
The food is made on-site and much of it comes from their own bakery; light, crisp pastries and delicious bread, as well as cakes, juices and freshly ground coffee. The staff are laid back and seemed a bit unfamiliar with the menu, but they are happy for people to set up camp with the paper or their laptop, and the brunch, though not massive, was pretty good. At weekends the place fills with fashionable students and off-duty business folk who fill the golden banquette that lines one side of the room. This being fashionable Macarena, it’s not the cheapest breakfast in town, but it’s sure to be our new home from home for our remaining ten days in Bogota (and a blessed relief from the drilling upstairs).
Nothing quite screams ‘bank holiday weekend’ than a leisurely Sunday roast, followed by a nap on a giant double bed in one of Somerset’s multitude pub with rooms. The Swan does all of these things will aplomb: the young staff deliver great plates of roast beef, fresh gnocchi and delicate crab washed down with local lagers or a multitude of wines by the glass, while upstairs the rooms are cool and inviting, with woolen throws and tartan armchairs adding a touch of texture to otherwise neutral Farrow & Ball tones. Ours had a small balcony overlooking the main strip of yellow stone buildings, the nearby church chiming on the hour to complete the Archer’s feel; better still, a claw-foot bath and a host of Bramley products meant an afternoon bubble bath in the sunshine (pint included for good effect).
And of course, one of the best bits about an overnight stay is the fact that breakfast comes with it. Like their dinner menu, the focus is on local fare – the bread comes from a bakery a short stroll from the door, and bacon is home-smoked; elsewhere suppliers are listed on the chalkboards around the bar. The menu is simple and traditional, and offers plenty for those less egg-averse than me (my bacon and mushrooms on toast looked somewhat lacking without the mound of scrambled egg). Nonetheless, with ingredients this good the flavours win the day, and, importantly, the coffee is just as well-sourced and made with equal care.
There’s plenty to love here, and lucky locals flock (expect a troupe of chinos and well-polished sprogs mussing their Sunday Best in the garden out the back). For those less close, it’s worth the journey – come armed with the papers and your PJs and you’ll be in for a weekend treat.
Price: from £3 (toast & jam) to £11 (The Swan Full English) B&B from £85.
The Runcible Spoon is tucked up one of Bristol’s infamous hills, though thankfully only a short hike from Stokes Croft’s centre and therefore unlikely to put off all but the most hardened of calf muscle. It’s been overseen by a handful of different owners, all committed to keeping things fresh, seasonal and as local as can be, and its latest incarnation tows the same provenance-conscious line.
On a chilly March morning, the tall windows steam, hiding the inside from view. Stepping across the threshold is like dropping in to your favourite aunty’s living room: eccentric nick-nacks, pot plants, creepers, antique cutlery and a wonderful old original fireplace set the informal tone, while 6 Music on the radio and the friendly, laid-back staff add a touch of cool. It really is a teeny space – the studious chefs can be seen through the hatch to the kitchen and the bar is within touching distance; long-legged stools and a benchtop by the door help them to squeeze sociable diners in.
With a focus on quality ingredients, the brunch menu is short but compelling: bacon sandwiches with onion marmalade, veggie and full English breakfasts, avocado flat breads with poached eggs. Facing my ovophobia head on, I opted for the baked eggs with chorizo, and wasn’t disappointed. This is brunch in its truest sense, with potions so generous you won’t even remember lunch exists: along with smoky choizo, creamy eggs and sweet peppers, there was a side of properly buttered sourdough, too. Coupled with some decent flat whites this was an excellent way to start a Saturday – and for those who don’t believe in early rising, it’s served until 3pm.
Price: from £2.50 (sourdough toast and cinnamon butter) to £8.95 (Big Breakfast).