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).
At 10am on a Saturday morning, No. 12 is stacked floor to ceiling with children. They spill out onto, under and into the handful of tables available, cosying their way onto window seats and other people’s chairs. As you’d expect, there’s a sense of weekend chaos in the air: toast crusts and pastry crumbs fly, and over-caffienated parents read stories at a rate of knots. The staff assure us this is nothing new, and indeed they squeeze past tiny heads and adult legs like pros, delivering piping hot coffees and plates of fresh breakfast with a patient smile.
Having hovered long enough to bag a table, we set about devouring crisp, fresh pastries and well-made coffees before moving on to the main event. The menu is short and satisfying: there are bacon or sausage sandwiches and a pork pattie creation that stands 4 inches tall. Veggies (a popular breed in Easton) are served by scrambled eggs or waffles with fresh fruit, and trays of freshly made granola bars and cakes wend their way from the kitchen at the back. As well as café food (for which they won a Bristol Good Food Award) there’s a deli that provides artisan cheese, charcuterie and craft beers to the foodie masses; take-away coffees prove popular, too, with the barista ready to share a laugh while whipping up the perfect flat white.
By 11, the children have dispersed, their parents no doubt taking them on to their third breakfast or pre-lunch snack. Meanwhile, those unencumbered with heirs can order another coffee and settle back (perhaps letting a soupçon of smugness creep in). A popular spot, and rightly so – just pick your times carefully if you want to avoid the miniature hoards.
Last weekend it was wet. Cats-and-dogs, heaven’s opened, where’s Noah when you need him? wet. As we squelched through Queen’s Square, mulched leaves fusing to our feet as rain drops filled our pockets, a small black sign glowed in the distance, it’s white Swedish font making it look all the world like welcoming Bang & Olufsen store, but with promises of coffee.
And very nice coffee it is too. As well as the house there’s a guest blend that makes all the right provenance noises – single origin, natural process – and the baristas make each cup carefully, no matter what the well-heeled clientele request (soya-decaff lattes proved particularly popular. Shame really.) The interiors match the minimalist signage, with the ubiquitous exposed lightbulbs, brushed steel and plain wooden tables made softer by the low ceilings, quietly cool music and a well-formed list of menu options chalked up on the wall.
As well as simple options – toast from many breads, fresh pastries, granola – there are some bolder offerings like brioche French toast with chai spiced plums and maple syrup, or mushrooms with thyme wrapped goats cheese and a poached egg; the Egg Poacher’s eponymous breakfast choice came with smoked bacon, harissa and rocket in a roll that was artfully crammed into his face, lest the eggy goodness escape down his chin.
During the week this place fills with busy bankers, office workers and freelancers, dropping in for giant toasties or stocked salad boxes. At the weekend, the pace slows and shaggy-haired creatives, offensively well-off students and day-glo’d gym folks can take their time over brunch that’s served ’til 2pm. With another site recently opened in Clifton, there’s little doubt that Spicer & Cole are here to stay. Head for a corner table and settle in.
Price: From £2.25 (toast) to £6.95 (brioche French toast & chai spiced plums)
Shoreditch – the kind of place that wholeheartedly embraces its own stereotype, and no more so than in #GuardianCoffee ensconced in the @BoxPark, sandwiched between an #Apple store, #Nike shop and something so urban and artisan it didn’t even have a hashtag (an @BoxPark naming convention, which tells you about as much as you need to know).
It’s like stepping into a version of the future where politically left-leaning, bearded baristas rule the world: the Guardian headlines are projected onto the walls, coffee-related Tweets run along the bottom and a constantly updating Instagram feed keeps all informed about the latest in sepia-toned latte art.
It’s all very meta – as well as free copies by the door, there are screens on every table and iPads at the counter, ensuring you don’t miss a second of the latest edition of the Guardian. The update everyone’s surely waiting for, however, is on the digital leader board, where every drink purchased pips the cappuccinos against the cortados, macchiatos against mochas, in a never-ending feud not seen since the Montagues and Capulets failed to get along. Even the wallpaper is self-referential, with picnicking hipsters on fixed gear bikes printed repeatedly around you like a middle-class hallucinogenic migraine.
This being Shoreditch, the clientele are achingly hip, with grown men rolling in on Brompton-style scooters and beautiful women, clad head to toe in black bar their neon Nike Airs and ombre hair, ordering coffees to go, forgoing pastries in favour of a caffeine hit from “London’s leading micro-roastery”, Nude Espresso. The coffee is good, and – for London – reasonably priced, but for this cynical Scot, the heavy handed concept somewhat overwhelms the quality. Despite being a regular liberal Guardian fan, I left feeling like I’d been beaten over the head by Saturday’s bumper supplement edition (magazine and all), and been asked to pay for it afterwards.
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).
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).