North London's Cultural Guide

Free Weekend? Explore brunch…north of the river

It's a new year. So ban the boozy nights out - and allow patissier Clare Zerny to guide you through the eggy jungle

Eggs benedict at Kentish Canteen, voted #1 Breakfast venue by readers
Eggs benedict at Kentish Canteen, voted #1 Breakfast venue by readers

I’m addicted to brunch. Fact. Undoubtedly my favourite portmanteau, the term was first coined in 1895 by British writer, Guy Beringer in his essay, ‘Brunch; A Plea’. He advocated it as a lighter alternative to the traditional heavy post-church meal. Served around midday it also eliminated the need to get up early, especially favourable for “Saturday night carousers”.

I’m particular when it comes to brunch. If the eggs aren’t perfect, I might just lapse into a momentary sulk. Sans hangover I’ll hike over to Hackney; alas, most weekends, however, involve the sort of emergency sugar lows that necessitate a more local fix. But beyond perfect eggs, brunch is, as Beringer adds, “cheerful, sociable and inciting”. So while I’ve dined alone in the evening, I wouldn’t dream of brunching solo. It’s an experience to be shared, a time to reflect on the week’s adventures and, if it precedes a bracing Heath walk, so much the better.

Sunday 169, Hemingford Road, N1

If it’s possible to stalk a cafe, I’m stalking Sunday. And it’s only in Barnsbury, a half hour walk away. Even at peak time I’ve only waited 10 minutes to sit. Coffee is courtesy of Caravan beans and the menu includes the best eggs benedict ever. Go classic on a bed of melt-in-the-mouth ham with perfect hollandaise or plump for flakes of salmon, smoked to perfection and with wedges of fried potato. High-rise blueberry pancakes come with crispy bacon, lashings of syrup and a pièce de résistance wedge of homemade honeycomb butter. French toast is laden with salted caramel bananas. And if that’s still not enough the almond and chocolate croissant is to die for. Sunday has achieved something rare, the feeling of home from home.


Caravan Granary Square N1

Sunday: to die for

With a no-reservation policy before dinner at the weekends, most other establishments wouldn’t be worth the queue. But Caravan is something else (its coffee, for a start, is unimpeachable). Tucking into poached eggs on a smoky bed of light aubergine and yogurt, punctuated by satsouki sausage, is the perfect marriage for hunks of sourdough. Even better are the tender salt beef and crispy potato discs, with oozing poached eggs that, once speared, meet saucily with the hollandaise and wilted spinach.

Ginger & White, 2 England’s Lane, NW3

Four words: Weekend. All. Day. Brunch. There’s even a weekday breakfast menu. This is a cosy venue and another you’ll wish you’d dragged yourself to earlier in the day. A family-friendly establishment, boiled eggs and soldiers come adorned with knitted hats; other pleasing choices include homemade baked beans on sourdough with parsley and feta, a slow-roasted tomato and bacon bloomer or scrambled eggs with Scottish smoked salmon. And with Primrose Hill minutes away you can burn it off in no time.

Made in Camden, Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Rd, NW1

Cavernous: Caravan
Cavernous: Caravan

Spacious as brunch venues go, the café style décor lacks the cosy feel of Sunday or Ginger & White. Service can be frustrating but the offerings are enticing with both sweet and savoury options. I was tempted by purple artichoke barigoule (braised, provencal style) with oyster mushrooms, mozzarella, toasted brioche and poached egg, but our waiter was so enthused about baked eggs Shakshuka that I couldn’t say no. Served in a cast-iron pan, the eggs laze on tomato and pepper ragu with Greek yogurt, chorizo and dollops of a spicy green paste called zhoug. Disappointingly, my friend’s smoked salmon and scrambled eggs with avocado and sour cream was on the dry side, slightly overdone.

Kentish Canteen, 300 Kentish Town Rd

I love Arancini Brothers on KTR’s lower reaches for superior coffee and a beast of a breakfast wrap, but for an immediate NW5 brunch fix it has to be Kentish Canteen. While their Union coffee is satisfying but not Fields Beneath-tastic, the menu offers the classics, plus a sweet offering of French toast with bacon and banana. For an egg lover like me the benedict offerings are ideal, the Florentine particularly good, simple but well executed (occasionally, however, a little on the cold side). Non-egg fans will struggle with just French toast and granola on the menu. Well worth a visit – especially after one too many cocktails the night before downstairs in basement bar Shebeen.

Three to try further afield

Counter Café, Stour Space, 7, Roach Rd, E3
Easily reached via the overland to Hackney Wick but much nicer to walk the canal, stopping for coffee at Towpath en route. The view is a fab as is the food, the homemade tomato relish is delicious, the coffee excellent but sadly the service is poor.

Counter Cafe
Walk over there via the canal: Counter Cafe

Hackney Bureau, 3, Mare st, E8
A classic east London joint run by hipsters and full of hipsters. The food and coffee are great if you’re prepared to wait and they haven’t run out of what you want.

Ottolenghi, 287, Upper st, N1
Always inventive, the brunch is no exception and the mocha made with ganache is a delight. An unfortunate bugbear is only that the chain’s success equals insane queues.

Where’s your favourite place to have brunch?

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