When the word “brunch” was first recorded, in an 1895 article in Hunter’s Weekly, it was described as “cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”
Brunch as a meal most often is associated with America, and indeed it was across The Atlantic where people pioneered Eggs Benedict, bagels slathered with cream cheese, and buttermilk pancakes as a mid-morning meal. It might come as some surprise then to know that brunch did, in fact, originate in nineteenth century England.
For decades, it slipped off the radar; a mug of builders' tea or instant coffee for breakfast, along with a slice of Mighty White was, for most Brits a staple for the start of the day. Now though, brunch is being reclaimed and celebrated, and the sociable activity of a decadent breakfast or weekend brunch is back in fashion once more.
1. Bottomless Brunches
Drinks like Mimosas, Bloody Mary and Prosecco have all become standard brunch tipples. Indeed, the pre-noon drink has grown in popularity so much, 'Bottomless Brunch' has become a weekend ritual.
More and more restaurants are running offers which allow diners to keep their glass charged. Some places promote generous champagne deals to lure weekend diners through their doors – Coya offers unlimited Louis Roederer Champagne for just £20 on Sundays. Usually though, the onus is on ‘cheap and cheerful’ – for example, Bourne & Hollingsworth’s £17 deal, for bottomless refills of vodka, tequila or gin with tomato juice, chilli citrus and their signature spice mix.
Photo credit: Bourne and Hollingsworth Buildings
2. Spicy Starts
No longer is a blast of heat restricted to the curry house – but breakfasts are becoming spicier, as chefs look further afield for inspiration. Both the Mexican and Moroccan breakfast dish of slow-braised eggs (known respectively as huevos rancheros and shakshuka) contain a lick of spice in the tomato sauce from dried chillies or harissa, (good examples of both are on the brunch menu at Wahaca and Nopi).
Indian chain, Dishoom, also has a brunch menu laced with chilli, which has built-up a cult following. The akuri – Parsi Indian eggs scrambled with green chilli, turmeric and fresh coriander – are a popular option, showing the interest in twists on a classic. The Modern Pantry provides another example of spiced breakfast options which have become a hit, such as chef Anna Hansen’s signature omelette which contains prawns, green chilli, spring onion, coriander and smoked chilli sambal.
Photo credit: Rachel Walker
3. Bespoke Porridge
The boom in the 'free-from' market has made porridge a popular option, for providing both gluten-free and lactose-free options. Lots of coffee shops offer nut and soya milk options alongside cow’s milk, but this is something that has also crept onto the breakfast menu, with chefs offering porridge made using a variety of different milks.
It’s not just the milk, but the oats also which are being substituted for a variety of other ancient grains – look to pioneering Copenhagen restaurant Grød for inspiration, where chefs serve barley, rye and spelt porridges. In Britain, restaurants like Martin Morales' Peruvian cafe, Andina, are leading the charge with signature dishes like quinoa porridge with amaranth, fresh fruit and purple corn syrup. While porridge is a classic winter option, bircher is becoming an increasingly popular choice in the summer, made using chilled milk and soaking the grain for a longer period of time.
4. Eggs all the way
From The Good Egg, to Bad Egg, Egg Break and The Double Egg Cafe, the trend for single-ingredient restaurants has hit the breakfast menu. Boiled egg with ‘posh’ soldiers, poached eggs on avocado toast, and eggs braised in tomato sauce are filling-up Instagram feeds, and luring-in hungry diners.
Not only are eggs a versatile ingredient, but they are nutritious and cheap. Take bacon for example – there's a big price difference between watery supermarket-own brand, and organic, air-matured, Applewood smoked back bacon. When it comes to eggs though, the deep orange yolk of a Bruford Brown or Cotswold Legbar seems both extravagant and ethical, while adding only a miniscule cost (10-15p per egg) to the price of the standard free-range egg, makes it a canny choice for both chef and customer.
5. British Revival
A bad fry-up is a grim experience, and the greasy spoon fried bread, flabby bacon and gristly sausages of old have given the British breakfast a bad reputation amongst our foreign neighbours. There's no doubt that there's been a revival of British food over the past decade though, and the top ingredients now available mean that the English Breakfast has, rightly, become a source of great national pride.
There are countless restaurants doing fantastic fry-ups, and lots have gone even further to revive classic dishes and give them a modern make over. Hawksmoor offers a smoked bacon chop, grilled bone marrow and short-rib bubble and squeak. Meanwhile The Wolseley offers devilled lamb kidneys and The Albion café proudly serves kippers on its breakfast menu.
6. Breakfast on the go
Of course, it’s not always possible to slowly start the day with a drawn-out lunch, and the breakfast snack market continues to grow and diversify. Waitrose reported that its most popular breakfast biscuit last year was the BelVita, which provided 1.5 million breakfasts on the run to Waitrose shoppers last year.
Snack options are constantly diversifying though, beyond dry breakfast bars and biscuits. MOMA and Cuckoo have recently launched bircher pots, while high-end yogurt brands like Rachel’s, Yeo and The Collective have all added granola-yogurt pots to their range, as they strive to overhaul the concept of breakfast on the go.
Rachel Walker, food writer at The Sunday Times, food editor at Reader's Digest, and freelancer across various other national publications explores successful hospitality social media campaigns.