Breakfast is the new lunch. Restaurants up and down the country are ramping up their creativity when it comes to the first meal of the day, while the weekend brunch phenomenon rumbles on.
There’s the orange and cinnamon torrijas with smoked bacon at Bakers & Co in Bristol, green eggs and ham at Delilah in Nottingham, Hide in London’s cacklebean eggs with spiced butterbeans, tomato and smoked paprika and Sunday in Brooklyn’s swoon-worthy giant pancakes with hazelnut maple praline and brown butter. Clearly the traditional fry-up is moving on.
Brunch hot spots are now extending their offering into end-of-week days, while breakfasts mid-week are gaining traction as post-pandemic working practices are evolving. But how are hotels responding to this breakfast bonanza? Are they keeping up with the pace? And if so, how does it work with the current challenges being faced by the hospitality industry, from staffing shortages to skills shortfalls? And will the scrum at the buffet ever return now that we’re all more used to the elegance of table service?
Most coveted hotel brunch
NoMad Hotel in Covent Garden, which opened last May, boasts a daylight-filled atrium with green foliage dangling from every floor of the triple-height space as diners – mostly non-residents – sink into plump pistachio banquettes, smug in the knowledge that they secured their seats a few weeks before.
Servers deposit a colourful array of cocktails, followed by large numbers of signature pork confit-stuffed breakfast burritos and chicken truffle sandwiches. Welcome to London’s most coveted hotel brunch. Launched last September, the hotel hasn’t looked back. “We’re happy with what we have achieved here – it feels very affirming. Brunch is such an energetic service,” says Chris Perone, NoMad’s food and beverage director.
The weekend brunch menu covers everything from scallop ceviche with almond, yuzu and jalapeño to caviar with bonito cream and griddled potato muffins and chia seed pudding with coconut and market fruits. As well as a ‘bacon danish’ (more a quiche), there’s lemon poppy pancakes griddled with blueberries and whipped ricotta, and a prawn BLT. No wonder it’s packed – 200 covers for brunch here is the norm.
Of course, things aren’t all rosy: the hotel is having staffing problems like everybody else. Executive chef Ashley Abodeely has had to reduce the menu to maintain consistency – though the offering is still generous. “In fact, this has worked so well that we feel there is no need to bring those dishes back,” she says.
There is an impressive procession of cocktails being delivered to tables throughout brunch. “We’re so blessed with having such an amazing programme and beverage team. Our director has worked hard to create a streamlined system that allows high quality in an organised, fast-paced way. It’s just about working smarter,” says Perone.
Liveliest midweek hotel breakfast
The 250-bedroom Ned hotel opened five years ago in the former Midlands Bank headquarters, designed by Sir Edwin ‘Ned’ Lutyens. The hotel is a partnership between two hospitality heavyweights: Soho House group and the Sydell Group (which also owns NoMad Hotels).
The jaw-dropping lobby, with its soaring deep green verdite columns and bank vault-turned cocktail bar is excitement enough, but the F&B offering is something else, with its nine restaurants and 19 bars. For breakfast, there are now four restaurants to choose from (five, if you include the private members’ club on the rooftop), with Cecconi’s adding breakfast to its offering because of the sharp increase in footfall, reports general manager Gareth Banner.
Most popular breakfast spots are Electric Diner, an outpost of the Notting Hill original, with its indulgent American-style options, and Malibu Kitchen, inspired by healthier, lighter Californian cooking, with diners drawn from the surrounding offices, even booking ahead.
Says Banner: “We always wanted the Ned to have an atmosphere, morning, noon and night. As the ground floor is such a big space, it really needs people to create the ambience. We always felt we could be the City ‘go-to’ for breakfast meetings and those enjoying a more leisurely start to the day. And we think a strong breakfast sets the tone for the rest of the offering and the variety of restaurants means that guests have a lot of choice depending on what they’re in the mood for.”
At Malibu Kitchen, which averages 60 covers for breakfast daily, and is mainly filled with non-residents, practically every table is sporting an order of New England-born head chef Madeleine Haysey’s turmeric pancakes (served with coconut, banana, and oat butter). “Pre-launch, I went to Malibu to get a real feel for the concept and the food over there.
There is a real emphasis on fresh and bright food, with lots of local suppliers and seasonality,” says Haysey. Other dishes also include her grain bowl with egg, avocado, kale, sprouts and seeds, and avocado royale (the avocado is the ‘toast’) topped with smoked salmon, linseed, kimchi and hollandaise, plus quesadilla with scrambled eggs, portobello mushrooms, spring onions and pico de gallo.
Brunch is not just for the weekend – or for London
Saturday brunch has become so popular at Sheffield boutique hotel Brocco on the Park that this year it has been extended from Wednesday to Saturday (8.30am-3.30pm) and continues to attract both residents and the public. Brocco on the Park was opened in 2014 in an old Edwardian villa next to the city’s Endcliffe Park and is now owned and operated by independent hospitality group Fine & Country Inns.
“Being able to open our doors to both [residents and the public] is a great advantage for us. We have eight bedrooms accommodating and catering for 16 guests daily, so our restaurant operation is open anyway and welcoming the public to join us makes commercial sense,” says owner Gary Hunt.
It helps that the hotel has already built quite the name for its food offering, including winning Best Hotel Restaurant in Sheffield at the Westside Food & Drink Awards in November last year, and it holds this year’s 2022 Good Hotel Guide’s Editor’s Choice plaque.
Head chef Jake Davidson has recently expanded his team to include a dedicated breakfast chef, thanks to the popularity of both the breakfast service and the evolving brunch offering, with dishes that include baked eggs with pork, onions and roasted fennel; and kedgeree soldiers with soft boiled eggs, mango chutney and red onion.
Davidson says: “The pandemic taught us that we all need to have a slower pace every now and again and Brocco offers peace and tranquillity amidst the bustle of one of Sheffield’s busiest areas. Dining out for breakfast is a great way to do that. We pride ourselves on offering a seven-days-a-week breakfast service, alongside a ‘breakfast bag’ option, which was introduced throughout the pandemic and continues for those guests just looking for a quick pick-me-up when they might not have the luxury of joining us in person.”
Breakfast hampers are a big hit
Inver is a small restaurant with rooms on Loch Fyne, on the west coast of Scotland. Rob and Pamela Brunton took over the business in 2015, winning various accolades – including a Catey in 2019 for Menu of the Year. “We built the sort of place we like to spend time,” say the couple.
With six boutique cabins, each sleeping two, right on the shores of the lake, breakfast is delivered in handmade willow baskets rather than in the restaurant. “It’s a better experience for the guests, who get to enjoy their delicious breakfast in privacy with those awesome views and get dressed whenever they like. It also means we don’t have to have the restaurant set, heated and staffed for the 12 guests,” adds Pam.
It’s also another opportunity to show off Pam’s kudos in the kitchen. “It’s like Christmas morning – you get to unwrap all these little parcels while still in your pyjamas,” she says. The baskets hold flasks of coffee or tea, freshly squeezed juices, homemade burnt honey and cardamom granola, their own yogurt and fruit compote in a spectrum of seasonal flavours (fig leaf and raspberry is a favourite), local cheeses and Inver charcuterie with porridge bread, cultured butter and jams; and a soft boiled egg with mayonnaise and crunchy herb salt. Plus, guests get one of their bespoke viennoiserie, all based on traditional Scottish pastries and breakfast flavours, with the ‘bacon fat rowie’ a particular highlight (think laminated dough with pork fat).
The baskets are taken to the rooms by the housekeeper, Jo, who arrives early and bakes the pastries, boils the eggs, slices the bread, makes the coffee and assembles the baskets. Guests bring their breakfast order sheets to dinner the night before. Brunton says: “We put the eggs in the blanching basket and take the raw, proofed pastries from the freezer and lay them out on baking sheets in the big fridge. Someone fills the yogurt pots and little jars of pork rillettes, jam and mayonnaise. We do all the prep, but Jo serves everything herself.”
Bacon butty, but not as you know it
Voted one of the UK’s best hotel breakfasts by The Telegraph, which heaped praise on its bacon sandwich, Cornish boutique farm stay Coombeshead has built up a cult following since it opened in 2016.
A joint venture from chefs Tom Adams and April Bloomfield, the English-born chef proprietor of the Spotted Pig in New York, the former dairy farm close to the Devon border offers nine bedrooms, plus a restaurant, farm shop, café, and a bakery. Adams and his team endeavour to grow and rear as much as they can on the farm itself, even making all their own sausages, pies and charcuterie.
Manager Matt Chorlton says: “Breakfast will always include plenty of our sourdough and malt loaf, baked on-site using flour from heritage grain grown by Fred Price at Gothelney Farm stoneground in our little mill, eggs from our chickens, preserves from our fruit crop, honey from our beehives, and of course, some form of pork from our Middlewhite and Mangalitza pigs. At the moment, this is taking the form of either hog’s pudding – a traditional Cornish breakfast sausage, or a smoked bacon jowl, which are perfect wedged between some bread and accompanied by our brown sauce.”
Staffing breakfast can be challenging, says Chorlton. “But we work our rota to ensure early starts are shared out. But to be honest, most guests are nursing hangovers following the previous evening’s dinner, so they don’t tend to appear much before 9am.”
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