Sunday, 22 January 2017

Read o'er this And after, this, and then to brunch with What appetite you have.

A bitter sweet brunch this weekend. (And not like that time I stubbed my toe on the table leg as I sat down and thus enjoyed honey and tears on toast for my first course.) Sweet because this brunch was spent with some of my oldest friends - and even though they've spent the years since we were all students together having gorgeous children whilst I have mostly been having gin and tonics, I can't help but feel nineteen again when we all hang out. Bitter because obviously the world changed on Friday and even bacon is slightly less tasty now we find ourselves in the new order... one where 'grabbing pussy' no longer means scooping up one's feline companion for a quick cuddle.

Under the circumstances, grabbing a muffin or two (the baked variety obviously) can start to seem a little bit empty, and I was feeling doubly guilty not to be on the Women's March in London. But it turns out that one of the best ways to deal with global horror is to embrace comfort and joy on a smaller scale. These are friends with whom I once sat in mouldy lounges with ceiling tiles into which pornographic sketches had been etched so we're pretty good at accepting the background scenery and just getting things done. We talked politics - obviously. Not talking about politics at the moment would be not just ignoring the elephant in the room, but ignoring the elephant sat on your lap, brushing your hair with its trunk. But we also talked about what we could do about politics which helped.

So much love and support for the Women's March by the way...

Appropriately enough, the location for this particular brunch was the Stratford Upon Avon branch of Boston Tea Party - and in Stratford the town's Shakespeare connection means that you're surrounded by constant reminders that fictional and historical characters have messed things up just as badly in the past. Boston Tea Party itself is a chain of cafes, mostly found in the South West and boasting its own ethical, sustainable back story. There's something about cafe culture that seems to encourage this sort of thing - maybe its the optimism of breakfast - a fresh meal, fresh start sort of thing. Either way, it's nice to be enjoying a brunch that is doing its level best not to be making the world any worse.

Stratford BTP occupies a rather lovely, red-brick once upon a time school house and we found an upstairs table for our catch up...

Menu - Just what you'd expect, except breakfast, brunch and lunch are all served all day and thus all tend to merge into one anarchic selection. There's a general sourdough theme though, along with porridge and granola for the virtuous.

Staff - Friendly and laid back.

Put it in my face - I've been informed recently that in the States brunch is closer to lunch than breakfast so I had a club sandwich in homage. Or I just really fancied a club sandwich. You decide. Others went for more traditional smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. And one particularly avant garde young lady had a burger. (You can get away with it when you're under the age of ten...)

It has bacon so it totally counts as brunch... Right? RIGHT?

Crimes against eggs? - No poaching this week, but the scrambled eggs met the standard.

Atmosphere - Busy and family friendly. Colouring sheets were provided for the young and young at heart...

Topical talk - The addictive, relationship-threatening game that is Hive - it's like a fun version of Chess only with insects... How to eat avocados ethically. (The short version is buy them Fairtrade or avoid entirely. I was resistant to this plan until someone used the expression 'blood guacamole.') How to get involved in politics. The difference between the University of Warwick circa 1999 and 2017.

The tall, blond one says - "Hurray for free tea re-fills. Get your hands off my scrambled eggs, wife."

Verdict - All is not lost in the world when you can still enjoy lovely food like this with your friends. BTP is the brunch equivalent of a comfy blanket and a cup of tea. Only with actual tea.

Also featuring, green drink with every vegetable you ever refused to eat as a child.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Pancakes will make it all better.

You know that you really want brunch when you're willing to wake up an entire house of people on a Sunday morning and risk their hungover wrath in order to make it happen.

So it was this morning, when the tall blond one and I roused our guests a mere few hours after we had all stumbled into our beds with a combination of the promise of bacon and coffee (carrot) and some gentle shouting (stick) until we arrived at Bill's Cheltenham.

Bill's is a chain, but not in a bad, Starbucks on every corner kind of a way. According to the website, it started life as a greengrocers which sounds pretty lovely and wholesome to me. Its Cheltenham incarnation occupies two floors of one of the town's several million regency buildings and is adorned with dried chillies and gorgeous, low hanging chandeliers that make the tall, blond one hit his head and mutter darkly about spaces designed for hobbits.

Seriously, is the chandelier landing on them?

It's also a great place for brunch en masse as fifteen of us squeezed around a long upstairs table with only minimal enforced touching. I know how I feel when I'm seated near a big group in a restaurant and I suspect some of the families eating nearby viewed us with similar dread, but actually pre-food there was mostly some quiet staring into space, and people holding their heads, interspersed with the gentle rattle of paracetamol tablets being extracted from foil. I may have had a quiet weep when the unflappable waitress brought me coffee...

Anyway, onto to the details...

Menu - All the classics with an edge of hipster. Pretty much everything comes sprinkled with seeds, and there are vegetarian options with hummus and avocado. If this menu were a person it would have a beard and glasses and an air of gentle intellectualism.

Staff - European, chatty, receptive. Between us we ordered thirty different plates and indulged in a bit of competitive fussiness, swapping, changing and adding side dishes at will. At no point did our waitress shout "oh for god's sake" and rip up her order pad, which would have been well within her rights to be fair.

Put it in my face - I don't want to become predictable here, but I went eggs benedict again, with a side of avocado just to mix things up. And pudding pancakes. Because, y'know, pancakes. Around the table, we managed to cover most corners of the menu but special mention to the nameless individual who ordered donuts. For breakfast. Deviant.

Crimes against eggs? -Absolutely not. Golden, runny yolks.

How do you like those apples? I mean eggs...

Atmosphere - Buzzy and eclectic. Families, couples, and large groups of just about millennials like us.

Topical talk - Shared weird and wonderful hobbies. (Involving dressing up and role play. But not like that.) Home automation. (Apparently, I'm the only one unkeen on our new robot over-lords.) To spa or not to spa? (Always spa.)

Happy birthday to? - Brunch virgin Rob!

Happy birthday brunch faces!

The tall, blond one says - "Good hangover curing food. Prejudiced against tall people."

Verdict - Fluffy, gorgeous, enormous piles of cloud-like pancakes are always going to be a winner. But why did they take so long to to arrive? Definitely worth brunching, but not in a rush.

Because pancakes. Obviously.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

There's no place like the Tivoli...

Oh dearest Tivoli - you are in truth where my love affair with second breakfast began, so perhaps it's appropriate that you should be the first proper entry on this ode to brunch in blog form…

The tall, blond one and I used to live just around the corner from the Tivoli which was both delightful and a bit of a liability really as we got into the habit of treating it a bit like a large, posh extension of our front room.

It got so bad (good) that we stopped actually ordering brunch - we'd just sort of sidle in to our usual table and the lovely staff would bring us food - eggs benedict for me and a ham and cheese omelette for him.

But we moved house a year ago and now it's not quite so "oh god I'm walking right past it would be rude not to go in" convenient, we are less frequent visitors. When we do make it, the experience is enhanced by a certain nostalgic glow as we look back fondly on the crazy kids we were all of twelve months ago.

Last Saturday, we decided that seven days of January austerity were more than enough and so we headed down for a romantic tête-à-tête over bacon and eggs. One of the nicest things about the Tivoli is that it’s a big, homey space full of wooden floors and gleaming surfaces. (Including one of those weird, behind the bar mirrors where you keep thinking “Oh god, that poor girl looks tired” before realising you’re extending slightly smug sympathy to yourself.)

Traditionally, it’s also weirdly empty on weekend mornings which helps again with the ‘home’ extension metaphor, but does tend to make you unnecessarily hostile to other customers that dare to wander in. On this particular Saturday there were already four other people eating but we decided to be magnanimous and just sort of go with it…

I was too excited about eating to take a picture until half way through my food...

Anyway, the important stuff:

Menu – Traditional. There’s a full English and the usual trio of eggs (Benedict, Florentine and Royale which incidentally would make an excellent name for a three piece girl band…) alongside bacon and sausage sandwiches. They don’t do omelettes any more which is a crying shame but there is a chorizo dish if you feel like sticking it to Brexit (who doesn’t?) with a Spanish themed offering.

Staff – Young, cool, competent. We were sad that Gail wasn’t there.

Put it in my face 
– I’m a sucker for a sauce which is basically liquid butter so I stuck to the eggs benedict and the tall, blond one had the full English which is always a bonus as I get to steal his black pudding and tomato… Bonus points for the benedict coming with ham instead of bacon. All solid, tasty breakfast fare. Cleaned plates at the end of it.

Crimes against eggs? – Nope. Eggs were perfectly runny and golden.

Atmosphere – Chilled and lazy. Even with six of us in there, you could basically have a bit of a run round if you felt like it without getting in anybody’s way.

Topical talk 
 Trump, the forthcoming apocalypse and what to cook for dinner that evening. (I like to know where my next meal is coming from.)

The tall, blond one says 
 “Home away from home. Tasty and not too poncey. Why can’t I have baked beans?”

Verdict – Have brunched before. Will brunch again.

Wow, that chick looks tired.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Brunch, people. It's where it's at.

My theory is that brunch was basically invented by hobbits (what else do you call second breakfast?) which is really all the endorsement you need. After all, other than being the absolute best fantasy species to destroy evil magic rings forged in Mordor, what else do hobbits do well? They enjoy themselves.And brunch, more than any other meal is about enjoyment.

Breakfast is often utilitarian - a fuel-grabbing, time-boxed, perfunctory affair. And dinner groans under the weight of expectation - think exhausting competitive dinner parties or romantic meals a deux in which both parties are too constrained by first date nerves to smush their faces into their Camembert like they really want to. Even lunch has been more or less co-opted by either work (ah business lunches - a clever way for your boss to get you to work through your break) or family. (And whilst most of us love our families, the fact that every year literally hundreds of column inches are devoted to advising people on how to make it through eating Christmas lunch with theirs tells you all you need to know about how relaxing a family lunch really is.)

Brunch on the other hand is most often enjoyed with friends. It's OK to be hungover at brunch. It's OK to sit in companionable silence, drinking coffee and reading your book and basically not having to talk to anyone at all unless you fancy it. It's OK to be raucous and jovial too though because there are very few rules. You can order two courses (more on the joy of 'breakfast pudding' later on) or multiple sides or swap your fried eggs for poached eggs or black pudding or a plate of gleaming avocado.

It's not just the food though. The best brunches exist within a sacred bubble of contemplation. That soft, Sunday morning space when the world slows and shafts of sunlight drift through pub windows and your head begins to clear from the fog of sleep. I love it. I really do.

And that's why I spend more of my time (and money) than is strictly sensible, seeking out the best brunch experiences across Gloucestershire and beyond. Mostly with my husband, often with a variety of the lovely weirdos we like to call our friends.Occasionally, and controversially, even on my own.

So now, I'm going to write about it all too.

And hey, if nothing else, this whole blog is basically an excuse to use the 'Kate on toast' pun that the tall, blond one and I thought up during one lazy autumn brunch appropriately enough...

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