Food is probably my favourite way to discover places. (That, and art.) So when I was contemplating how best to distill my recent trip to London into a pocket-sized blog post, I figured – why not just stick to what I love? And hence, what you have here is a sort of panorama of London viewed through the day’s most important meal: 6 different breakfasts, 6 specific districts, 6 unique experiences of London. Refer to it as a general guide to the city, or use it as a pool of ideas for your next brunch in town. (And please forgive me for the awful quality of the photos. I try to be inconspicuous with my phone camera.) Tuck in, and enjoy!
1. L’eau à la Bouche, Haggerston (Hackney)
Haggerston is London’s true hipster central. While Shoreditch and Hoxton have become almost mainstream in the process of gentrification, Haggerston still maintains the aura of a community centered around a strong sense of belonging and dedication to the local. Come by on a Saturday morning to experience Broadway Market, the local festival of artisan bread, seasonal veggies, handmade satchels, and eccentric characters.
If you come early, you might score a spot next to a modern-day Proust lookalike at a quaint little deli-cum-bistro, where the staff will call you by the French equivalent of your name and from where you’ll be able to observe, facing a gigantic window with your bol of café au lait and a croissant aux amandes, the comings and goings of life outside. While there’s probably no reason to choose L’eau à la Bouche over any other of the many cafés lining Broadway Market, this place serves a lively atmosphere, delicious fresh food and excellent pastries as well as quite satisfactory coffee, alongside a dose of genuine French charm.
2. The Proud Archivist, De Beauvoir Town (Hackney)
Tucked between Islington and Dalston, De Beauvoir Town, just a hop and skip across Regent’s Canal from Shoreditch, was originally envisaged as a residential area, until it was redeveloped as an industrial zone in the early 20th century. Today, it’s one hip, artsy, laid-back London nook, with those iconic low red-brick factory buildings that lend themselves so handsomely to sunny lofts and seem to attract swarms of those with a flair for the artistic, designer, and communal. In this regard, The Proud Archivist falls perfectly into its setting. Located on the bank of picturesque Regent’s Canal, where time never seems to quicken to more than a leisurely trot, it’s spacious, modern interior serves as a café, bar, gallery, and events space all in one.
Come here on a lazy sun-drenched morning and help yourself to one in the delightful array of seasonal dishes inspired by cuisines both intimately comforting and exotically appealing. After breakfast, if you can ever leave, take a walk along the canal winding your way into polished Islington, or pop over to Shoreditch for some more of London’s local culture.
3. Kaffeine, Fitzrovia (Westminster)
If you need the proverbial morning pick-me-up and can handle having your mind blown in the early hours, go no further than this artisan Aussie coffee shop in the heart of Fitzrovia. Come early (and I mean early!) on a busy workday, find a cosy spot in the tiny interior, and let yourself be caressed by the classic morning coffee shop bustle as you savour excellent coffee, fresh pastries, and a remarkably aromatic carrot and lemon marmalade. (Try it with their equally amazing house-made peanut butter on a slice of gargantuan toast, and then tell me if you’ve ever tasted anything as good in your entire life.)
The motley customers of this pulsating pod reflect the patchiness of Fitzrovia. While most visitors from abroad come here mainly to mosey around the impressive British Museum, the district has so much more to offer. Originally developed by small landowners, it became a bohemian centre in the early 20th century, a status which it retaines until the present day. It was inhabited by the likes of Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Rimbaud, and its legendary Fitzroy Tavern was frequented by such legends as Dylan Thomas and George Orwell. The area was popular among musicians in the 1980s, with Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan making local appearances and Boy George and Coldplay counting among residents. Today, Fitzrovia continues to be the hub of London’s avant-garde, housing many galleries, architectural and interior design studios, as well as the headquarters of several broadcasting and production companies (including BBC, CNN, and MTV).
4. Darwin Brasserie, City of London
It was a foggy day in London Town when we turned up at 20 Fenchurch Street to have breakfast at Darwin Brasserie in the newly opened Sky Garden. Reminiscent of the scenes in the Mary Poppins film where Jane and Michael accompany their father to the bank, the City was grey and glum. But, not quite unlike the birds looking to be fed, we flew up 35 floors to a haven of glass and steel and lush greenery, offering stunning views over a city just coming to life as well as excellent breakfast fare in a modernly rustic space.
Few realise today that this is where it all began. This was where the old Roman settlement and port, Londonium, formed the foundation of the 8-million metropolis that London is today. And if there’s any part of London that’s iconic of its world status, it’s definitely the City. A global financial capital, it accounts for 2.4% of UK’s GDP and is home to the world’s most powerful corporate behemoths. It seems somehow fitting, therefore, that breakfast in the City should be had up among the gods, in a garden of Eden, sipping your English Breakfast while observing the scuttling, squabbling rabble below.
5. The Wolseley, St. James’s (Westminster)
Put on something chic when you come to The Wolseley. And not just because it’s an impossibly stylish art-nouveau café equipped with smartly dressed waiters and silver-plated tableware, but because the high priestess of fashion, American Vogue editor-in-chief (and artistic director across Condé Nast, if GQ is more in your line of glossy), Anna Wintour, is reported to be a regular. (After all, London’s own Vogue House is only a short walk away.)
The Wolseley is the perfect starting spot for a grand day out in London. Piccadilly is lined with some of London’s finest boutiques and department stores, while the Royal Housing Complex (Buckingham palace, Clarence House, Spencer House etc, as per my self-invented neologism) is literally around the corner. The tiny St. James’s district is dotted with exclusive shops and restaurants, and the old aristocratic homes (now mostly repurposed for commercial use) are like an outdoor architectural gallery of elegance and charm.
6. Egg Break, Notting Hill (Kensington and Chelsea)
Ah, Notting Hill. Call me corny, but to me, this district is just like Hugh Grant’s smile. Slightly goofy and toothy, yet charmingly friendly and entirely unpretentious. And somehow, even after all these years, cute!
Looking at Egg Break from the outside, you might think it’s just another unremarkable hole-in-the-wall eatery. Things get a little better once you enter the inviting, rustic space, but the real wow-effect is delivered when your food arrives, bountiful and beautiful, arranged on colourful plates and just bursting with colour and flavour. Set out from here on an exploratory tour of one of London’s most charming districts, perusing bookshops and ogling at gaudy houses. And don’t forget to stop by the famous Portobello Road for one of its iconic markets!
There’s so much to experience in London. Just like its people come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes, ages and shades of tan, the sheer variety of cuisines it offers is mind-boggling. Anything you want – from the simplest street food to the fanciest fine dining – is available upon request. All you have to do is take the plunge.