We all have our own ideas about what constitutes the perfect brunch. It’s hard to say who does this lovely tradition best, with the Americans, British and continental Europeans all turning out their own unique versions. Having sampled many a brunch from Copenhagen and London to New York, Sydney and Amsterdam, I have formed a few passionate opinions on the subject of brunch myself. To all you brunch skeptics out there, yes it is a real meal and no, a mere croissant or a fruit salad at 11AM doesn’t count. So what elements does this elusive part-breakfast part-lunch contain, then? And what differentiates brunch from a mid-morning snack?
Firstly, and very importantly, there is the setting. Even before getting to the menu, the right atmosphere is required. You can never go wrong with a warm, cosy, wood paneled cafe, with lots of inviting cushions and the faint tinkling of jazz in the background. Somewhere with personality, the very opposite of the soulless, sterile minimalism that seems to be the hallmark of ‘quality’ everywhere these days. Perhaps a few glamourous black and white prints on the wall, an eccentric owner and definitely somewhere both pet and child friendly. (This is something that the French and Danish do so enviably well and the English, for example, do so appallingly: providing top rate facilities for both children and pets almost everywhere without encouraging intrusiveness and bad behavior).
So if you are lucky enough to have stumbled upon the right establishment, this is a good start. If you arrive on a Saturday or Sunday morning, however, you will inevitably be confronted by endless crowds. Depending on the place, you’ll probably be able to enjoy a brunch menu on weekdays, too, often aimed at the new up and coming ‘business breakfast’ professionals or ladies who lunch. If this is an option for you, you’ll get all the enjoyment of a great brunch with none of the queues or general air of contented chaos which seems to be inimical to cafes on weekends the world over.
So finally, we get to the all important aspect: the food itself. First rule? Freshness and quality of ingredients. Some of the best brunches I have ever eaten have consisted of just two or three ingredients, but were so wonderfully fresh I simply didn’t need any more. Lots of something quite good is never going to be a substitute for a little bit of something excellent. A good rule for life in general, I find, but especially where food is concerned. Go to Copenhagen for a plate of melt-in-your-mouth smoked salmon, creamy scrambled eggs and a batch of organic, whole-wheat bread and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Or to New York for a stack of authentic blueberry pancakes. A good selection of pastries (and these really must be fresh baked to be enjoyed) or a sourdough loaf with raspberry jam are also welcome additions to any brunch spread. The same goes for a refreshing bowl of fruit salad. Where so many brunches go wrong, however, is in trying to combine all of these things at once and doing all of them quite well, rather than one or two fantastically. This is always a letdown, and invariably results in a lot of wasted food. Brunch is a little bit like a hotel breakfast buffet- we don’t do it very often so get far too over excited and overindulge terribly when we do. Get into the habit of brunching little but often, and you won’t regret it.
A fun and affordable way to do this, of course, is by experimenting at home on your nearest and dearest. I have never met a man (or woman, for that matter) who doesn’t love waking up to eggs benedict and a paper on a sunday morning. And there’s always the slight chance the favor will be returned… so try it this weekend and let us know how you get on! Happy brunching!