Aqua Shard review: Brunch with a view at one of London’s highest restaurants
The Shard is home to six restaurants, all boasting amazing views of the capital. I’ve been to the bar in Aqua Shard on several occasions for drinks, but had never dined before. So I was thrilled when my boyfriend treated me to a surprise brunch at the venue for our anniversary. When dining at a sky-high venue, it’s always hit and miss if the weather will be on your side. On the afternoon we visited, London was suffering from questionable weather, but we managed to get a clear enough view for the first hour of our meal before the rain came down. We were fortunate enough to be given one of the best seats in the place, with seats looking out over the River Thames, St Paul’s Cathedral and the rest of the City.
We were opting for the weekend brunch set menu, which features 3 courses and two amuse bouches for £48. I made sure I had eaten a light breakfast to prepare myself for such a big meal early in the day. Our first amuse bouche was pumpkin soup, which was lovely and creamy and tasted sweeter than I anticipated.
To start with, I opted for a brunch favourite – Tor Bay Lobster Benedict (Cackleberry Farm Egg, Roasted Lobster Hollandaise and Sea Greens). The serving had just the right amount of Hollandaise sauce so as not to overpower the egg and lobster. The seagreens were an unusual, but good accompaniment.
For my mains, I went for another fish dish – Crispy Cod Cakes (Pickled Lemon, Samphire and Cucumber Salad, and Spiced Kelp Aioli). As a regular consumer of fish cakes, I was pleased by the quality and the accompanying sides gave the flavour a different approach than usual.
In between the mains and dessert, we had another amuse bouche of Yoghurt Sorbet and Crispy Strawberries, which really cleansed the palate. For my final dishes I decided on the English Bramley Apple Crumble (Toasted Almond Crumb and Nutmeg Ice Cream). When it arrived, it was a very different crumble to I’m used to – sort of a deconstructed twist on a traditional favourite. Although the portion was small, the rich sweetness made it very filling and was the perfect end to the meal.
Overall, we had a fabulous brunch. The weather wasn’t on our side, but we still got to enjoy a decent amount of times with good view before the rain came down. The service was good and the menu choice offered something a little different from the usual brunch offerings.
- Aqua Shard, Level 31, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, London Bridge, SE1 9RY. Nearest station: London Bridge. Weekend brunch is served from 10.30am-3.30pm. For booking, visit the Aqua Shard website.
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A unique London brunch experience at the Underground Brunch Club
Review: Dining in an old tube train in Walthamstow.
I love the concept of supper clubs, although I haven’t been to as many as I should due to the advance planning required for many of them. However, as a lover of quirky and unusual London events, when I heard about Basement Galley’s Underground Supper Club, I was eager to experience it.
Basement Galley originally started in a Brixton flat run by two friends Tom Fothergill and chef Alex Cooper in 2011. However, it is now an established catering company who host supper clubs on a decommissioned 1969 London Underground carriage in Walthamstow… which, obviously, belonged to the Victoria line. The carriage is now on street level and sits in the grounds of the Walthamstow Pump House Museum. Having huge success with their evening supper clubs on the tube, they recently expanded to offering brunch – one of the most popular weekend activities for many Londoners.
I visited recently for a Saturday brunch with my boyfriend. When booking, you have several options depending on how intimate you want your experience or size of your party. In the traditional Supper Club spirit, we were happy to join a communal table so we were seated in a typical row of tube seating with a table in the standing area for £39pp. However, there are also two and four people seating options if your party wants more privacy. Arriving at the yard, we were greeted with a welcome shot of Bloody Caesars with Smoked Vodka, which certainly woke us up. We entered the tube through the driver’s carriage which was fascinating getting to see the old signage and various controls.
Admittedly, we were initially rather distracted by the details of the vintage carriage to look at the menu. As someone who has grown up with Brixton as my closest tube station, I have a particular affection for the Victoria line and had ridden this particular tube stock for most of my life until they were decommissioned in 2011.
The set menu changes seasonally and includes three courses with bottomless tea or coffee, with options to order Prosecco or G ‘n’ Ts. To start with, we snacked on picked crudités and sipped orange juice and tea/coffee while getting acquainted with our fellow table guests, a friendly and jovial mix of mostly professional 20-30 somethings. Our first course were Cauliflower Fritters with an Avocado Dip. I really enjoyed the contrast of the crispy fritters with the smooth dip and it didn’t spend long on my plate. For mains, was an Irish treat of Colcannon Mash, Poached Egg and Pancetta Crisp, which was really delicious, but not so photogenic as the other courses (hence the lack of image in this piece!). Admittedly, I felt rather full afterwards, but just about managed to find room for the very naughty Caramelised Banana Brioche and Peanut Ice Cream, which was tasty, but very sweet.
Overall, it was a great brunch experience. The food was brilliant, the service was attentive and friendly and the setting which was pretty special. I highly recommend for any Londoners looking to spice up their usual weekend brunch routine with something a little different.
- The Basement Galley Supper Club takes place at the Walthamstow Pump House Museum, 10 S Access Road, Walthamstow, E17 8AX. Nearest station: St James Street. For booking, visit the Basement Galley website.
For Metro Girl’s other restaurant reviews, click here.
Balthazar review: Brunching French-American style at this upmarket brasserie
Balthazar is a long-standing New York institution, that finally came over the Pond in February 2013. I heard rave reviews from friends and colleagues that had visited, particularly about the brunch, so it had been on my wish list for some time. Finally, I had some relatives visiting so thought it would be a nice treat for go for brunch.
While weekend brunch is served until 4pm, you have to arrive a bit earlier on a weekday for their Le Petit Dejeuner menu, which is served until 11am. Our party of four arrived at 10am – slightly earlier than I would like for a rare weekday off, but not exactly up with the lark. I admit I’m not a morning person, so wasn’t particularly perky when we arrived. We initially entered the Balthazar Boulangerie – which smelt amazing by the way – before being pointed to the actual restaurant next door. Balthazar, like its New York original, is described as an all-day brasserie offering French bistro food. The venue has plenty of character, with high ceilings, luxurious red leather booths and vintage-style mirrors.
When it came to the breakfast menu, there are plenty of options both sweet and savoury. It took ages to commit to a dish because a) there were so many alluring choices and b) I was half-asleep pre-caffeine, but fortunately the staff were very patient. Despite the predominantly French menu, the Big Apple influence is also clear with the New York Pancakes and Hazelnut Waffles among the featured dishes. After much deliberation, I eventually settled for the Scrambled Eggs and Cornish Crab with toasted Balthazar sourdough toast (from their bakery next door) and crème fraiche. It was a great choice. The eggs were so light, fluffy and creamy, I would actually go as far to say the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had. The crab brought a new element to a familiar dish. Meanwhile, two of my party opted for the uber healthy Balthazar Breakfast Salad with quinoa, spinach, avocado, crispy bacon, roast Tabasco tomato and a poached egg (£11), which they said was really tasty.
To accompany our breakfast we opted for English Breakfast Tea and Fresh Orange Juice, which was good quality. The service was brilliant. We had numerous waiters attend to us during the meal and they were incredibly friendly and attentive. Overall, we all loved our breakfast – food, setting and service. I can’t wait to go back to try out the weekend brunch menu.
- Balthazar, 4-6 Russell Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 7BN. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Holborn. For more information, visit the Balthazar website.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.
Tulse Hill Hotel review: Seasonal British fare in a charming Victorian gastropub
Situated in between West Norwood, Brixton, Herne Hill and West Dulwich, Tulse Hill has long been overlooked as a destination for drinking and dining. Having lived in the nearby area all my life, I admittedly never stepped foot inside the Tulse Hill Hotel’s former guise as a regular ‘old men’s’ pub. However, when I heard the pub had been taken over in late 2014 by the Metropolitan Pub Company, known for their quality gastropubs on both sides of the river, I knew I had to check it out.
Tulse Hill has existed as a residential area since the early 19th century, with the land being owned by the Tulse family since the 1650s. The opening of Tulse Hill train station in the 1860s really created a boom in the area’s growth. Situated on what was muddy Norwood Lane – now Norwood Road – the Tulse Hill Hotel was built in 1840 and became a notable landmark in the area. The Met Pub Co have restored the hotel back to its Victorian grandeur, creating a nine-room boutique hotel and splitting the downstairs pub into separate restaurant and drinking areas with an antique bar and cosy fireplaces.
Despite being situated on a busy junction on the South Circular, it’s surprisingly relaxing and quiet inside. Having visited last summer just for drinks, the decent sized garden out back was quite a draw on a warm evening. Earlier this month for a friend’s birthday, I finally got the chance to check out the restaurant when we booked a lunch seating. Visiting on a weekday afternoon, the pub was fairly quiet in comparison to evenings and weekends when I have been for drinks. We were shown to a comfortable table for three with views out of the wide landscape windows to the garden, letting in lots of light.
The restaurant offers seasonal British fare throughout the day, from breakfast through to brunch and lunch and dinner, as well as bar food in the pub section. To my delight, they serve brunch dishes daily up until 5pm. So despite some of the delicious lunch options on offer such as Stone Bass or Onglet Steak, I couldn’t resist the lure of the brunch menu. I decided on Poached Eggs and Smoked Salmon served on Sourdough Toast (£8). The egg was cooked perfectly, with the yolk oozing over the salmon and bread… delicious. As we were celebrating a birthday, we had to have some bubbles as well, opting for an Elderflower Bellini, which was a perfect light and refreshing tipple for that time of the day. It was also served in a coupe glass, rather than a flute, which was a nice touch.
Despite not having a huge appetite on the day, the dessert menu was just too appealing so I plumped for a Chocolate Tart and Salted Caramel Ice Cream (£7). It was enjoyable, but very rich so perhaps recommended for serious chocoholics. The ice cream did tone down the richness somewhat and complemented it well.
Overall, it was a good experience and I will definitely be back to both the restaurant and the pub. The staff are friendly and professional. We had a really lovely and chatty waitress who gave us her personal recommendations. The venue itself is really fitted out well, it’s very cosy, yet full of light and the period features are charming. Tulse Hill has long needed a decent food and drink venue and I’m glad it finally has one after all these years.
- Tulse Hill Hotel, 150 Norwood Road, Tulse Hill, SE24 9AY. Nearest station: Tulse Hill. For more information, visit the Tulse Hill Hotel website.
For more of Metro Girl’s restaurant reviews, click here.
The Riding House Café review: Weekend brunching at a buzzy, all-day brasserie
Counter review: Indulge your sweet (and savoury) tooth with brunch at Vauxhall’s new dining destination
As a South Londoner, I regularly pass through Vauxhall, but admittedly have never explored the area’s food and drink establishments until now. So when Zomato invited me to a bloggers’ brunch (#ZomatoMeetup) at one of Vauxhall’s newest dining destinations, I was looking forward to finding another side of SW8 besides a transit stop.
Arriving at Counter, a New York-style bar and brasserie, I was pleasantly surprised. Despite being under railway arches, the contemporary design and artwork really gives the large venue a cool, light and relaxed vibe. There’s bar seating at the counter for those wanting just a drink (they have an extensive wine and cocktail menu), and plenty of booths to cosy into if you’re nursing a hangover.
On Sunday afternoon, I joined a select group of foodie bloggers to try out Counter’s new brunch menu and their special ‘Build Your Own Bellinis’. For £20, you are served a bottle of Prosecco, Peach Puree and Sliced Peaches, so you can make your own cocktail to your tastes. Being able to control the flavours of your cocktail is a rare concept in restaurants so was a welcome idea to me. As much as I was enjoying my Bellinis, I also ordered a pot of Earl Grey Tea, which went down nicely, and some water, which was frequently topped up by the attentive staff.
The brunch menu certainly provided many options, with plenty to satisfy those with savoury or sweet leanings. As a pescatarian, my potential choices can often be limited on brunch menus, but I had plenty to peruse on Counter’s menu. Those with gluten-free and vegetarian diets will also find good options and menu labelling. After seeing a fellow diner a few tables away receiving the same, I plumped for the Baked Eggs, Truffle Mushrooms, Tomato, Spinach and Walnut Pesto (£8.50). Served in a frying pan, the eggs were just on the cusp between soft and hard – exactly how I like them – and the pesto brought out different flavours than I usually expect from egg-based brunch dishes. It was delicious and filling and felt healthier than a usual fry-up. Some of my fellow bloggers opted for Counter’s signature brunch dish – the New England Crab Cake with Artichoke, Smoked Salmon, Poached Egg and Chive Mayonnaise (£12), which I fortunate enough to try a bite off and thoroughly enjoyed.
Although feeling pretty full after my Baked Eggs and several Bellinis, I just about managed to find room for dessert – I felt I couldn’t leave without trying one of the enticing options. As a peanut butter fan and being in the mood for a bit of indulgence, I ordered the Peanut Butter Parfait and Raspberry Jelly and Blondie (£6). The dish was well presented and a perfect size, with the peanut butter flavour not too dominant and the creamy texture really making it easy to digest.
Throughout our boozy brunch, we were well attended to by the friendly and helpful staff. An added bonus was the entertainment from the live pianist, who played requests so we were treated to some classic tracks during our meal. A fun touch in the ladies’ toilets was a poster of Sex And The City character Smith (played by actor Jason Lewis) showcasing his shirtless ripped physique in the Absolut Hunk ad. Overall, I was very impressed and think Counter is a great addition to Vauxhall. The venue is open until late most nights, so would be a good destination for a late night snack and cocktails. I’ll definitely be back again.
- Counter, Arch 50, 7-11 South Lambeth Place, Vauxhall, SW8 1SP. Nearest station: Vauxhall. Tel: 020 3693 9600. For more information, visit the Counter website.
NB. Although Metro Girl was a guest of Counter and Zomato, my views are, as always, my own.
OCTOBER 2018 UPDATE: This venue is permanently closed.
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Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings review: Brunch and bottomless cocktails… what’s not to love?
The Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings is the latest venture from social supremos Bourne & Hollingsworth. The company has already impressed with theirs bars Reverend RW Simpson and Bourne & Hollingsworth Bar and their events such as Blitz Party, Dark Circus and Prohibition. Last September, they added the B&H Buildings – their first restaurant – to their repertoire.
Located in Clerkenwell, just off Exmouth Market, the B&H Buildings is an all-day bar and brasserie offering a relaxed environment. Last week, I paid a visit to experience their new weekend brunch party, which offers fresh English dishes and bottomless cocktails. The first thing which struck me upon entering the venue was how light and airy it was compared to other restaurants. The interiors were inviting with lots of greenery, a good environment for the eyes after a boozy night before. The bar was full of inviting vintage-style sofas and coffee tables, while the dining area featured a mix of patterned armchairs, marble tables and garden furniture, giving a conservatory-feel.
The brunch menu features a choice of single serving or bottomless cocktails – offering unlimited refills on classics such as Bellinis and Bloody Marys for £15/£16. My companion was rather braver than me and ordered a Bloody Mary served to his preference of extra hot. I was in the mood for something a bit easier on the taste buds and ordered one of my favourites, a peach Bellini.
The food menu, printed daily complete with weather forecast which was a nice touch, was a great mix of sweet and savoury, meaning it took me a while to finally commit to a dish. As good as my usual favourite, the Eggs Royale looked, I decided to try something different and opted for the Crispy Potato Hash (£9), which can be served three ways and with a choice of poached hen’s egg or fried duck’s egg. Presented in a crisp white bowl, my hash was mixed with the salmon and topped with two eggs and hollandaise sauce. The potato hash was fairly light and tasted lovely mixed with the salmon and egg. My companion went for a traditional breakfast (from £8.50), comprising of two eggs (to your preference) and toast, with a choice of three items. He decided on Cumberland sausages – which were a little crispy – tomato and black pudding, and evidently enjoyed the filling spread. I was in a rather greedy mood and wanted something sweet to follow so just about managed a second course of French toast with Caramelised Banana and Mixed Nuts (£6). It looked amazing – very gooey and sugary – when it arrived on our table and fortunately it tasted as good as it looked. It was pure indulgence.
Overall I really enjoyed the brunch. The B&H Buildings were relaxing and I found the space a really comfortable space to be in. The service was friendly and we were well attended to throughout our leisurely meal. The food was good and I thought the menu offered a good choice of brunch items. It was a great place to spend a rainy Sunday and I’ll definitely be back.
- Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, 42 Northampton Road, Clerkenwell, EC1R 0HU. Nearest station: Farringdon or Angel. The weekend brunch parties run from 10am-4pm on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit the Bourne & Hollingsworth buildings website.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.
Duck & Waffle review: A pretty fabulous brunch on the 40th floor
Since opening in summer 2012, Duck & Waffle has been one of the hottest dining spots in town. Standing out with its 40th floor views of the city and its signature synonymous dish, the restaurant has backed up its unique selling points with a stellar menu. I have wanted to go for some time, but unsurprisingly, with a long waiting list, I hadn’t quite got round to booking a table. Earlier this year, when I heard one of my best friends was visiting from South Korea, we decided to treat ourselves to a Saturday brunch at the venue and booked our table two months in advance.
I had already dined at D&W’s sister restaurant SushiSamba downstairs five months earlier, so was well aware of the stunning views of the City of London and beyond. However, views aside, D&W would be providing a totally different culinary experience. Overseen by award-winning Executive Chef Daniel Doherty (who is quite the avid Tweeter and tweeted me after my meal), the menu is inspired by British and European cuisine and including breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner.
Despite having been to SushiSamba, for some reason the high-speed lift was faster than I remembered as it whizzed up to the 40th floor. After checking in with the hostess, I was thrilled to see our table for two was in the corner of the dining room so we had windows to the left and back of my seat. As I had already dined in the building before, I decided to let my friend have the 180° view while I had my back to the window.
Although lunch options were available at the time of our seating, my friend and I were determined on brunching. While the food menu had too many delicious things to decide on quickly, we started our session with mimosas. My friend – a carnivore – decided it would be wrong to not order the signature dish – Crispy Leg Confit served on a Waffle, topped with Fried Duck Egg and Mustard Maple Syrup. As I am a pescatarian, I decided on a twist on an old favourite – Organic Colombian Eggs with Avocado served on Toast, paying a supplement to add Smoked Salmon. The added herbs and vegetables gave a refreshing twist to the usual eggs on toast. The eggs were perfectly fluffy and light and the bread not too over-toasted (a pet hate of mine, so many brunch places love to make their toast rock hard to cut!). My friend absolutely loved the Duck and Waffle and said the fusion of savoury and sweet worked really well.
Although my friend was stuffed after her evidently more filling dish, I knew I had to find some room in my stomach for the absolutely divine dessert menu. I ordered the Bananas Brûlée Belgian Waffle served with Homemade Nutella, Vanilla Ice Cream and Peanut Crunch. It was absolutely heavenly, I’m a huge fan of waffles, Nutella, ice cream and peanuts in general, so the combination of them all was dessert heaven for me. Admittedly after having just eating eggs and toast, it was a bit of a challenge to finish, but fortunately my friend gallantly offered to help me out.
Overall, all of our dishes were absolutely delicious. The service was fast, friendly and informative and I was grateful they had given us such prime seating. At around £76 for our whole meal, including service, is perhaps a bit steeper than I would usually spend on brunch, but the experience made it worth while. I noticed a lot of couples, friends and families were there for special occasions, such as birthdays and engagements, so is a nice venue to treat yourself. I will be back… am particularly curious about visiting at 3am as the restaurant is open 24 hours a day!
- Duck & Waffle, Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY. Nearest station: Liverpool Street. For more information and booking, visit the Duck & Waffle website.
For Metro Girl’s review of Duck & Waffle’s sister restaurant downstairs, SushiSamba, click here.
To read more of Metro Girl’s restaurant reviews, click here.
Flat White review: Get your caffeine fix or hearty brunch in this busy Soho spot
As more and more of Soho is bought up by chain restaurants and bars, it’s refreshing to see some independent businesses are still flourishing. Flat White has been serving up ‘proper’ coffee – including its synonymous flat white of course – since 2005 and is bustling on both weekends and weekday. It’s quite a small space so isn’t quite the place to wile away the hours over a leisurely brunch, but is a good place to stop for a bite to eat when you’re on the go or a decent coffee. Flat White prides itself on serving the artisan-style coffee so popular in Australia and New Zealand, so is popular with both, as well as Soho-ians. An added bonus is the fact they sell their own original blend of Square Mile coffee.
Two friends and I met for brunch on a Saturday afternoon and were lucky enough to get the last table in the place. During our hour at the café, there was plenty of people coming in for takeaway drinks and I heard a few disappointed people hoping for a table. For those who want to eat, there is around 8-10 small tables inside, with two benches outside if you want some of that fresh Soho air… or at least soak at the atmosphere of the famous market. Flat White is no frills when it comes to the tables and décor, but what it lacks in comfort, it more than makes up with its food and drink.
For those who want to be healthy, they serve porridge, fruit and natural yoghurt. However, if you’re not too bothered about the calories there are plenty of pastries, waffles and cooked breakfasts. I opted for one of my favourite brunch dishes – smoked salmon and scrambled eggs with toast. It was a good size – not too big a portion – with the scrambled eggs light and fluffy exactly as I liked them. At £7 was a reasonable price too for Soho. While my friends opted for the famous coffees (approx. £2.50), I was thrilled to see they served Barry’s Tea – a classic Irish brand – so opted for a mug of that instead. If you’re after a decent, good value breakfast/brunch when you’re on the go or a proper coffee, I’d recommend giving Flat White a try.
- Flat White, 17 Berwick Street, Soho, W1F 0PT. Opening times: Mon-Fri 8am to 7pm, Sat-Sun 9am to 6pm. Nearest tube: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Flat White website.
To read Metro Girl’s other restaurant and pub reviews, click here.
Blue Brick Cafe review: A little Veggie heaven in a corner of East Dulwich
It has to be said – I love a good brunch. Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day, but I like to sleep in on weekends (when I’m not working that is), so brunch becomes a viable and attractive option by the time I emerge sleepy-eyed from my home. For Mother’s Day, I only had a few hours to spend with my dear ol’ ma (less of the old I’m sure she would say when she reads this!), so we decided to keep it simple and stay local.
Together with my sister and brother-in-law, we headed into East Dulwich and I had list of potential brunch venues to check out, depending on where had availability without a booking or queue. Having parked in the Northcross Road area, a sign for the Blue Brick Cafe caught my eye so we headed straight there. Although we were a party of four and the café looked pretty busy, they were able to accommodate us. The café is an inviting, small corner building with large windows letting in lots of light and attractive blue tiling surrounding the exterior. The café includes around seven tables and features outdoor seating for warmer months. The venue has a vintage, homely feel with old tables and schoolchairs and old bottles decorating the shelves and windowsills.
After sitting down, we were presented with the breakfast menu (vegetarian and vegan), with additional specials on the chalkboard behind us. As it was around 2pm, most of my party were opting for brunches, although my sister fancied the vegetarian risotto from the lunch specials. I ordered the Full Veggie – homemade baked beans, sourdough bread, scrambled eggs, vegetarian sausage, spinach, mushrooms and tomato. Although it was busy, we ended up waiting around 15 minutes for our food, which went quickly as we chatted while sipping our drinks. While most of my party opted for traditional hot drinks like cappuccino and lattes, I ordered the spiced hot apple and elderflower, which was a really tasty drink. When my brunch arrived, my plate was full to the brim with food, which was the perfect portion for me. The food was delicious – I particularly liked the homemade baked beans, you could really taste the difference and it was nice to have spinach included, as so many brunch places don’t offer the vegetable as an option.
Overall, we all enjoyed our brunch – and my sister her lunch of risotto. The service was friendly and swift and the café was a relaxed, quaint place with a nice, local clientele. I must go back and try lunch or dinner.
- Blue Brick Cafe, 14 Fellbrigg Road, East Dulwich, SE22 9HH. Tel: 020 8299 8670. Nearest station: East Dulwich or buses: P13, 40, 176, 185.
To read other Metro Girl’s restaurant and bar reviews, click here.