Unless you’ve lived in a bunker for the last five years or so, you cannot have missed the brunch phenomenon. Weekend plans rotate around brunch. ‘You free this Saturday? Fancy brunch?’
To scroll through Instagram on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday means a bombardment of reminders – in case you’d forgotten – that it is the weekend and, thus, brunch. Hen parties, baby showers, you’ve broken up with your boyfriend – brunch plus mimosas! It has become an integral structure of society – a plate of poached eggs, avocado on toast and a matcha latte.
Personally, I think it’s because breakfast, quite frankly, is the best meal of the day and we simply want to extend that pleasurable experience until dinner time when the normal food comes out (lunch, now, officially written off). Chefs are supplying the demand, each out-doing the other to bridge the gap between breakfast and dinner. Take Duck and Waffle, London’s skyscraper brunch destination, offering up confit duck leg with eggs, waffles and maple syrup, or the Rail House Cafe in Victoria serving a beef burger topped with poached eggs and hollandaise.
News outlets besiege the innocent reader with The Top 10 Brunches in London, The Ultimate Brunch Guide and Boozy and Bottomless: A Guide to Brunch so we instinctively crave blueberry pancakes or bubble and squeak, and oh look I must try that charcoal sourdough…
I can now reassure you, dear reader, no matter how many brunch cafes and restaurants pop up, each with more titillating menus than the last, none will be any better than one served to a crowd of good friends in your own home.
If you are a regular reader of this ode to eating that I call a blog, you may recall my birthday was dominated by food. A mouth-watering brunch of pancakes hit me as inspiration and, after a couple of years of no birthday celebrations with friends, I felt I was due a party and what could be more preferable than one involving brunch.
I jauntily texted a big group of friends that a belated birthday brunch would be served on Sunday at 12pm ‘be there or be square’. Sunday morning started with my hair looking like a haystack, munching on toast in bed, before Calum obligingly marched out to the shops for everything I had forgotten.
Appearance amended at last, I headed to the kitchen where I weighed ingredients for the brunch centrepiece – fluffy chocolate chip pancakes. The recipe (a spectacular Allrecipes creation) sadly no longer exists, the link now offering meatballs instead, and this is when I realise I really should write recipes down. Anyway, the recipe served six so, along with a couple of tweaks, I multiplied it by four, no, not because I have that many friends, but to ensure everyone could have two giant face-sized pancakes. In my friend Harriet’s words, one ‘for main course and one for dessert’.
The dry-mix of flour, baking powder and sugar towered high in its vast bowl so I cautiously set it aside, shooting Calum a look that could kill when asked what I’d do if he poured it all over my head. Undaunted by my mischievous sous chef who kept stealing chocolate chunks, and my somewhat under-stocked kitchen, I proceeded to measure litres of milk, cracking endless eggs and oh-so gently whisking it all together with a fork. Twenty-four pancakes is no mean feat.
Pancake mix accomplished, it was time for the side dishes. Avocados were smashed and seasoned with salt and lemon juice before crumbled feta was folded in and stylishly presented with toasted pumpkin seeds and slivers of radish for extra crunch. Frozen blueberries bubbled away in a pan along with sugar and vanilla, reducing to a juicy, syrupy compote, a tart accompaniment to soft pillowy pancakes with molten chocolate pockets. We laid out loaves of seeded and sourdough bread, fresh from the bakery, and lined up jars of my never-ending supply of jam, along with peanut butter, bananas, yoghurt and, Calum’s pancake essential, maple syrup.
I have moaned endlessly about the idle oven but as a grill, it’s not half bad I tell ya. Sausages were lined up like fat little soldiers on a baking tray. Alongside mounds of bacon rashers, they slid under the heat to cook slowly until everyone was present. I began flipping pancakes as the first guests arrived, gently buttering the frying pan, letting it sizzle and foam before pouring in a mugful (for the want of a ladle) of batter.
For the next hour I was flitting about like an aimless fly, darting to the front door, answering the phone, laughing hysterically while consoling my friend Lauren who had confusedly texted after strolling into the wrong house. Meanwhile I was also popping prosecco, scrambling eggs, and directing Calum with more bacon. Sweating over the stove we rustled up a feast and improvised by serving eggs in a saucepan, now falling short of bowls.
Friends, old and new, whether from school, university, work and Leiths, mingled all together, some reunited, others meeting for the first time. Never short of offers of help from my generous friends, who also brought more food, we squeezed dishes of steaming pancakes, plates and cutlery onto the table before I announced everyone must dig in. The seemingly never-ending prosecco flowed, and meanwhile my friend Sam whipped up a jug of spicy Bloody Mary, spiked with generous amounts of harissa and vodka.
Some may be confused why I’d choose to perform my job on my day off. Dolloping avocado on toast at work is not an act I dream to repeat but there is something so special, almost sacrosanct, about sharing food with those you love, nourishing and feeding people well. Good eating is the best form of contentment, and good eating shared creates a harmonic hum of satisfaction, lazy smiles and relaxed conversation. Boozy and Bottomless: A Guide to Brunch will no doubt feed you and your friends, but the companionable pleasure of sharing home-cooked food is precious, and therefore a brunch to remember.