London Breakfast Diary

After a week with the family in London, I spent almost 4 whole days traipsing around town with a good friend searching out breakfast and brunch spots. Though we didn’t manage to eat our way through the city entirely, I was satisfied after each little adventure, assured of accomplishment, eager for new sunlight to signal another stomach-filling session.

Ozone Coffee Roasters' flat white and gluten-free orange almond cake
Ozone Coffee Roasters’ flat white and gluten-free orange almond cake

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A personal favourite. Sitting in the corner of the wood-tiled, pseudo-industrial interior, I sipped on a delicious, creamy flat white, and nibbled on an unexpectedly pleasing orange and almond cake, grainless at that, although the white frosting got a little sickening after a while. Expect only the hippest coffee customers here, and ready your laptop or a good book.

Granger and Co's ricotta hot cakes
Granger and Co’s ricotta hot cakes and bircher muesli

Only the fluffiest in London, with pockets of ricotta, honeycomb butter and lashings of maple syrup to make it all the more carnal. My flat white was on the more bland and milky side, and it’s hard to hear yourself sometimes, with a few tables nuzzled up against one another. It might even be a little hard to call over a waiter, what with the gazillion Hermes bags swishing everywhere, dangled off the thin arms of the blonde and beautiful. But these pancakes, right?? Come on. They’ve got heart and soul and rhythm. This bircher muesli was also a star in its own right– sweet, tangy, and creamy.

SUNDAY Café: Foreground– French toast with bruleed  banana, creme fraiche and caramel Background– Portobello and poached egg on homemade sourdough
SUNDAY Café: Foreground– French toast with bruleed banana, creme fraiche and caramel
Background– Portobello mushroom and poached egg on homemade sourdough

Sunday is one of those places which you just don’t want to leave because it’s so darn pretty, with the cosiest outdoor garden dining area and a lush, warm interior. The cook on everything was sublime, although I have had better French toast; this one wasn’t sufficiently saturated and the caramel was rendered glass-like and brittle. That aside, I can definitely see myself here a lot in the future, because the staff make it feel like you’ve known them long before, and their cakes (we tried the lemon iced pound cake) are stupendous. They’re the sort of the people you want to see, and the sort you want to see improve, if need be the case.

Piccolo and the best ever lemon pistachio cake from APPESTAT Café in Islington
Piccolo and the best ever lemon pistachio cake from APPESTAT Café in Islington

Ah, Appestat. And how fitting a name, because it did readily whet my appetite. The white nook full of surprises, and thankfully where you will most probably get a space to think, with lovely artisan brews and produce. I was stunned by the lemon pistachio cake we had, which was bursting with a full, dense pistachio flavour, pardon the lack of lemon tang. They may be excused. The most perfect accompaniment ever to a well-made cuppa joe (P.S. They stock nut butters and tahini!).

Flat white and raspberry custard tart from Shoreditch Grind
Flat white and raspberry custard tart from Shoreditch Grind

My second last stop was Shoreditch Grind, a stand-alone café where I had probably the best flat white, and a crusty, flake-to-bits custard tart, smaller than my palm but moreish all the same. Read, write, lose yourself a little.

Kinako french toast with matcha soft serve; aka the best french toast you will have in your life, from Bone Daddies at Shackfuyu
Kinako french toast with matcha soft serve; aka the best french toast you will have in your life, from Bone Daddies at Shackfuyu

Because I’ve tried too many french toasts to lift your hopes up for no good reason. Soft, slightly spongy and perfectly saturated in the middle. Eggy, sweet matcha batter. The crust will make your heart melt, and the matcha soft serve makes everything a dreamworld. Your senses will thank you. Un-be-lie-va-ble.

Bread Ahead's salted caramel and honeycomb doughnut
Bread Ahead’s salted caramel and honeycomb doughnut
Duck and waffle; bruleed banana with ice cream from Duck and Waffle
Duck and waffle; bruleed banana with ice cream from Duck and Waffle

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Other notable spots:

– TAP Coffee No. 193

– Kaffeine

– Timberyard Seven Dials

– Prufrock Coffee

– The Breakfast Club

I have yet to travel the entire of Europe, to learn more and grow in so many ways, but London has and always will be my second home. I remember prancing around town when I used to live there as a little girl, some sort of flaky pastry in one hand, my mother’s fingers in the other. Cold winter streets and cobblestones. There’s something irreplaceable about its erratic weather, everyone’s eccentric outfits and the anticipation of something, anything, the feeling of exciting possibility.

Review: Tolido’s Espresso Nook

A long black please ($5.50), oh and that stack of devilish banana buttermilk pancakes. $9, you say? Aw, that’s not too bad at all. I mean, I can make my own buttermilk pancakes, but sometimes I need a step out of the humble abode, a new perspective, fresh insight into a worn classic. I forgot how good it feels to be at a café, alone with my thoughts, senses honed in on words, aromas, textures, flavour.

My penchant for anything sweet with nourishing kicks (think oatmeal with almond butter and honey, or this divine cheesecake) is let down a little once a week, when I hop around in search for something, anything, impressive on this tiny island, be it a sinful plate of crisp, endearing waffles or crazy lush French toast. Yolks oozing, crusts squealing at the first prick of my fork. Letting go can feel good. Almost necessary.

Tuesday’s situation. Ploughing through science writings, a double (upon request; they typically do three but I personally can’t stomach that) stack of RIDICULOUSLY thick and soft buttermilk pancakes topped with torched caramelised bananas, whipped cream and caramel, at the one café I’ve been meaning to visit for the longest while yet. I would’ve come sooner if it weren’t for my mistaken impression of this ‘nook’, something about the mounds of whipped cream I saw on Instagram and chimerical flavour titles on gaudy menus put me on edge; although it all sounded so whimsical and somewhat enticing, an air of off-the-beaten-and-maybe-slightly-greasy-track offset the appeal. I repeat: mistaken impression. One enters the wooden cove and is immediately bathed in a warm glow, some unuttered warmth. Smiling, tall baristas. The large sofa on my left had ‘come hither’ written all over, draped with a tassled beige cloth, resting against a wall filled with mini framed portraits. All the tables were elongated, wooden hexagons. The whole scene was akin to a teen clique’s secret hip hideout, complete with rough indie hits and large, flat spaces for ‘studying’. The nook lives up to its name. IMG_1056 IMG_1059

Delight.

Of course, the de rigueur sips of harsh black coffee. It’s always this or a capp for me whenever I’m in that pretentious assessing mood; the iced blacks typically mask bean quality, not that I’m anywhere near professional, and the smoothest latte (milk in Italian) still may not reveal much. Opted for the stuff straight-up, piping hot in a full 5-ouncer. They have a ‘sea salt caramel latte’ here too, and although I have an unrelenting sweet tooth, I dare not be lured into the lurid albeit enticing half-gimmicks. That being said, I shall allow my penchant for that classic sweet-salty combo to take the driver’s seat if ever I come back, and will be sure to give it a shot (maybe with an extra shot for good measure).

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Pillows. I loathe these for the carnal pleasure they bestowed.

A full centimetre high, impeccably well-risen, so much so that if I were to cut into one horizontally I would get 2 thin carpets of hole-studded pale batter, cooked to perfect doneness. Kid-soft. Ridged, air-punctured edges, just a tad firmer than the middles. At least 4 inches wide in diameter, good God. So perfectly reminiscent of typical American-diner-style pancakes. It’s a standard now, the desired standard for the experienced New Yorker. There were even little bits of banana in the batter. Crack into the elegant banana boats on top and you get a heart-stopping crème brûlée effect. Deep crackle, the break of glass, then the soft grunt of caramelised, almost burnt sugar top giving way to the creamy, ripe banana body. Pause– relish that detail.

Every chew got a little gummier as I went along, mouthfuls of white, sweet stodge. The stocky pancake was quickly reduced to sludge, but that’s alright. I just want everyone to try this. Is that too much to ask?

Rating: 4.5/5

Tolido’s Espresso Nook

462 Crawford Lane

6648 0178

Closed on Mondays

Tues-Thurs: 0930-1900

Friday-Sat: 0930-2200

Sun: 0900-1830

Craftsmen Specialty Coffee

cappuccino

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I still can’t believe I travelled all the way to the East for good coffee. Siglap, to be more precise. All for the sake of trying out this three-week old café. It wasn’t exactly a tedious prospect, but it just so happened that that day was particularly hot, and I almost couldn’t bring myself to further my advances in the obtaining of skin cancer. I’ll be the first to get it and my future children would hate me forever. It’s kind of genetic, you know.

So thank goodness this place had an ambience welcoming enough to compensate for the long distance. I took my little sister along to accompany me, forcing her to bring along some work just so she could at least attempt to be productive that Thursday. I brought my English stuff along, but ended up gushing over the coffee instead of analysing the moth-like tendencies of Blanche Dubois in Streetcar named Desire. All’s still good, I promise.

 

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cappuccino–$5, iced chocolate–$6

The cappuccino was one of the best I’ve had in an incredibly long time. I appreciated its soft and creamy touch on the palate, and wasn’t in the least bit acidic or sour. The iced chocolate was predictably sweet and refreshing; you can’t exactly go wrong with this. Some places like to posh it up with some vanilla ice cream and extra bits and bobs, but this was perfectly fine on its own. Yum.

The food, on the other hand, was another story. Pips, my sister, ordered the pain au chocolat, her favourite, which was unfortunately nothing short of disappointing. Sufficiently chocolatey and gooey on the inside, yes, but it should definitely have been served warmer and toastier. The crisp factor here was little to none, apart from the occasional caress of flaky crust on your tongue as you joyously tear the elastic pastry bands beneath the less-than-pleasant crust on top.

My own parfait was mediocre, decent at most. The yoghurt they used was a little thin and much too bland; someone needs to hook these guys up with some greek yoghurt stat. The thick, freshly-strained sort. Tang missing, fruit doing little to compensate for the muesli which was overwhelming in both quantity and sweetness. I felt a tad ill after eating just half of the stuff. I personally love it when muesli and yoghurt are mushed together and the initial crunch is whittled down after some time to a delectable, sub-healthy mush, but the ratios here did not work as well to bolster that nice ‘mush’ factor. Ah, pity.

That being said, the ambience here was more than inviting, gorgeous wooden tables everywhere and even a miniature ferris wheel gracing the wide window, and the staff are friendly and amicable. They also serve a variety of belgian waffles, each with its own coupling of ice cream and toppings. I promised myself, as I left, with a half-heavy heart, to try some the next time I chance upon an East Café adventure. Waffle-anything is the epitome of café worthiness, and this place is worth the hop.

 

Craftsmen Specialty Coffee

2 First Street, Siglap V, #01-01, Singapore 458278

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pain au chocolat–$4.20, yoghurt and muesli parfait–$10

The Bravery

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Shabby chic.

I don’t know about you, but I’m quite liking the old industrial theme of some places. Including this one. There was massive self-conflict this morning, when I was debating between hopping off to a more convenient spot, or deliberately trudging along unknown sidewalks in the heat to arrive at this signless, but rather enticing spot in the Lavender Street area. Neon red and black, almost translucent windows, stark, straightforward pale wooden furniture, the exclusive hidden feel. It felt as if there was a children’s party right before I walked in and they forgot to take home some decorations. Child VS sophisticate. I liked it.

Lavender Latte–$5.50
Lavender Latte–$5.50

‘Weird’, I can already hear some of you say. Ok, no. If you’re planning to come for the coffee, you can’t, just can’t leave without trying this. Exquisitely smooth, creamy, mildly sweet and tickled with the fine infusion of lavender. Understated, milky elegance. This is a latte after all. Skip if you’re not a fan of floral-infused drinks. My mother would empathise.

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Crostini– $6.50 Aubergine, chickpeas, mint, feta and onion atop sourdough toast

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They are famous for their banana triple-stack pancakes, but for some ridiculous reason I was craving something a little more on the savoury side, and so I ordered this hulk of a brunch dish. Mushy, plump pieces of aubergine, translucent onions, fading mint. The chickpeas were tainted with the juices of the dark and stubborn vegetable they were cooked with. Looks quite a mess up there, but my fork told otherwise. There could have been more feta (sprinkles don’t cut it) to enliven the dish a little more, adding a better kick of flavour. Perhaps a bit more spice or pepper, but on the whole this was pretty darn delicious. I started to enjoy the dish even more as time went by, since the toppings melded so nicely with one another as they cooled down, allowing the flavours to emerge properly on my palate. The sourdough yielded a wonderful flavour and was properly oiled and toasted.

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Cappuccino– $4.50

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‘It’s on the house’, he said. Kind, kind barista!

Stumped and stunned. But hell, free coffee only makes one a better person, right? I’m really quite impressed by the service here; I got to talk to most of the staff at the counter, and the lady told me I was free to stay for as long as I wanted to, unless it got too crowded. So there I sat, working at my computer, and the hours went by in the best way possible. The tables are perfect for work, and the music isn’t too loud either. What immense pleasure.

Smooth, sophisticated, but a little too milky and not enough punch than what I’m used to. It was a dream to sip, but a more acidic edge would have been preferable. That being said, I wouldn’t mind ordering this again, for the sake of sentiment and that creamy consistency.

Other menu options include eggs poached or fried on artisan bread, the pancakes I mentioned earlier, Mediterranean-inspired eggs, avocado and bacon, smoked salmon sandwiches and a small selection of sweet treats at the display counter. They also serve iced coffee with shots of mocha, espresso or soy, as well as Gryphon (ooh, how aristocratic) tea. In all honesty, I didn’t feel too bad paying for the quality of what I got.

 

 

Rating: 4.5/5

The Bravery Cafe

66 Horne Road

8:00am – 8:00pm daily, closed on Tuesdays

Grilled cherry tomato and avocado toast

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It’s just too simple, and yet, makes for the perfect breakfast or offhand afternoon snack. The beauty of this simple dish lies primarily in the amateur grilling process. Also, in the balsamic reduction, cooked, moist cherry tomatoes and creamy (in this case, slightly overripe) avocados. Now then.

 

Ingredients (for 1 grill freak):

  • half an avocado
  • 2 slices rustic bread or if you’re feeling particularly un-artisan, some day-old white bloomer slices
  • quarter cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1-2 tablespoons balsamic reduction (store-bought is fine)
  • half a clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for the tomatoes
  • coarse sea salt (I used Maldon)

 

Magic:

Preheat a grill pan on high heat. Take your slices of bread and drizzle both sides with the olive oil. Place on hot pan and press down occasionally, waiting 2-3 minutes, for grill marks to show up, those gorgeous kiss lines, then flip to do the same on the other side.

Take out toast and leave on the side to cool. Rub half a clove garlic on both slices, for a spicy kick afterwards. Re-oil the pan and slide in sliced cherry tomatoes. There should be a hiss from the leftover heat of grilling. Toss around with a spatula and wait for them to burst and get a nice char around the small and cute edges. Slice your avocado however you want it, and place on toast, before spooning on those delicious, popped tomatoes. Drizzle whole thing liberally with balsamic, then sprinkle on coarse salt. I might add some thick honey next time!

This is perfect with iced coffee and the papers.

I love breakfast, guys.