There’s no question an English breakfast is a beautiful thing. But in the interests of international diplomacy, we’re prepared to admit other nations might have contenders to rival even the charms of the full-blown fry-up.
Prefer a breakfast of champions or champignons? Greece-y spoon or greasy spoon? Eggs on a bed of Mediterranean milk bread or Vietnamese rice porridge? Below, for your consideration, we’ve hunter-gathered the best breakfasts from across the world. Any and all of which can be yours, in London’s fair and insatiable city, without going to the ends of the earth. Or even to the ends of the Central line.
OPSO Restaurant: Hellenic in Marylebone
If we’d known OPSO better before going – known the epic spread of the brunch menu or the siren allure of the breakfast cocktails – we wouldn’t have rolled up on a Sunday morning with any commitments for the afternoon.
Yes, you could go to OPSO and share a plate of skordalya spread with toasted walnuts, and a basket of freshly-baked sourdough bread. You could have a civilised catch-up and powerful Greek coffees, and be out of there half an hour later. And you could leave not much lighter of wallet or heavier of step than you arrived.
You could do all those things, and many of Marylebone’s large-sunglassed glitterati seem to be when we visit. But instead, on the advice of our waiter, we have a long, rambling brunch that proves him right about the following things: that the slow-cooked eggs on koulouri milk bread are worth crossing London for; that the fava beans, crispy capers and red onion dip is more than rich enough not to leave you regretting the tzatziki pork you didn’t choose, and finally, that there’s always room for a mastic-flavoured brioche with praline spread.
Neither my brother nor I get too close to the Charybdis of a cocktail menu, for fear we’ll never surface from it. Probably a good thing as, even stone cold sober, an OPSO brunch already feels impossibly decadent. And like something you should really clear the day for.
OPSO Restaurant, 10 Paddington Street, London W1U 5QL. Website.
Casa Brindisa: Spanish in South Kensington
Having known the joys of Tramontana Brindisa by night, the launch of a breakfast menu at sister restaurant Casa Brindisa is exciting news. The more so because their breakfast line-up sounds at least as decadent as our Shoreditch dinner.
We start off by sharing an Iberico ham, eggs and potatoes plate, as a cursory nod in the direction of a balanced brunch. And it is excellent. But we both know what we’re really here for. Even the waitress knows what we’re really here for. The same thing as every other breakfaster there, coyly playing with a goats’ yoghurt and granola, or the corner of a manchego cheese omelette, and yearning.
‘Churros?’, asks our waitress. The question mark is barely there. Yes, churros. Of course churros.
Thick, steaming, slightly bitter chocolate. Crispy, hot, sugary sticks of doughnut. This is Casa Brindisa’s main event – probably at any hour, definitely at breakfast.
Not only are these the best churros in London – confirmed by a very exacting Argentine I know – it’s also the perfect form of carb-loading in preparation for the V&A’s labyrinthine Medieval & Renaissance galleries, just across the road.
Casa Brindisa, 7 Exhibition Road, London SW7 2HE. Website.
HOP: Vietnamese Banh Mi in Broadgate
Resolutely cheerful, both the food and decor at this City diner are a splash of primary colours. The HOP commitment to Com Binh Dan – ‘working people food’ – extends as early as breakfast, with a coffee and congee deal for those who like to start the day in truly Vietnamese style with rice porridge. And this is the most appealing-looking version I’ve seen, capped with egg, bacon and shallots.
But neither of us can turn down the breakfast banh mi. The HOP baguettes are filled with the Viet-standards of fresh herbs, cucumber, pickled vegetables and chilli, and then given a very British injection of fat, salt and pleasure in the form of a bacon and fried eggs filling.
My date washes his down with a Vietnamese cà phê, a cocktail of drip filter caffeine and condensed milk. I’m inspired by all the Finsbury Avenue power-suits to go for the Iron Woman juice, a bright green mash-up of all known vegetables, plus some ginger.
Despite having eaten something that’s essentially a fry-up, jacketed in a loaf of bread, before 9am, this breakfast feels quite virtuous. All that coriander and chili in the banh mi, maybe, pitched at a client base who might have spent all night barking ‘New York never sleeps’ into a handset and be really in need of that wake-up jolt.
HOP Vietnamese, 2 Finsbury Avenue, London EC2M 2PJ. Website.
Bunnychow: South African in Soho
Unlike HOP, this stuffed-loaf – hollowed out and filled with bacon, eggs, mushrooms, spiced beans and tomato – doesn’t feel remotely virtuous. Which is a good thing, because these Durban Legends are very much the comfort food of the breakfast scene – all the joy of a full English, and in a format you can clasp in your hands, Dickensianly, for warmth this winter.
I visit Bunnychow with Matthew, a good friend who doesn’t frighten easily. We’re both grateful for that long-standing friendship by the time we leave. This is not a place or food format for newly-blossoming relationships. Nor any kind of business breakfast where it’s not alright to have bacon on your tie. Or on your trousers. Or in your hair. The bunnychow breeds mess the way that bunnies breed other bunnies. Unfortunately it’s as lovely as it is ungovernable, so resign yourself to going often and wearing the stains with pride.
Bunnychow, 74 Wardour Street, London W1F 0TE. Website.
And there you have it: the splendours of London’s breakfast scene, whittled into a list you could conceivably, if ambitiously, cover in a long weekend. Now all that remains is to really earn those morning-after meals with some suitably sweeping nights-before.