Harden's survey result
“So many amazing, creative options for brunch” together with “renowned coffee” (“meticulously sourced and roasted in-house”) have made these “loud”, “brash”, “buzzy” and “quite hip” haunts – particularly the well-known Granary Square branch – key destinations, particularly at the weekend. When busy, however, service can be “hit and miss”; and the food has sometimes been a let-down of late: “it feels like random, trendy ingredients are thrown into dishes so they can charge more for them, rather than for culinary interest or flavour”.
A “brilliant option” for brunch – which can be “excitingly different, or traditionally comforting as you choose” – these “vibey”, “extremely busy” (“you may have to wait for a table”) haunts are “just the job if you’re feeling a bit jaded” and “hard to fault” generally. The menu has its wild and wacky moments which are usually “interesting and super-delicious” and “the freshly roasted-on-site coffee is some of the best in London”. All its branches are strong performers – especially the Exmouth Market original and well-known Granary Square outlet – and in July 2018 the brand finally reached the West End, in a striking space near Oxford Circus that once housed BBC Radio 1.
“London’s most interesting brunch dishes” – “light pastries and wholesome porridge to unusual spicy and savoury options” (not to mention “fabulous speciality coffees”) – help drive a “vibrant” buzz at these “funky” hang-outs, with the “bustling industrial-style” Granary Square outlet vying for top popularity with the smaller Exmouth Market original (Bankside has yet to make many waves; and there’s also a new City branch is opening in October 2017, in the new ‘Bloomberg Arcade’). The eclectic dishes can seem too “keen to be innovative at the expense of polish” though, or just plain “weird”.
“Crazy eclectica rubs shoulders with family favourites” on the sometimes “bizarre” menu of these “bustling” “cheek-by-jowl” fusion haunts, whose “phenomenal coffee by itself would score a 6/5!” and helps establish them both as major brunch hangouts. Nowadays the “ever-busy” Exmouth Market branch is eclipsed by its huge, “super-cool” Granary Square sibling in King’s Cross, where “media types from The Guardian and students from adjacent St Martin’s” bolster the “hip and trendy” vibe. Stop Press – a third branch is to open on Bankside.
On the former Clerkenwell site of Al's (RIP) Caravan is a Moro-inspired bistro, which offers interesting 'small-plate' dishes; the atmosphere is agreeably laid-back, but service is sometimes just plain slow.
Too many restaurants in London in recent times have specialised in the known-and-usual. It's understandable enough in hard economic times, but it's getting a bit dull nonetheless. So all credit to this new Clerkenwell outfit for offering something rather different. Its menu reads like no other in town (well not that we can think of anyway).
That's presumably because it combines a number of genuinely diverse inspirations, including Australia (the country) and Moro (the perennially trendy Spanish/Moroccan restaurant, just up the street).
The menu also features pork buns. Does this otherwise odd inclusion hint at further inspiration from New York, where the similarly grungily-located Momofuku SsÃ¤m Bar has made quite a really big name - attaining 31st position in the most recent World 50 Best Restaurants Awards! - with a diverse small-plate menu famously featuring pork buns? Well, it could just be a coincidence'
Anyway, let's start by getting the pork buns out of the way. The ones here are not up to the 'historic' MSB standards: they're pretty good, but not so as you immediately have to order a second helping.
The other dishes we should frankly - in defiance of our usual approach - have noted at the time (or at least have taken away a copy of the menu). As it is, we fear the dish descriptions of which the bill is now the only record - such as 'baked Ricotta', 'Pickled Mackerel' and 'Couscous' - do scant justice to the almost invariably wacky combos. It is perhaps inevitable that this sort of pick 'n' mix cuisine will have its highs and lows: our meal had both, but with the emphasis on the former.
Puddings were a particular highlight, with a beguilingly simple-seeming blancmange a triumph. They make a lot of fuss about coffee, incidentally: which of three varieties did we want?. Well, what we'd really have liked was someone to warm the espresso cup properly.
Other quibbles include inexplicably slow service, and dishes (even the less adventurous larger-plate choices) whose generosity would make this a poor place for a trenchermen. For lunch or for light grazing, however, this is certainly a place worth at least one visit.
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Last orders: 10.30 pm