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.
Caravan King's Cross
In an impressive former granary north of King's Cross, a (much larger) offshoot of the popular Clerkenwell café/bistro; an impressive all-rounder, it has quickly become surprisingly busy.
The crowd at this King's Cross newcomer - in the same former granary premises that Central Saint Martins now occupies - came as a bit of a disappointment. A member of our staff who'd been for weekend brunch had assured us that it was achingly young and hip, so we had naturally braced ourselves for being well out-of-place.
Sadly, though, the punters on our weekday lunchtime visit were, without exception, disappointingly normal. There were an awful lot of 'em, too - by the time we left, the place was full. And this, with a recession allegedly raging, in the middle of what some of us still think of as an urban wasteland. We just can't get the question out of our minds: where do all these people come from? Perhaps it's simply that the word has got out that this is - like its less ambitious Clerkenwell parent - a good all-rounder.
Given the large and lofty space the dining room occupies, the economically rational decision has been taken to let the interior speak for itself. Add a few banquettes and few bare-filament light bulbs - enough already! - and Bob's your proverbial.
The food is mainly small plates and pizzas. We didn't taste the latter, but they looked very good. For the former, we kicked off with oysters. Sticklers for tradition as we are when it comes to mollusc-presentation, this proved to be one of those rare acceptable variations - on a big shiny platter, each oyster its own little rock-salt plinth. Very pretty, and the taste was impressive too. In fact, everything here - from the ham hock to the treacle tart, with some more innovative dishes on the way - was a pleasure both to look at, and to taste too. The odd exception, as others have also commented, is the fried chicken brick. Why?
Service was hip without being intimidating. Note to the man on the door, though - look up when customers come in; they are your business, not your computer. But that was our only real criticism - this is a formula that looks as if it ought to please those crowds.
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