Brunching at Giant Robot

I remember hearing about Giant Robot when it first opened to much hurrahed fanfare. I understand there’s a shortage of restaurants serving good American food, but it seemed there was a bit more fuss than there should have been. Turning up for a Saturday morning brunch, it seems like the patrons agreed with me – we were seated pretty much immediately.

I ordered a flat white that was served in a mug. Decently flavoured and no real complaints about it.

We also ordered the brunch burger that was apparently pretty good. It had the bright yellow melty cheese one would expect from an American diner.

I went for the three-egg omelette, served with a huge slice of sourdough toast.

Perhaps it was just what I ordered, but I can’t say I was particularly impressed by the food. The dinner menu looks a bit more interesting but for brunch, I’ll have to try somewhere else next time.

Name: Giant Robot
Found at: 45-47 Clerkenwell Road, London, EC1M 5RS

Brunching at Norma’s

As I mentioned in a previous post, we were definitely returning to places that I enjoyed and Norma’s is a fantastic place if you’re hungering for an American style brunch or breakfast menu. At lunchtime, it’s worth booking – we were lucky we got a table in about half an hour as some people after us were told they’d be seated after a whole hour!

The menu is divided into plenty of sections but their real strength is in their very large breakfast menu, all of it orderable 24 hours a day. Prices are steep although be warned that the portions are even larger than most American style portions. This time, we went for a real brunch instead of a breakfast, so my sister thought it’d be more appropriate for the lobster mac and cheese (US$28). Though being pricy, the dish was literally chock-full of lobster – each spoonful bringing a healthy chunk. The only bad thing that we experienced was half-way through the dish, finding a bit of foil-like wrapper (we think it may have been the foil-wrapper that typically covers butter). Nothing extreme or what not, but kudos to the waiter – as soon as we told him, they went back to the kitchen to make a new one and took the dish off the menu!

Last time I went for the Irresistible Banana-Macadamia Nut Flap Jacks With Whipped Banana Brown Sugar Butter (US$21) and they were really good that I thought I’d try them again. I’m pleased to say, despite the price tag, they were really just as good as last time, a very good sign about the consistency of the restaurant. It was served with caramelised walnuts and macadamia and the banana brown sugar butter really went well with the huge pancakes, lasting the entire amount. I remind myself I’m on holidays and not worrying too much about the amount of working out I’ll have to do to burn this dish off.

You can’t really have pancakes with a side of bacon, and this one was perfect as well. The streaky, British style bacon, slightly peppered and bring a great saltiness to an overall sweet dish.

The only thing to be warned about is the US$9 orange juice and US$4 coffees that you’re offered as soon as you sit down. Sure the juice was good, but a glass for that much is a bit of a stretch.

Name: Norma’s
Found in: Inside the Le Parker Meridien, 119 W 56th St, New York, New York.

The Publican

I was due to meet Danilo and Jenny in Chicago on the short weekend I had there. Thanks to Jenny we decided to have lunch at the Publican. They also invited Matt along who happened to be in town. Let me emphasise that this is a good thing. It’s a nice bustling place and one where you definitely have to book in advance. Or plan to wait for a long time.

Jenny and Matt below.

We tried far too much for a brunch, starting with one of their sticky pecan rolls. Topped with nuts, thankfully not too excessively sweet (at least compared to their Cinnabon brethren) yet surprisingly filling.

The pork rinds had been recommended, dusted with a slightly picante (calling it spicy is not quite fair) dusting of spices and a cone of chips that were supposed to accompany the chicken fried chicken.

Highlight of all the sides was the recommended maple glazed bacon. I’m not normally a fan of thick cut bacon – it turns out to be to excessively fatty to a point it dominates the smoky and salty flavours that make it a wonder to behold. And besides, if something is going to be so fatty, it’s best that it crisps up from that benefit. There’s a good reason people who like fried chicken expect a crispy crust.

I opted for a bit more of a twist on a classic, the eggs benedict. The eggs, poached in red wine and served with prosciutto and toasted bread. I appreciated the attempt at something different, but the red wine flavouring kind of dominated the rest of the dish.

The toast wasn’t quite toasted enough or maybe they really should have chosen a sourdough instead of plain bread because I think what the dish lacked was a contrast of flavours. That perfect maple glazed bacon, crispy on the outside, would have made the perfect accompaniment but instead everything seemed a little bit soft. Picture of an overcooked egg.

Other people ordered interesting dishes including a massive weisswurst (white sausage) that came poaching in a big copper pot.

Matt was brave enough to order the artery clogging chicken fried steak with two fried eggs.

And Danilo opted for a more sensibly portioned Ploughman’s platter.

Name: The Publican
Found at: 837 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607

Chipps No. 2

Apparently there are two of these places now set up in Berlin, started by the very same and well respected chef who started the fantastic Cookies Cream experience. The one I visited was the most accessible from Hackescher Markt where Oranienburgerstrasse meets Friedrichstrasse.

The concept for meals for lunch and dinner – a kind of playful cooking with numbers style where you pick a number of ingredients and they make a playful dish out of it. It reminds me a little bit about those crazy Mongolian BBQ buffet places where you pile everything into a bowl, hand it to a chef and they mix it up. Fortunately unlike those Mongolian BBQ places they don’t let you step too far out of the bounds of what makes sense you rather than ending up with bowls that all taste the same you actually end up with some pretty good dishes.

Strangely enough I didn’t go for the main, hungry for some decent breakfast stuff. The menu here is much easier where you can literally order by the number. Tempted as I was by the infrequently offered, eggs benedict that they playfully call “Bed Head” (€8.50) I decided for the french toast with scrambled eggs and bacon, the “Lumber Jack” (€8) . Just as rich, if not probably much worse for me, it was the perfect cure for the hangover hovering on the horizon.

Unfortunately I can’t really recommend the (milky) coffees with a cappuccino being more foam than coffee, although the espresso tasted pretty good on its own.

From what I can tell, they even do deliveries of their food in their tiny food delivery truck.

Name: Chipps No. 2
Address: Friedrichstraße 120, Mitte, Berlin, Germany

Disappointing Brunch at St Ali London

After reading about St Ali’s opening in Farringdon, I just had to try it out the next time I was back for a weekend. It’s just that close. Anyone from Melbourne, who is into their food and coffee (and really, who isn’t when they’re from there) will know about St Ali. My first day in the office and someone introduced me to Brother Baba Budan (previous post here) in the city serving their coffee, and I had a really wonderful weekend brunch at their main location.

After reading a couple of reviews about the place already in London, things looked pretty good. I organised to catch up with a couple of friends at St Ali this weekend just gone, and unfortunately I have to report, they have a bit to get going before it’s going to win any awards.

Scheduled to meet my friends at 12:30, I thought I should arrive a little earlier to get a table, knowing how frustrating waiting can be. Things looked positive. As soon as I walked in, I asked for table for three, and they asked for me politely to wait by the door. It wasn’t long after that I was seated and whilst I waited (I still had at least 10 minutes to go) asked if I wanted any coffees.

Let’s get the review under way:

The good
St Ali in London is associated with coffee, and if they couldn’t get this right, I genuinely would have been worried for what they had to stand for. Fortunately the flat white (£2.40) delivered according to expectation with a well made espresso and not too much milk like the terrible lattes served around town.

It was also great not being rushed off our tables. Things were casual, although service didn’t seem to note when we needed something. The perfect charm of not being hassled when you didn’t want to be might have been something else where, actually, you were almost being ignored. It worked quite well for some time.

When the food arrived (more on that later), I had some good reports. The names on the menu are playful and whilst some people report them as annoying, give you a good idea on what you’re ordering. I was a little disappointed by the French Toast I had (the bread a little too dry), however the toasted walnuts provided some excellent contrast and the classic sweet/salty combinations worked like a charm.

We had a few problems with the bill (more on that later as well) and the second time, they took all the coffees off the bill. Nice to see them immediately respond to a problem pointed out to them… multiple times.

Unfortunately, my list of things they can improve are much, much longer. And I’m sure they’re good reasons for it. Living locally, I would hope they find time to up their game.

What soured our experience
Being asked for drinks was a good start. Juice was drunk. Coffee appreciated and then we started getting hungry. It took us a while to flag someone for food, and things looked good when our order was taken down. With our food taken down, I should have been more observant to see them actually put it through to the kitchen. Someone tried to bring us food that we didn’t order, however a simple indication that there were two dishes for the three of us helped them see it wasn’t for us.

We fretted a bit more, when a couple of people, arriving much after us, got their food order sooner than we did. Not just them, but another table. Twenty more minutes on and we asked to see if we had any more progress. Apparently not so much. The food did arrive, and I was so ravenous that I forgot to take pictures – definitely not like me.

The food was pretty good in general. I wouldn’t order the French Toast again though because the bread seemed a little bit too dry to really soak up the delicious maple syrup and fork the perfect combo of salty bacon, crispy walnut and soft bread. Was it worth the £? I’ve had better.

Despite the hiccups in the ordering, we finally asked for the bill. It was nice not being rushed off, however it seemed to take a while to make eye contact and get someone to bring us the bill. What arrived was a surprising four dishes plus extras. Although I may have been hungry, and we were originally served just two meals, these numbers don’t exactly even out.

We asked again for our bill and what arrived was a slight repeat of the first. We finally managed to get a bill (fifteen minutes later) that represented almost what we had only to find an extra coffee on it. Considering that this place serves a cheeky (12.5% service), that extra coffee does make a little difference. We pointed out this mistake and at least our waitress (points definitely for being friendly) took off all our coffees. This equated to approximately the service we would have asked to have been taken off given all of this galavanting. Oh, and did I mention they only accept one credit card – what are we? In Australia? This is why we have advanced portable, technical machines. If you’re going to charge 12.5%, at least earn it? Grrr.

I’m hopeful
Being a local place, and one where I had a good experience in Australia, I’m hopeful for things to get better. When we finally managed to pay, we were told the excuse, oh, we had Time Out come review us yesterday and still trying to recover.

What? I’m sorry. London deserves better than this. One doesn’t expect people who review a place to be better treated than those who might come everyday. That excuse just doesn’t cut it here. Use the excuse that you’re just opening. Don’t use excuses that allow you to treat people differently depending on what you get out of it.

Coffee is good. Food is promising. I’m still hopeful about the dining and eating in experience you can have.

Clinton Street Baking Company

Anyone who knows me will know I tend to get up early in the morning. Therefore, breakfasts for meeting people is something I’m happy to do. New York does the breakfast meal much better than London. Perhaps it’s the intense pace of the city. Or maybe the gyms on every corner of Manhattan work because of calorific-guilt based workouts. Either way, I’m much happier that many more options for eating breakfast meals exist. I’m less happy about how crazy busy some of them get.

I’d read about the Clinton Street Baking Company having one of the best Manhattan brunches so I went ahead and organised for a breakfast there. Informed by Alex, the New York local, it’s best to get there 45 minutes to avoid waiting for a table.

We got there at 8:15am and I guess it’s a winter thing but we were first in line. In fact, they didn’t start taking names down until about twenty minutes before opening. Nevertheless, I had good company waiting in line catching up with Alex and his wife wondering how the breakfast would go. Despite needing to wait, they’ve got a pretty good system in place with a person taking names with alloted times and options to walk around and come back or stand in the very tiny premises.

If there’s anything that strikes you about this place is just how small it is. You walk in and a takeaway counter full to the brim of American-sized cakes, pastries and goodies abound for those not willing to wait for a table. The tables, placed along the walls and the booths between the door and the counter probably do not seat more than twenty people. No wonder a good place like this will have a queue.

On to the breakfast. Coffee of the morning was a latte because flat whites still haven’t taken to American stores, only found in those few Antipodean run coffee stores. It was very milky, large and I probably should have ordered it with an extra shot. Nevertheless, it did the job of waking me up to peruse the menu.

We took our time eating, both perusing the menu and eating our food, probably to the chagrin of the line-taking waitress and the people waiting. We outsat two or three other groups of people behind us and, to their credit, I never felt rushed or put out of place. Being the first table, we were placed at the booth by the door and immediately visible to people waiting in queue who almost stood over our table but I didn’t really mind.

Although their pancakes are apparently their signature dish, my breakfast at Norma’s still left me feeling “full” of pancakes so opted for something a little bit more different – the Southern Breakfast made up of three eggs done any style, country ham, hash (mashed potato grilled on a skillet) and then a very large biscuit (think scone). It came accompanied with butter at the table (meh – clotted cream works much better) and their home made raspberry jam. The jam, closer to a compote was great – not too sweet, and you could still see chunks of raspberries as you spread them on the biscuit.

Someone else got something really different, the fried chicken with waffles and maple butter syrup. A southern dish, the syrup apparently was really great and went well with rich dish. Definitely a hearty way to start the day.

Looking around, I wish I had enough of an appetite or more time to try their pancake stack. Not only did they look huge, but they looked like the perfect American-style fluffy light pancakes. I saw plenty of them cooking on the griddle as we exited, no doubt to be consumed very quickly by everyone. They’ve even published their own cookbook, something that I think I’ll try to get a hold of in order to test out some of their highly raved about recipes.

Name: Clinton Street Baking Company
Found at: 4 Clinton Street (btw. East Houston & Stanton), New York, NY 10002


Norma’s at Le Park Meridian came up again and again as a great breakfast place. Located uptown near the MOMA, this restaurant does breakfast/brunch meals until 3pm. I had a look at their menu on the net before deciding we should try it out. The prices are the first thing to strike you with most of their dishes equivalent of a normal main mean (entree in the US) at any other restaurant. Fortunately they are different enough and portions, naturally, massive enough to justify them.

The dining room doesn’t look anything that special. In fact, we were puzzled by the strange mish mash of diner-like tables around. Was this a diner-style breakfast joint? Is it that popular that people’s backsides have worn down many of the seat covers? It’s like this place had a multiple personality disorder and no single one yet dominating, resulting in confusion.

A good example of this was the complemetary juice “shot” that arrived at the table when we sat down. A fruit concoction, I hadn’t received one of these since my stay in the Marriott in Calgary three years ago. Fresh and a nice start to the service. Unfortunately our waitress failed to impress us the rest of our meal with us needing to ask for water several times and waiting at least ten minutes before we could ask for the bill.

Out of all menus I looked at trip, Norma’s looked the most interesting. With subsections such as “Mom can’t make this”, “Eggs cellent”, and “This shsould do it” … how could you not smile at it? Look closer and you start to see some weird and wacky concotions, “PB&C Waffle ‘Wich” or a chocolate waffle with a peanut butter and toffee crunch filling or maybe you want to splurge for “The Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata” with its most expensive incarnation costing you US$1000. I kid you not.

Anyway on to what we ordered. Here’s the Norma’s Egg Benedict (US$22) (buttermilk pancake layered with canadian bacon and grilled asparagus). Although the bernaise sauce was apparently very good the pancake apparently didn’t provide enough contrast that a classic toasted English muffin would and so the whole dish seemed a bit all of the same.

I went for the Irresitable Banana-Macadamia Nut Flap Jacks served with whipped banana brown sugar butter (US$21) . Thrown off by the use of flap jacks, I worried I would end up with these heavy, thick British style flapjacks that threaten to defeat you with a single bite. The waitress, almost immediately, assured me they are simply pancakes.

What arrived was a huge set of pancakes. This meal really should have been split in two. Even half would have satisfied for a meal on its own. However these pancakes, both dense and light at the same time were so more-ish they called to be eaten. And besides, does anyone do doggy-bags for breakfasts?

Name: Norma’s
Found at: Inside the Le Parker Meridien, 119 West 56th Street, New York, NY, 10019

Caravan London

Breakfast time is not something that the British do well. The standard, and most familiar, is the full English from your little cafe, to help ease the ringing from the night before. Fortunately many antipodeans are stepping into London to fill a void, with one of the latest yet another protege graduating from Peter Gordon’s well respected The Providores.

Run by some coffee-loving Kiwis, my respect for them extends beyond the normal appreciation of a decent flat white (pictured above) because they roast all of their own beans on the premises. Awesome!

I came along here whilst working on some writing for work because I got to work from home before flying out for the Christmas break. They open at 8am so out I went from home to brave the cold thinking a coffee and a decent breakfast would help kickstart the brain. My laptop came with me and it wasn’t as crazy busy as the queues that form on the weekend so they didn’t really have any problems with that all.

Above is the Corn bread french toast, bacon, rocket and avocado (£9) that proved a delightful breakfast. Slightly crispy egg covering combined with the salty bacon, soft richness of the avocado and the only thing that felt healthy on the plate, the rocket. I definitely couldn’t have this everyday but is worth going out for something different.

Service throughout was perfect. Dishes whipped away not immediately after I put my last fork down but without letting the plate linger. A constant check to make sure the caffeine quotient didn’t fall too low and a very prompt card machine when I signalled for the bill and left my card. It’s the sort of service I’m happy paying for the 12.5% they put on bringing the total up to £19.46 for two coffees, an orange juice, French toast. Not the cheapest of places.

Remember that places that do breakfast well are hard to find in London so are sometimes well worth paying for. This one wins another bonus point for offering take away coffees as well.

Name: Caravan Restaurant
Found at: No. 11-13 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QD, United Kingdom.

Where’s the good coffee? Foxcroft and Ginger

Foxcroft and Ginger‘s been open for a while though I haven’t had a chance to try their coffee until quite recently. Fortunately it’s another boutique cafe focused on serving interesting food and serving a decent coffee supplied by famous London roasters, Monmouth Coffee.

The outside looks appealing although on first impressions it doesn’t look very big mainly being very long and narrow with only three small tables to sit at. Wait a while and you might notice the noise coming from downstairs and realise it’s not a whole of juiced up people waiting for their turn in the lavatory but people chatting and enjoying themselves with the food.

Order food and coffee at the bar and they’ll deliver it to you. I have no idea how they do it but I guess the baristas also have amazing face recognition and immaculate memories. Of course, they might also just give you a number to put on your table but I kind of forgot to notice.

The flat white’s definitely on the more pricey side costing £2.50 though I’m pleased to report it’s well made and the baristas seem to know what they’re doing. The food offerings looked tempting as well, probably best saved after a week’s hard workout or many, many, long runs. Eggy Bread with Honey Roast Ham, Cheese & Béchamel & Honey Mustard Dressing sounds perfect for pleasing those winter cravings and is wonderfully priced at £3.95. A bargain if you’re looking at adding some padding for those winter months.

Name: Foxcroft and Ginger
Found at: 3 Berwick Street, Soho, London, W1F 0DR

Where’s the good coffee? Ginger and White

I have to admit I get a bit lazy on weekends, tending to walk to get my coffee, rather than go out and venture beyond zone one to explore. Hence, my ever growing list of places to go and visit to try their coffee. Fortunately I had a brunch invitation one weekend and suggested we meet at a place sitting on my list for probably the last year and a half, Ginger and White.

Sure, it’s located in the rather posh Hampstead area so I already had fairly high expectations, though it’s located down a narrow alleyway and isn’t a very large shop. The Sunday we went ended up being rather wet and since the cafe opened so early, we were lucky to get a table under one of the awnings outside. At least it wasn’t too cold.

Ginger and White is definitely more cafe than restaurant. Apparently they don’t really have an extensive kitchen which is why their brunch menu focused on sandwiches, cakes and pastries and not very much hot food at all. Fortunately their coffee is good, once again a great place supplied by the wonderful Square Mile Roasters.

Drinking two flat whites (pictured above) was just too easy. Feeling like I wanted something a bit more warming than a heated croissant, I opted for the unusual soldiers and toast. I say unusual because it’s not something many places offer, probably because it is so ordinary, yet I thought it’d be quite appropriate.

What arrived what two eggs, one of them covered in a cosy knitted egg cosy and nicely toasted granary bread fingers to dip them in. I felt very British and it felt strangely appropriate given the inclement weather. While service wans’t the most efficient when we wanted the bill, I found it refreshing to be in such a popular place without feeling rushed or pressured to leave. I’d like to see what it’s like during the week, when you can avoid the manic weekend crowds.

Name: Ginger and White
Found at: 4a-5a Perrin’s Court, Hampstead, London NW3 1QS