One of the questions people ask me the most is how do you find out about all the restaurants you write up? I’m tempted to see myself as Conan Doyle’s depiction of Moriarty in his spider web, sitting motionless as one the thousands of outward radiations are suddenly triggered by the opening of a Uyghur restaurant somewhere in Rayners Lane. I’d like to think that no restaurant opens in Zone 4 without me knowing about it. The reality though is closer to the Baker Street Irregulars, in that I rely on a network of people feeding me info: friends, chefs, random people on Twitter, Addison Lee drivers, Instagram geotags, Feroz. In fact it was Feroz Gajia who introduced me to one of my most valuable treasure troves (so valuable I’m not going to share it), a kind of halal hivemind: a group on Facebook devoted exclusively to restaurants which are halal. Now, this group has expanded over time to give recommendations for all type of restaurants, predominantly Pakistani, but strangely enough it was originally conceived as a place to talk about halal brunch.
Not many Londoners know that there is a rich halal brunch scene going on in the UK at the moment. I once joked to my editor that if I ever got a critic’s job the first thing I would review is Manjaro’s, an absurd halal restaurant chain that is allegedly a hybrid of African and Caribbean cuisines but also has time for a section dedicated to chicken parmos, as well as an extensive burger section. They have a section of their website dedicated to ‘Celebs’ which consists of a single picture of Tinie Tempah. Of course, their London branch is in Ilford.
I think Manjaro’s says a lot about the way we eat. While not exclusively brunch, Manjaro’s is at the forefront of a nationwide scene of casual restaurants which do not adhere to the cooking of a particular country with a significant Muslim population, but starts at the dictum that the food must be halal and then constructs an imaginary cuisine around it. On the other end of the spectrum to Manjaro’s is Feroz’s restaurant Bake St, a small cafe solely dedicated to brunch, which ranges from trad Western brunch items like avo on toast, to his invention makhlout, to specials that encompass pretty much anything (chicken makhani burgers, the Ram-Don from Parasite). He also makes the best smash burger in the city, a kind of McDonalds Double Cheeseburger in high definition without sacrificing any of the trashiness that makes it great.
Brunch is a weird meal - it’s difficult to define exactly what it is. Things on toast is an incomplete definition but it’s a start. It’s also about sociability. No one goes to a bottomless brunch by themselves. So what does brunch in a lockdown look like exactly? The following newsletter comprises of two brunch recipes, things on toast, that are simple to make and comprise the two poles of London’s brunch scene: Halal brunch on the one end, represented by Feroz, and Antipodean brunch on the other, represented by Matt Burgess of Caravan, one of the restaurants which has help shape the way the city eats over the last 10 years.
I was once told never to eat brunch on a Sunday - that all the anger and ill-will of the chef spending their weekend time poaching eggs would leach out into the food. So all the more reason to learn to cook it yourself.
Two Versions of Brunch
Version 1, by Matt Burgess
Coming from New Zealand, if you wanted to move somewhere you’re always looking towards the bright lights of London. That was 22 years ago - I’ve been cooking here ever since.
When I first moved to London, I was lucky enough to work with the great Paul Pavani and Lee Glen at Soho House, which is where the building blocks of creativity started for me. Over the next two decades, I’ve worked with some of the best chefs in London, before I found my home at Caravan for the past five years.
Caravan has evolved beautifully. We have found our niche in the market with all day dining with only a handful of the old classics but with a re-invented beauty of free cooking. It incorporates all the staples of New Zealand café culture, the flat white and Eggs Benedict, but weaves in the influence of London itself.
Caravan is known for brunch. For me, it’s the most important meal of the day and should - in normal circumstances - always be taken socially. In these unprecedented times though, sometimes we need a culinary hug.
In this recipe I’ve taken the traditional “avocado on toast “ and added a “can I kick it?” The simple addition of crème fraiche into the scrambled eggs gives decadence while the avocado, chilli and mozzarella brings spice and creaminess to your solo brunch.
Scrambled eggs, mozzarella, avocado, dry chilli , black pepper, toast
1/2 avocado diced. I’d always use a Hass Avocado (bumpy skin), but maybe a little tricky to get at this time, if not a Hall or Choquette (smooth skin avocado) works perfect.
1/4 ball of mozzarella torn into bite size chunks. I love the Laverstock park organic buffalo mozzarella, but you can use any supermarket mozzarella – even the little pearls. Make sure it’s room temperature before you serve it, the flavour is completely different.
2 slices of toast buttered
1 tsp crushed chilli
Pinch freshly cracked black pepper
3 eggs. Best eggs I’d recommend are the free range from Clarence court but if you can’t find them a medium sized egg will do.
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp Crème fraiche
Crack 3 eggs into a bowl and whisk with a fork
Add cold butter to egg mix.
Put a sauce pan on high heat.
Stir continuously with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan.
After 30 seconds, take the pan off the heat. Keep stirring. After about 10 seconds, put back on the heat. Repeat for 3 minutes. During the scrambled making process, its key that you keep stirring, if the heat is too high constantly the scrambled eggs will burn. Slow is always best.
In the last minute, add salt and pepper. Seasoning just before serving is important as it ensures the eggs dont go tough and rubbery during cooking .
Finally stir in 1 tsp of crème fraiche.
Then all you need to do is put it straight on the buttered toast, then add chunks of the mozzarella and avo on top, plus a sprinkle of the chilli flakes.
Once you’re plated up - if you add a squeeze of lime from height it will elevate this dish from “this is amazing “ to “oh my god”
Version 2, by Feroz Gajia
Chickpeas are prized throughout the Levant and there are many great dishes that involve them. For Bake St, I wanted a dish that incorporated some of the flavours I enjoy, particularly from Palestine but without basing it on a real dish so I called it makhlout which means mixed in Arabic and is mostly what the dish consists of. We serve it on toast with our vegan mayo (detailed below) and some dressed avocado - salt+pepper, lime juice & chilli oil in that order- but it can easily be used as part of a salad or accompanying some crispy meat atop hummus.
400g can of chickpeas, drained (keep water for vegan mayo)
10g Zaatar (Palestinian if possible)
5g Smoked paprika
10g Aleppo pepper
1 preserved lemon
Lime Juice (to taste, at least one juicy limes worth)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 thick cut slice of sourdough
Heat a neutral oil in a wide frying pan. Sauté chickpeas (you can peel the skins if you wish) in batches on a medium heat till coloured.
Transfer to a bowl and dress with salt & pepper, olive oil, lime juice and a little of the preserved lemon liquid.
Repeat the process with another batch of chickpeas. Meanwhile, take out the innards of the preserved lemons and squeeze the juice over the roasted chickpeas. Discard the innards, finely dice the skin and save till all the chickpeas have been roasted.
Add the zaatar, smoked paprika, aleppo pepper, sumac and preserved lemon and mix. Add a tablespoon worth of vegan mayo and mix so that it's glossy. This is the time to taste and check if you need more lime juice/olive oil/salt, you're looking for a slightly sour hit to accompany the floral zaatar and the savoury smoky chickpeas.
Plate up on a slice of toasted sourdough and put some vegan mayo on top.
Juice from one can of chickpeas aka Aquafaba
2 cloves of garlic minced
200-300ml rapeseed oil
15ml lemon juice (about half a lemon)
15g dijon mustard / strong mustard
5ml Vinegar of your choice
Put everything apart from the oil in a vessel not much wider than the head of your immersion blender
Blitz the ingredients and then trickle in a little oil while you tilt the head so that it is a gaping jaw ready to receive the oil.
Keep your blender at medium speed and continue to add oil in batches making sure the liquid is fully emulsified into a thick mayo before adding more. Make sure you're not impatient as near the end is when it is most likely to split.
Once you have incorporated 200ml of the oil, only add more till it's a consistency you like and then start tasting to see if you want to add more salt or acid.
This will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.
Matt Burgess is the executive chef of Caravan in London, an Antipodean brunch restaurant with five locations.
Feroz Gajia is the chef-owner of Bake St in Rectory Road.
Both were paid for this newsletter.