Hate the word, but love the concept.
A lazy, late breakfast which is almost a lunch, a savoury something which will keep you going until teatime. It’s a great idea.
But brunch? It sounds so American. A word I picture overweight Floridians tossing to each other as they wedge themselves into their four-by-fours and head to the mall for a stack of syrup pancakes and a side of bacon.
Only guess what? They didn’t invent either monicker or meal – we did.
According to Wikipedia, anyway. Who attribute the fact, via the Oxford English Dictionary and Punch magazine, to a pro-brunch article in a little paper called Hunter’s Weekly in 1895.
The scribe championed a new Sunday meal, to be taken between 11am and 2pm, for “Saturday-night carousers.” In other words, dirty stop-outs who wanted to follow their Sunday morning lie-in with a meal substantial enough to soak up the alcohol in their bellies, but which wasn’t quite as taxing for the gastric juices as lunch.
“Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings,” said the pro-brunch scribe.
I couldn’t agree more. Though I think Saturdays are perfectly acceptable brunch days, too.
We’re revelling in the decandence of sitting in a lovely pub on a gloriously crisp and sunny winter’s morning, having turned our backs on the weekend chores for once. Well, I say morning; it’s 1pm. But back in the day when we were Friday night carousers, 1pm was virtually daybreak.
We’re at the Milestone, the pub made famous by Gordon Ramsay in 2010. It won Best British Restaurant in the celebrity chef’s UK search of gastronomic excellence.
This classy, yet unflashy little place in the backwaters of Sheffield’s old industrial quarter, Kelham Island, has been rushed off its feet ever since. Owners Matt Bigland and Marc Sheldon, ex-All Bar One managers, pride themselves on using quality, locally-sourced produce.
And currently, anyone signed up to the Milestone’s electronic newsletter can snap up two brunches for £12 – and that includes a glass of prosecco each.
We sip on the Italian fizz – a good one – and choose from the menu. It’s small but perfectly formed: Double Eggs Benedict with bacon, free-range eggs, English muffin and hollandaise £7.50 (Double Eggs Florentine, is the same only with home-cured salmon instead of bacon), Milestone English Breakfast – bacon, sausage, tomato, field mushroom and free-range eggs, also £7.50, or scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms and truffle oil at £5.95. I note toast with conserves is £2.95.
I go for the Benedict and my husband the Full English. And yes, he would like toast with it, please.
While we wait, we scan a couple of the pub’s papers. We’re sitting in the side room and sunlight is streaming through the windows. Everything is perfect. Until the sun suddenly becomes rather too blinding and I’m wishing I’d brought my shades.
Quick as a flash, our little sunbeam of a waitress moves us to another table in the pub’s main room. The ambience is equally perfect; a hint of music, the gentle chatter of fellow brunchers, the rustle of newspapers.
And so is the food. It arrives promptly, and is elegantly presented on white, oblong platters.
My poached, runny eggs sit perkily on a little mound of fresh spinach atop a crispy, thick-cut slice of bacon, which rests on a fabulous, home-made muffin; not one of those flat things you slice and stick in the toaster, but a big, fat one, round save for the flattened top.
It was wonderful from first mouthful to last. The velvet coating of Hollandaise sauce was smooth, rich and lemony and that muffin simply divine. I welcomed the addition of spinach, normally only a component of Eggs Florentine.
The Full English was equally stunning; soft-fried eggs, a slice of hand-made slab-cake black pudding studded with oats and pearl barley, sliced and fried potatoes, whopping mushrooms and sweet tomatoes. The bacon and sausage were packed with good-old-fashioned flavour.
His triangles of toast, thick-sliced from home-made white bread, finished the dish off a treat. Though when the bill arrived, we found we’d been charged £2.50 for what we thought was simply part and parcel of the dish. That was our only quibble in an otherwise unfaultable and exceptionally good value meal.
Without the special brunch offer, which runs until the end of February, we reckon the bill would have been around £26.
To partake, sign up to the newsletter at the Milestone’s website, or at the pub, and quote the brunch offering and your email address when you book.