Brunch is a strong contender for best meal – it can encompass so many things – so for my mother’s birthday this year I decided to take her to what has been described as ‘the best brunch in London’: that at The Cookbook Café in the Intercontinental Hotel on the edge of Hyde Park. Brunch here is modelled on the American all-you-can-eat variety, with various food ‘stations’. But what makes this restaurant British is that it champions homegrown, seasonal and sustainable ingredients.
On arrival, the concept was explained to us: unlimited bellinis (three flavours, including pear and blackcurrant), a main market table on which there were various cheeses, cold meets, sashimi, fish, salads and spreads, an egg station with omelettes etc. cooked to order, a small pastry table and chefs who would also make pancakes and waffles. There was also a selection of three main courses from the menu (one meat, one fish and one vegetarian) and finally a dessert table, with about eight different, individually-sized puddings. Of course, the first thing we did was go and check out the desserts!
After looking at all the food that was on offer and contemplating what to eat first, we mixed our bellinis. They come with the fruit purée at the bottom and a stick for stirring it yourself. I went for the pear:
A bellini really depends on the quality of the fruit purée. A good peach one can be a thing of wonder, but sadly this was nothing to write home about because the purée was rather devoid of flavour.
I think one of my mother’s favourite things to eat for breakfast or brunch is a traditional American pancake – one that is thick and fluffy (not a French crépe or thin English pancake), but also light rather than dense or stodgy. And preferably served with maple syrup and bacon, or maple syrup and blueberries. I am convinced you can only get these sorts of pancakes in America, though if anyone knows of somewhere in London that can prove me wrong, please let me know! Of course, she had to order one here just to check… Sadly, The Cookbook Café is not the place to come for American pancakes, as my mother had one mouthful before declaring it not very good.
As you can see, it doesn’t even look particularly appetising (though I will admit to being a poor food photographer)… Moreover, there was no option of either bacon or blueberries, though there was maple syrup. We hoped for better things from the main market table and the dessert section.
As a vegetarian, I was pleased to see that I had lots of options. While my mother went for the sashimi and a selection of salads and a few slices of cheese, I loaded up my plate with the following salads: asian-style cucumber and water chestnut; mixed bean; beetroot; tomato; pumpkin; butter bean and chickpea. And I added a large spoonful of hummous for good measure.
It was good to see pumpkin on the menu, given that it is very seasonal and the restaurant claims to be run on that ethos. I’m not usually a huge fan of cucumber (I find it difficult to get excited about something so bland and with such a watery texture, though will admit to having had many arguments with people of the opposite opinion!), but the addition of chestnuts provided a good contrast and it turned out to be a fresh, crunchy salad. I love butter beans, and these ones came in a rich tomato dressing, accompanied by chickpeas. The beetroot was rich and earthy and the hummous was particularly good; smooth and creamy and delicious.
Given that brunch at The Cookbook Café is a fixed price per person, we decided to order one of the main courses to share. The vegetarian option that day was an aubergine, courgette and caulflower tagine served on a bed of couscous. As neither of us particularly likes couscous we asked to have just the vegetables. When the dish was first brought to us, of course it came with a few vegetables placed atop a mound of couscous, so we sent it back! This was the bowl that we were presented with the second time:
I have to report that it was delicious; the vegetables were full of flavour and the cauliflower had retained its crunch. The sauce was rich with African spices and I liked the presence of dried fruits and almonds, which added a different texture and layer to the dish. However, as I had mentioned when booking that my mother is allergic to nuts, it was a little alarming that there was no mention of this when we ordered the tagine. Luckily, even though she did bite into an almond before either of us realised, her nut allergy isn’t as serious as some.
For some reason I completely forgot to take any photos of the dessert table (apologies), but if I had, I like to think it would have looked something like this:
While the Apple, Raisin and Cinnamon Tart was disappointingly dull, the Chocolate Flan, with its fudgey, gooey centre, was delicious. The mini lemon meringue pies were bite-sized morsels that would have benefited from a crunchier meringue and more tartness from the lemon filling. The Chocolate Mousse was suitably rich and something called a Raspberry Rocher was perhaps my favourite: a layer of pastry pastry topped with raspberry mousse and the whole encased in a chocolate covering. It is worth noting, however, that the pastry itself isn’t made in-house, so they couldn’t guarantee it was nut-free.
At £49 per head, brunch here isn’t cheap. If you go on an empty stomach and very hungry, you would likely get your money’s worth, however. There were excellent options for vegetarians, and some good desserts, but I wouldn’t say it was the best brunch in London.
Categories: Food & Drink