City lawyer turned cook/writer Ed Smith never misses breakfast. Not one for Momofuku Cereal Milk, he orders kippers when there’s an opportunity to do so, currently prefers brew to espresso, and likes marmite and honey on toast (together).
‘The thing is that we can all do a decent fry-up, or match yoghurt with granola and fresh berries,’ says Ed. ‘Breakfast out should be somewhere where the food is a bit different, the space a bit special, or both.
Nopi, 1–22 Warwick Street, London W1 (www.nopi-restaurant.com; 020 7494 9584)
Yotam Ottolenghi’s Nopi ticks both the ‘bit different’ and the ‘special room’ boxes and, frankly, it’s worth going just because the loos are so glorious. I reckon the spicy shakshuka topped with slightly sour labneh is the star option, but I’ve also enjoyed the fresh and relatively exotic flavours of black rice, coconut milk, banana and mango. It is smart but comfortable, and certainly more interesting than heading out for full English. Also a glamorous place to take your mother if she’s visiting for the weekend and you’re in the market for brownie points.
Quo Vadis, 26–29 Dean Street, London W1 (www.quovadissoho.co.uk; 020 7437 9585)
If what you crave in the morning is a bit of order and civility, with added élan, then there is no better place to have breakfast than Quo Vadis on Dean Street in Soho. The decor, the service, the menu and the food are uncomplicated, uncluttered and supremely well executed. It’s all very pleasing, and is remarkably good value, too. Excellent for business and/or pleasure (Monday to Friday only).
The Nordic Bakery
Nordic Bakery, 14A Golden Square, London W1 (www.nordicbakery.com; 020 3230 1077)
I like three things about this minimalist café in Golden Square. The first is that the dark-wood panelled walls, high ceilings and black furniture create an unusually calm atmosphere. It’s a space to gather your thoughts before taking on the day. The second, happily, is the food and drink – in particular, Nordic Bakery’s heavy, densely layered and filling cinnamon roll, paired with (and often dunked in) strongly roasted coffee, which I find to be just on the right side of bitter. I haven’t plucked up the courage for an early morning round of pickled herring and eggs on rye yet, but maybe I will soon. The third is the brisk, no-nonsense service. There’s no danger of having to make small talk about the weather. Which is surprisingly endearing.
Lantana Café, 13 Charlotte Place London W1 (www.lantanacafe.co.uk; 020 7637 3347)
Either your Australian friends tell you London doesn’t do breakfast or brunch properly, or you’re an Australian, and that’s what you tell your British friends. It’s difficult (for me, at least) to accept that point of view – but let’s just agree that this informal, Aussie-style café at the top of Charlotte Place is a very welcome breakfast option. Lantana has been around for a few years now, doing its best to educate Londoners by serving decent coffee and tea, avocado alongside eggs, and lots of apparently healthy yoghurt and fruit compote options. There are always queues at the weekend, but it is reliably good and they have a takeaway option if you can’t wait, or want something to tide you over as, like a true Brit, you stand in line. I like the French toast with honey, ricotta and almonds.
The Wolseley, 160 Piccadilly, London W1 (www.thewolseley.com; 020 7499 6996)
The master: nowhere does clatter, splendour, star-spotting, service and theatre better than the Wolseley… and then there’s the food. I would be surprised if a more appealing breakfast menu exists. There’s certainly none more extensive. Push your eyes, if you can, past perfect viennoiserie, temptations such as croque monsieurs, and prunes with orange and ginger, and onto their superlative omelette Arnold Bennett, grilled kippers with mustard butter, and haggis with fried duck eggs. Now that’s a proper breakfast.