The Bastardisation of Brunch

As long-time readers of my ramblings will know, I have strong opinions about brunch. It is a meal that brings me great joy and, when done well, can be one of life’s purest pleasures. I spent three years reviewing some of London’s many and varied brunch spots with my lovely Brunch Club gang and, back in early 2017 when I introduced Brunch Club to readers of this blog, I penned the following description of the meal:

Slotting into your day somewhere between breakfast and lunch, brunch is often viewed as more of an event than a meal, requiring a few hours and some excellent company in order to do it properly. Brunch menus appeal to a desire for carbs, a longing for umami, and often invoke memories of weekends spent on holiday where someone else is doing the cooking and you feel like you have all the time in the world. Anyone who has never seen the appeal of a perfectly poached egg, freshly baked beans, a stack of thick fluffy pancakes or a crispy slice of bacon will probably never fully understand the joys of this wonderful meal, but my inner hobbit loves it.

Since moving to Leeds earlier this year, I have continued to address my love of this fabulous meal and have tried a few of the city’s best brunch spots, sharing photos over on my new foodie Instagram account (@leedsfoodadventures). As before, I have been visiting places that continue to serve a weekend breakfast menu well into the afternoon, offering staples like eggs, toasted bread products, beans and meat/vege sausages, alongside coffee, tea, fruit juice and smoothies. Brunch was born as a replacement for breakfast and lunch, so my thoughts are that it should be a filling-yet-sociable first meal of the day. However, some of you may think that I have missed out a lot of key ‘brunch spots’ during my adventures, and that’s because something rather horrific has happened to brunch in the last few years. To spare my friends from any more of the angry ranty messages that I have so far sent on this subject, I thought I’d better return to my dusty old blog and share my thoughts here instead.

Pure brunch joy at Laynes, on New Station Street in Leeds

Look at the photo at the top of this post (of brunch at Forde in Horsforth, Leeds) or the one above this paragraph (of brunch at Laynes in Leeds city centre): Both meals clearly contain breakfast foods, both were early afternoon bookings (1pm and 1.30pm), therefore I would label both of those ‘brunch’. Many restaurants now offer an all-day breakfast menu so I will concede that, yes, you can have brunch at 4 or 5pm… but a meal eaten that late in the day must contain breakfast foods to be considered brunch. Otherwise it’s just a late lunch, or an early dinner. However, some people now seem to be using the word brunch simply to refer to a relaxed and sociable meal with friends.

When I say ‘people’, what I actually mean is venues. Having caught on to the fact that lots of folk seem to love a bottomless brunch (I’ll come back to why that word really annoys me in a moment), lots of pubs and bars have started to offer this at all times of day, with a menu of whichever food is the cheapest and easiest for them to make and whatever alcohol won’t damage their profit margins. Why have they called it brunch? I can only imagine that it’s to capitalise on the mental image of gathering with your Instagram-friendly ‘girl gang’ to swap gossip and enjoy getting your mimosas topped up every five minutes by a hot waiter, plus the fact that ‘early dinner’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. No twenty-something wants to be reminded that they are choosing to eat at a time the over-sixties prefer as it’s kinder to their digestive system.

As for the claim that these meals are bottomless, let me first point out that it is never bottomless food. The all-you-can-eat buffet of days gone by is apparently not classy enough for this version of brunch, and clearly they don’t want any actual foodies or, heaven forbid, sober people there. Those are the sort of people who might actually complain that the food is mediocre and the drink is more spritz than Aperol. I’ve seen bottomless brunches advertised that are ‘a big main’ (e.g. fish & chips) and refillable Prosecco/lager for £30, or pre-mixed cocktails and a charcuterie board for £35. Sounds more like a Happy Hour with a bit of ballast included. Also, there is indeed a ‘bottom’ and it’s almost always a 90 minute time limit. I doubt they put the drinks on the table the second you show up, so I wonder if it is actually possible to drink more cheap fizz in just over an hour than you have actually paid for.

Instead, I would suggest that we take a tip from Self Esteem and prioritise pleasure over the horror of the bottomless brunch experience. Unless there is some kind of entertainment provided – I’m not enough of a killjoy to argue that Drag Brunch isn’t brunch – my preferred way to spend a Saturday is to make it to Meat Stack before 11am so that I can spend £8.50 on a Breakfast Stack Muffin (pictured below) and refillable North Star filter coffee, before walking to Power, Corruption & Lies for a couple of their expertly made £9.50 cocktails. Truly excellent food and drink for less money than many of those dreadful bottomless brunches that I’ve seen advertised… and most likely far more alcoholic too!

The rather excellent Breakfast Stack Muffin at Meat Stack, in Leeds

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