Brunch is fast becoming my favourite meal, and I love that there are so many options and that breakfast no longer needs to be based around sweet and sickly foods that are based around pastry, or huge greasy fry ups – although obviously they have their place. I’m not one of the avocado brigade but there’s definitely something to be said for a fresh, vibrant start to the day, and The Barn, Holloway excels at it.
Like most of the population I love a good brunch. On the one hand, I think it’s lovely at the weekend to wake up not hungover – the older I get the more I appreciate not having the pounding head, stuck-together mouth and vague sense of dread – the money spent, ridiculous things said, people offended, weekends gone – and the less fussed I am about missing huge drinking sessions.
Having had a lovely meal at Covent Garden’s The Ivy Market Grill when it opened, I was keen to go back and try out more of the menu, and what better occasion than a Sunday? We booked at 12 which was unfortunately too late for the majority of the brunch menu, which stops at 11.30 (nice one Lesser), but there was still lots of good stuff to choose from, namely a very delicious Bloody Mary to kick off. Not as good as The Bloody Oyster a couple of weeks ago, but savoury and spicy, and exactly what I wanted.
In my house bacon and eggs are more often than not a prerequisite for weekend breakfast, and why not indeed. Salty, crispy smoked bacon dipped in runny yolk, on a soft, chewy bagel or hot buttered toast – heaven. But the time does come to mix things up a bit, so on a raging hangover after my work Christmas party last weekend (weird I know but I work for a restaurant and we can’t close for a night in December, we’d all get shot) I decided it would be good to replace bread with sweet potato cake/rosti affair. Bit more nutritious, gluten-free if you’re into that sort of thing and just a bit of a change. Unfortunately my odd little shop didn’t have any sweet potatoes but had a shelf with about 400 butternut squashes, so there we go.
So for 2 people start with: 1 medium squash, 4/6 rashers decent smoked bacon, 2 large eggs plus another for the squash, olive oil, a few sprigs of fresh thyme and coriander (leaves picked) and an optional teaspoon of fresh red chilli – wakes you up a bit.
Peel the squash and grate it on the coarse side of the grater. Put it all in a sieve and push down with a spoon to drain a bit, you don’t want it too wet, then leave it until you’re ready.
Grill the bacon until it’s the desired level of crispy and keep it warm. Squeeze out the squash again and season with salt and pepper. Add a beaten egg, thyme, coriander and chillis at this point, finely chopped, and heat some oil in a frying pan on a high heat. Using your hands shape the squash into 4-6 patty shapes and put them in the pan, turning the temperature down to medium, otherwise they’ll be that not-so-great combination of black and raw.
Boil a pan of water for the eggs. Cook the potato cakes for 3-5 minutes on each side until they are golden and crispy on the outside. Prod with a knife to check they’re soft in the middle. Keep warm with the bacon and break the eggs into the boiling water – a dribble of vinegar is said to keep them together, I’ve never noticed a difference to be honest. Just use the freshest eggs you can. 3 minutes is fine for runny yolks, then get them out with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen roll. And assemble! Rosti, bacon then poached egg, sprinkle with something green to make it look prettier and tuck in. I added a dressing of Greek yoghurt mixed with lemon juice, salt and pepper just to wet it a bit and allow for more dipping.
You can do this with sweet potatoes, swede, celeriac or any combination of root veg. Add herbs – parsley, sage, tarragon, coriander (goes especially well if you use chilli). It would also work with mackerel instead of bacon. It’s fun and easy and adds a bit of goodness and variety to your fry up. Winner!