Just when you thought 2016 was a strange year, here comes 2017 determined to top it. We’re just over two months in, but if you’re as tuned in to the daily news as I am, you probably already feel like you need a break.
So why not escape to another era altogether? The Holy Birds lets you do just that – transporting diners to the Swinging Sixties with its Babycham bottomless brunch on Saturdays.
When you walk into The Holy Birds, in the Spitalfields neighbourhood, the first thing you notice is the burst of orange – from the satsuma-hued chairs and booth benches to the lighting and retro flooring. Much of the furniture in the three-floor restaurant is original from the Sixties, restaurant manager Andrew Di Sora informs me.
As soon as we take our seats, our server comes over with a bottle of Babycham in hand. The sparkling perry, originally produced in Somerset, was big in the Sixties and Seventies, and at The Holy Birds, the sweet fizzy drink just keeps flowing – perfect for those in search of a “hair of the dog” remedy.
As you might suspect from the restaurant’s name, throughout the day The Holy Bird’s main speciality is its poultry. All of the birds it serves are brined for up to 24 hours and air dried to add flavour and texture, while keeping the meat tender. For brunch, however, I opted for the sweet potato hash and poached eggs, served with crème fraîche. The hash was flavourful and filling, with a perfectly poached egg – and the crème fraîche was a nice touch to tie the whole meal together.
For “dessert”, we tried the Crêpe Suzette, a retro classic that Di Sora says is one of his personal favourites. No tableside flambé performance, as is typical with the serving of the French dessert, but thankfully, The Holy Birds has a lovely open-kitchen design, so you can witness the magic from afar.
All in all, The Holy Birds is a true blast from the past, with its vintage furniture and the Babycham adding a fun touch – and it helps that its diverse brunch menu is packed with as much flavour as the decor.
The Holy Birds, 94 Middlesex Street, London E1 7EZ www.theholybirds.com
Pulled pork and Cheddar hot cakes
Pork and cheddar pancakes put a spin on the old ham and cheese sandwich. This fluffy pancake batter is sprinkled with roasted pork belly or leftover cooked pulled pork, cheddar and a little dill for extra flavour. Serve with or without the syrup – it’s optional but certainly not essential.
520g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 tsp baking powder
30g leftover cooked pulled pork (recipe below) or cooked pork belly, as preferred
270g Cheddar cheese, grated
A handful of freshly chopped dill (optional)
Butter, for frying and serving
Syrup, to serve
For the pulled pork
700g boneless pork shoulder
1 tbsp caraway seeds
2 whole cloves
1 star anise
½ tbsp whole black peppercorns
100g coarse sea salt
First make the pulled pork. Combine the caraway seeds, cloves, star anise and peppercorns in a mortar and grind with a pestle or use an electric spice grinder. Crush or process until ground and with the same texture as the coarse salt. Mix the ground spices with the salt. Firmly rub the spice rub into the pork shoulder until it is all used up and the meat is completely covered.
Place the pork in a roasting pan and cover tightly with kitchen foil. Cook in the preheated oven for 4-5 hours, turning once or twice during this time. When ready, the meat will be tender enough for you to pull it into shreds using two forks.
To make the pancakes, stir together the flour, salt and baking powder. Add the milk, buttermilk and eggs and stir well with an egg-beater or whisk until there are no lumps. Cover and leave to rest in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.
To make the pancakes, heat about ½ tablespoon of butter in a non-stick or cast-iron frying pan over medium-high heat. Add about 80ml of the batter and smooth out with ladle or spoon to make a circle.
Sprinkle with a few tablespoons of pork, about 20g grated cheese and a sprinkle of dill, if using. Drizzle with a bit more batter over the top. When the batter forms large bubbles, flip the pancake over and continue cooking until cooked through.
Remove and keep warm while you cook the remaining pancakes. Use a little butter in the pan for every pancake, or as needed. Serve hot with butter and syrup.
Breakfast for Dinner by Carol Hilker. Published by Ryland Peters & Small, £16.99. Photography by Toby Scott. Available at the special price of £11.99 including postage & packaging (call Macmillan Direct on 01256 302699 quoting the reference GJ7).