In Manhattan the other day I had brunch at a Jewish place called Russ & Daughters that was so wonderful it turned into dinner. An array of cocktails – and the very fact of it being New York – had something to do with our lengthy meal; but I think it was mainly just the sheer joy of sunny Saturday morning that carried us through. In the phrase of my colleague Simon O'Hagan (now, appropriately enough, editing this magazine's Saturday sibling), that time of the week has a tangible fecundity, and all my favourite meals over the past year have been weekend brunches. Perhaps the best of all was a recent expedition to The Good Egg in Stoke Newington, north London.
It doesn't get much more middle class than this neck of the woods on a sunny Saturday. Not long ago, this was the most fertile borough in the country, in terms of babies per person, and why not, frankly, given how lovely Church Street is when it catches the light. There seem to be weddings at the Town Hall every Saturday, even in autumn, and a new bakery every other shopfront. Bruncheries are not in short supply. And yet, from the queue around the corner outside this place, demand still exceeds supply. At one point, Matt Barbet, the Channel 5 News reader, ends up sitting on the table next to us with his young family and a friend.
The Good Egg replaced a grim bookmaker and, with its bare-brick white walls, replete with massive jars of pickling lemon rind and rings of onion and beetroot next to cookbooks on vast and mostly empty shelves, I could be in Manhattan again. And, indeed, a Jewish eatery, too: the food here is heavily skewed toward the prevailing fashion of the day, which is Israeli grub of the type popularised by Yotam Ottolenghi and those geniuses at Palomar and Honey & Co.
It's open all day. Sadly for us, the Jerusalem Breakfast, at £20 a pop, isn't yet available, though it promises just the sort of dishes that makes Russ & Daughters my top Manhattan recommendation right now: a "smorgasbord of little breakfast plates to share, with cheeses, burnt aubergine, fresh herbs, salads, eggs, smoked fish, hot pastries and cakes". Next time – and there will be a next time.
Thankfully, the rest of the menu is superb. There are four basic brunch cocktails, including a "Red Hot" take on Bloody Mary: gin, tomato juice and lemon with – wait for it – pastrami spices. These are just hot, smoky spices rather than meat dust, and it has one hell of a kick. Memorable stuff – as was a fresh orange juice and the best flat white I've had this year.
There are five options under "For the Table", including a cornbread (£3) that's griddled and served with salted honey butter and zhoug – a Yemenite green chilli sauce. It's fantastic: sweet like cake, and deep and plentiful without being too filling. The challah bread (£2) comes with a pungent and strong tahini and za'atar (a collection of Middle Eastern spices), and they serve the butter with a splodge of moreish date syrup. Alas, the Dak Dak dalad (£3.50) – nuts, seeds, parsley, cucumber and tomato – is a bit meh: the chunks needed to be much finer; there were no nuts, and in Jerusalem there would be three times as much parsley and less dressing.
Shakshuka with merguez sausage or halloumi (£9), or both if you ask nicely, is better than any I had in Tel Aviv; a smoked-meat hash, served in a cast-iron dish with fried potatoes, onions, salsa verde and a poached egg, is great value at £8 (though not as jumbled up as most hashes are served); a breakfast burrito with eggs, chorizo, sautéed potatoes, cheese, refried beans and guacamole is even better than the sum of its many parts (£8.50); and a bacon and date pitta is very good for £7.50.
Two minor quibbles: the caramelised apple turnover (£2.50) has no filling, and the French toast with date syrup (£6.50) is too dry, having been soaked in egg for half as long as it should have been. But brisk, friendly service and a fantastically jovial vibe mean this place comes with a very strong recommendation. Sure, it helped that this was a sunny Saturday morning; but The Good Egg gives stonking great value to Stoke Newington and sets a standard to which all brunches should aspire, and not just in London.
The Good Egg, 93 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16. £35 for two, with cocktails
Four more foodie notes from the past week
Edamame, Avocado and Yuzu salad
They do this at an outpost of Crush four minutes from the office. Poncy but divine.
I've got into these in a big way. Only 20 calories a pop! Love them with hummus or baba ganoush.
My wife doesn't like chocolate on fro-yo, thinking yoghurt too sour. I can't get enough. Itsu does it well.
Metcalfe's mini chocolate corn cakes
Sound weird, but they were the only thing that made the new Bond film tolerable for me.
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