I want to break up all these holiday eating posts with something a little more local. Croydon! In particular, Brasserie Vacherin in Croydon, one of our locals; it’s run by Malcolm John who also runs our beloved Le Vacherin in Chiswick. We’re often there for dinner and occasionally for breakfast but recently we stopped in for their relatively new weekend brunch menu. And it’s a cracker! Two courses for £12.95 or three for £17.50 and it includes bottomless Virgin Marys!

Last weekend we started with a red wine poached pear, blue cheese, walnut, and endive salad for Blai (his favourite and we never have blue cheese at home as I’m not a fan and I do most of the food shopping!) and crispy fried squid with roast garlic aioli for me.

Three excellent courses for brunch at Brasserie Vacherin. Here are our starters: a poached pear and blue cheese salad and crispy fried squid. And bottomless Virgin Marys!

We shared our main courses: a roast beef lunch (Sundays only) and fried eggs with chorizo and avocado and bacon. The roast was alright, just needing a little more seasoning – best not to take my word for it though, as I’m not the biggest fan of Sunday roasts. I’m not sure what compelled me to order it; I always feel like one about once a year. The eggs definitely felt more brunchy and the bacon was a standout.

A roast dinner on my side and baked eggs on Blai's, though we shared everything!

By this point, we were very full! But I wanted dessert (greedy!) and so we split a single crepe Suzette. Only it turned out to be crepes plural and the whole lot turned up on a dinner plate. It was huge! It was delicious.

Crepes Suzette! This was a dinner plate! 😜

It’s a brilliant deal and the food is all excellent. There are more traditional brunch options on the menu like eggs benedict or baked eggs or other more lunch items like a burger and fish and chips; we’ve tried almost all of these and so can vouch for them all. There’s something for everyone and I love it. Thank goodness it’s a local of ours!

I’m not entirely sure why we’d not yet been to Karnavar on South End, Croydon’s restaurant street. It’s a more upmarket Indian restaurant and I think we were going to save it for a special occasion. Well, that is, until I discovered they have a spectacular deal for Sunday brunch – five courses for £25, or £40 if you want a champagne brunch, for a massive Indian style roast brunch. The menu is an Indian twist on the Sunday roast lunch but also features classics from their usual a la carte menu, making it a good first visit. We went one recent Sunday when we felt yes, brunch and yes, Indian food, and loved it.

Here we go. Five courses.

Chef Cooking Station and Starter Table

Course 1: Chef Live Cooking Station.
The station was placed at one end of the starter table (photo above). From here, you could place an order (or lots of orders) for freshly made dosas, oothapams, Indian omelettes, or Indian scrambled eggs. We shared a plain dosa (made small, just the right size for a buffet) and a beautifully made Indian omelette. We only realised after our meal that the chef manning this station was the chef-owner – he was just the friendliest!

Indian Omelette

Course 2: The Starter Table.
On the table by the window, there was a good spread of various dishes from which to help yourself. My particular highlights were the Roasted Dokla with Home Cured Sardines and Potato Salad, the fantastic Karnavar Special Golden and Candy Beetroot Chaat with Goji Berry and Moong Bean Sprout, and the Dahi Wada (Black Gram Dumplings with Yogurt, Mustard and Cumin). Take your time over them… it’s a leisurely brunch and you’re welcome to graze for as long as you like.

Starters

Course 3: Intermediate.
This course was brought to your table by a waiter wielding a massive frying pan full of Tulsi Seekh Kebab and Chicken Tikka. Both were very spicy and flavourful and I probably could have put away a lot more if I hadn’t been worrying about what and how much was coming next.

Seekh Kebab and Chicken Tikka

There was also a separate pan full of Salmon Pakora with Sweet Curry, Capers and Gherkin Sauce. This I loved, definitely putting away a few more than necessary – that sauce was like a fantastic Indian tartar sauce.

Salmon Pakora

Course 4: Mains.
Then it was time for mains. Each diner gets to choose one of the mains from the list but they can have as much of that protein as desired. My Roasted Pork Belly Coorg/Kerala style served with Mappas Sauce was fine but Blai’s Sea Bass Polichathu, Kerala Coastal style served with Mappas Sauce was finer. I think I had been hoping that the pork belly was spiced itself but most of the Indian flavour was from the onion sauce served alongside. Blai’s fish was exactly as I’d hoped for, all dusted with spice.

Roasted Pork Belly Coorg/Kerala style served with Mappas Sauce

Sea Bass Polichathu

It’s not a roast dinner though without all the sides! Garlic and fennel seed spiced roast potatoes were tender and delicious. Vegetables were an addictive Cauliflower thoran (addictive), an excellent Chef’s seasonal vegetables, which that day was Broccoli do pyaza, and my typical Indian meal must-have, Panchmel dal (think tarka dal). Carbs were a Saffron pulao rice and Butter naan (very buttery!). Like the mains, you could get more of the sides you desired. You can imagine how stuffed we were by the end of this course!

Sides

Sides and Naan

Dessert was a tasting plate of (from left to right) Rasamalai (Indian Milk Cheese Dumplings with Pistachio), raspberry sorbet, and Kinnathapan Malabar (Rice and Coconut Pudding with Lemon Sorbet). I do believe this is the only course you cannot repeat but the little sweet bites were the perfect size after we’d stuffed ourselves from the previous four courses. Actually, no, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want another of the amazing rasamalai, some of the best I’d ever had.

Dessert Platter

Bookings are essential for Sunday brunch (it’s very popular) and can be made via their website. What I noticed was that the food was highly spiced and flavourful but not chilli-hot, making it perfect for families, and there were a lot of families that Sunday. Needless to say, go hungry! Oh, and if you’re a vegetarian or dining with vegetarian, there are vegetarian options for the more meaty courses (vegetarian but not vegan).

Karnavar
62 South End
Croydon
London CR0 1DP

I found myself back in West London the past weekend and met up with friends for Saturday brunch at Bush Hall Dining Rooms, the all day eatery next to the music venue that is Bush Hall. I used to live in the area (well, down the road in Acton) and it felt good to see the Shepherds Bush area again! Anyway, on a Saturday morning, it’s pretty easy to get a table though do book if you’re looking for a guaranteed spot after noon.

Brunch (well, ordered off a breakfast menu)! A friend’s eggy bread with bacon and maple syrup kept her quite happy though we do think that sourdough doesn’t make the best eggy bread. And personally, I would have preferred a plate rather than the chopping board.

Eggy bread with bacon and maple syrup

Eggs Benedict looked and tasted excellent – no complaints there. There was a very generous amount of ham!

Eggs Benedict

My chorizo jam, guacamole, fried eggs on toasted sourdough was all the savoury, creamy, eggy stuff I needed to get through the afternoon.

Chorizo jam, guacamole, fried egg on toasted sourdough

The only downside to their breakfast menu is the inability to order a side of potato product with our breakfasts. We had to wait until noon before we could finally get our hands on a portion of skinny fries which we proceeded to wolf down. No photos of that!

But then we could also get dessert. Between three of us, we split the autumn mess – a very pretty mixture of meringue, poppyseed and orange flower creme patisserie, oatmeal biscuit, mint tea jelly and cumin chocolate fudge. Perhaps the only dud in that list was the fudge, the cumin adding a little too much of an earthy note. The jelly was the big hit for me. But it was a fun dessert to eat!

Autumn Mess

I have visited in the past for dinner and can vouch for the deliciousness of their other dishes too. Service was a little lacking when the restaurant was empty and then very harried when full – they might want to look into that a little but otherwise, it’s a good casual all day eatery in the area. We never felt rushed and with free wifi and large tables, it’s a great spot to gabble away the hours.

Bush Hall Dining Rooms
304 Uxbridge Road
London W12 7LJ

I’m a big fan of the American baked goods sold by Outsider Tart in Chiswick. They have cookies the size of your head, gorgeous brownies and amazing cheesecakes. I don’t stop by as often as I’d like but I know it’s there, waiting for me to have a cheesecake craving. Relatively recently, they expanded their premises to take in the shop space next door (where there used to be an unsuccessful raw pizza place – I mean, why?!) and they’ve used this new space for cafe seating.

They call it Blue Plate and they offer hot breakfast, brunch and lunch dishes there. My friend and I visited on a Sunday morning and grabbed two seats at the large communal table, the smaller tables were all already full. Their menu that day (I think it changes often) read like a dream – pancakes, grits, hash, hot meaty sandwiches. Diner food galore.

Johnnycakes with blueberries (£6.50 for a short stack – 2 pancakes) were thick, fluffy, cornmeal pancakes studded with lots of the purple fruit and served already drizzled with syrup. We, of course, needed more and helped ourselves to the little pitcher set out. As with all pancakes, they fill me up something ridiculous and I have no idea how anyone can put down more than two (and if you can, they sell stacks of 2, 3, or 4).

Johnnycakes with Blueberries

I can’t only have sweet for brunch or breakfast though – savoury is mandatory in my books. Cheesy grits with fried eggs and sausage (£9) immediately stood out on the menu to us and a bowl of the creamy, cheesy grits, studded with sausage bits and topped with fried eggs soon arrived at our table. And a biscuit! I think this was my first biscuit in London and it was a mighty fine one it was too. The grits went down a treat, especially with a bit of hot sauce. They’re creamy and comforting and about a million times better than a bowl of oatmeal.

Fried Eggs and Grits with Sausage

Blai and I went back for brunch this morning. Blai was utterly rapturous about his cheesy grits and biscuit while I decided to try something else and went for the migas (£9.50), an excellent Tex-Mex mixture of scrambled eggs here with sausage, blue corn tortilla chips, onions, jalapenos and sour cream. There was also a good chunk of excellent cornbread.

Migas

The only thing missing there? Those bottomless cups of brewed coffee – they only sold Americanos here and only by the single cup (of course). There are freshly squeezed juices and smoothies and bottled American soft drinks also available.

They’re open 8am-6pm everyday and on Thursdays they stay open until 10pm. I’ll be back…often.

Outsider Tart
83 Chiswick High Road
London W4 2EF

Outsider Tart on Urbanspoon

I wanted poutine, that glorious (or possibly gruesome, if you’ve never had it, I suppose) combination of French fries, cheese curds and gravy, while I was in Canada; yes, I know that poutine is Quebecois but I also know that it’s available everywhere in the country. Growing up in Vancouver, even Burger King offered it. When Renée heard of my need, she directed me to Gilead Café, known throughout the city to serve a very good, but modern, poutine. We were staying a stone’s throw from the Distillery District in Toronto and Gilead Café is a stone’s throw from that, making the café just two stones’ throws from us; yes, I could drag my colleagues there one morning.

I knew nothing about the cafe and even less so about Jamie Kennedy, the chef-owner. From what I can gather online, he’s quite a star chef in Toronto and he cares very much about where all the food he uses is sourced. I knew nothing of this when we entered Gilead Café for brunch that Sunday morning. The space is big and bright and I loved the walls lined with homemade preserves. Do come relatively early as we did and get seated immediately – there was a small queue as we were eating.

Three of us opted for the Hash with Sunny Side Up Eggs and Greens. The hash changes on a regular basis and the chalkboard indicated that today’s was going to be with succotash and bacon. Large chunks of potato were fried together with the corn and bacon mixture and served in a piping hot cast iron frying pan. It was a delicious start to the morning but I have a small quibble – I just wished the potatoes were cubed smaller, increasing the amount of fried surface area.

Hash with Sunny Side Up Eggs and Greens

One colleague ordered the Howdy Pard’ner, an open faced Sloppy Joe with a poached egg served with fries. He seemed pleased with it.

Howdy Pard'ner

And of course, the main reason I was there, a Poutine which I ordered for the table. A bowlful of well-browned fries (the way I like it) came out topped with cheese and the same meat topping as in the Howdy Pard’ner (actually they had layered the ingredients, ensuring that you always get something good with your fries). A big dollop of sour cream topped it all. It wasn’t a classic poutine by any means but it was certainly very good.

Poutine

As you can see from this Flickr search, the toppings seem to change regularly. The pork confit version looks amazing.

I couldn’t leave without trying one of their sweets and so bought a little butter tart to split between the four of us. It really was a very small one and so divvying it up did look a bit silly but I’m glad of just partaking in a single bite – it was ludicrously sweet.

Butter Tart

I’ve heard good things about their French toast for dessert though so that might be something to try if you’re there. The place is open for breakfast and lunch and turns into a bistro at night for dinner.

Gilead Café
4 Gilead Pl
Toronto, ON
M5A 3C9

Gilead Cafe on Urbanspoon

And that ends my short roundup of Toronto eats – as usual, all my photos of my trip can be found in this Flickr photoset. It was a fun trip – apart from the conference I attended, I also went up the CN Tower, visited Niagara Falls (not to be missed!), and was privileged to be invited to dinner at Shayma’s (the beautiful Shayma of The Spice Spoon). And of course, the St Lawrence Market is not to be missed, especially on a Saturday when the farmers all set up stands too. I enjoyed a delicious peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery, bought mustard from Kozliks, and shared a gorgeous wild blueberry strudel from Oodles of Strudels. Toronto is yummy.