Saturday and Sunday are days of rest, or days to brunch, or days to drink away the night before’s hangover. London restaurants appear to have answered our prayers and now more and more establishments across the city are offering bottomless – as in, drink as MUCH as you possibly want – brunch deals to entice us out of our beds and into their banquettes.
Over the last couple of weeks I have tried not one but two of these wondrous inventions, each for a different friend’s twenty-fifth birthday (yes, turning half a century means that we are now sophisticated ladies who lunch – rather than club – for birthdays). Both restaurants are classic British/ European, and both offer up unlimited prosecco alongside their Saturday lunch menus. I compared the two in an effort do decide who, out of Almeida in Islington and One Canada Square in Canary Wharf, ultimately does bottomless brunch best.
The Almeida was recently listed in the top 150 restaurants in The Daily Telegraph’s Good Food Guide and having eaten there, it’s not difficult to see why. The space itself is fantastic. The room is light, airy and sophisticated, with contemporary wooden furniture and a semi open kitchen. Plus they have white table cloths, which I’m a total sucker for. It’s chic but welcoming; the ambience is improved even further by the tinkling of jazz that wafts across the room from the grand piano. At the Almeida the vibe is bottomless ‘lunch’ (rather than brunch); you pay £20 for two courses or £25 for three and then unlimited prosecco is £15 on top of that. Given the quality of the food, I’d say this is very reasonable. The kitchen is run by Tommy Boland- before the Almeida he was head chef at Tom Aitken- and his experience is reflected in the food. Starters included roasted pumpkin soup with venison sausage roll, salt cod bavarois and scallops, whilst mains range from crispy piglet belly to steamed pollock. I ordered the pan fried sea bream fillet with onions, which was excellent. Although I could not even contemplate a desert those who could said they were delicious, in particular the baked cheesecake and the chocolate and hazelnut pave. Aside from their wonderful food, Almeida boasts an amazing wine list and they do a fabulous espresso martini to boot. The service was excellent, and in all honesty there wasn’t anything really to fault.
One Canada Square
Now on to One Canada Square, situated literally in the lobby of the sky scraper that is One Canada Square, a stones throw away from Canary Wharf. Despite the rather unorthodox setting, the interior decor is very nice (it’s done by the prominent architects David Collins Studio), with a heavy focus on dark wood and green marble. It felt both art deco and yet contemporary at the same time, and this together with the loud buzz of voices typical to a French brasserie made for a very atmospheric experience. There’s supposed to be live piano here too, but sadly the grand piano remained untouched for the duration of our lunch. The Saturday menu here is actually billed as a ‘bottomless brunch’ and the dishes had a distinctly more breakfast-y feel to them than at the Almeida. As with the Almeida, you pay £20 for two courses or £25 for three, only here the ‘bottomless’ aspect is extended to include bloody Mary’s, wine and mimosas, as well as prosecco, for £20. The menu was more brunch-like and also more informal than at the Almeida; starters included soft shell crab ‘Benedict’ with jalapeño hollandaise, leek and sweet potato rosti with avocado and poached egg (which was amazing) and cured trout. The mains were lovely; most of our party ordered the squid ink linguini with crab, although the cep tortellini looked spectacular and my fishcake- whilst entirely predictable- was very tasty. The deserts also erred on the side of ‘classic’, the sticky toffee pudding with corn flake ice cream was definitely the best of the three choices on offer. My only complaint would have to be in regards to the service, which was OK. The staff were perfectly nice, but our waitress looked at my vegan friend as though she had three heads when ordering her food (despite having phoned up a week before to let them know of her requirements) and asked what vegan ‘exactly means’. All in all I would say that the vibe definitely was not as welcoming as at the Almeida.
Whilst I had a fabulous time at both establishments I would say that, all criteria considered -food, ambiance, decor, price- the Almeida did the best bottomless brunch. Not only was the Almeida ever so slightly cheaper, it actually had a far classier and more authentic feel to it than One Canada Square. That being said, whilst the food at Almeida was certainly more exciting, I have to say that it was not necessarily better tasting than the brunch menu at OCS. Ultimately, I would recommend both to any avid bottomless brunch hunter, but I’d certainly head back to the Almeida first, if only for those beautiful white table clothes!