Nicely ramshackle and comfortably worn in, Havana Coffee provides a welcome relief from the “boho-local-mimosa” joints so easy to come by in Clifton. Che Guevera and Diego Rivera look down upon the mismatched tables and worn tiled floor, with rumba music continuing the Cuban theme. There’s a sense of timelessness about the place: students in slogan’d T-shirts delving into fry ups and deep bowls of filter coffee, the owner and his cronies putting the world to rights in the corner, bathrooms that haven’t seen a paint brush for a decade or two.
The food itself has both a North American theme – thick milkshakes, pancakes of all denominations – and a more traditional bent; the full English comes with artery clogging hash browns, boiled, buttery mushrooms and square toast. Seeking some grease to soak up last nights’ excesses their excellent (and enormous) bacon butty hit the spot, while their coffee is as unforgiving as you might hope.
Compared to the organic options nearby (HFW’s River Cottage Canteen is just up the road), Havana isn’t sophisticated – but, happily, it isn’t trying to be. Instead, it serves no-nonsense breakfasts cooked to order from a small kitchen out back, with not a jot of pretension in sight.
Price: from £2.90 (beans on toast) to £7.50 (Big Breakfast).
With minor pomp or ceremony, Bill’s landed on the Triangle a few weeks ago. They’re a familiar sight further south with their original café in Lewes providing the template for six more in London and beyond.
Clearly keen to hold on to the homemade quirk of their first venture, the place comes with cosy booths, mismatched chandeliers and a stripped back steel and wood interior. The young staff are friendly (and may be new to the catering game) and do a great job despite being tested by granola imprisoned in kilner jars, ‘rustic’ wooden boards instead of plates, tall latte glasses and giant pewter teapots placed precariously on tiny trays or miniature tables for two.
The food itself is fine, though served so quickly it left little doubt that it’s prepared in advance. My pancakes were just sweet enough, while the Egg Poacher’s fruit skewers and yoghurt did exactly what they said they would. Traditionalists will find bacon rolls and a full English on the menu, while caffeine fiends could definitely do worse. More unusually, you can order organic goods and store cupboard staples from your table – a move likely to be well received in market-keen Bristol. There are imported Italian antipasti in oversized tins, organic veg in wicker baskets as well as picnic hampers and Bill’s own brewed beer to take home.
Bill’s is perfectly pleasant – fans of Jamie’s Italian or Carluccio’s will no doubt find much to like here, too. This particular brunch hunter may head for more independent shores, but decent coffee and a reassuring menu will bring students and shoppers in their droves.
Price: from £2.50 (toast & jam) to £7.95 (Bill’s breakfast).
With the right honourable Hugh Fairy Whipping-Boy’s passion for all things local, organic and seasonal, it seemed almost inevitable that River Cottage and Bristol would come together. And they have: a church-cum-post-office on Whiteladies Road has been transformed into a high-ceilinged, wood bedecked “canteen” serving the best of the south west’s ingredients, the shining open kitchen and young and enthusiastic staff welcoming in the wind-chapped masses from morning ‘til night.
It’s very much more restaurant than café (or indeed Cottage): polite and smiling waitresses bring water to the table and will hang up your jacket before offering to bring you beverages as you peruse the breakfast menu. Despite the famous name and benevolent HFW looking down from book covers above the bar, it’s surprisingly good value, with most meals sitting around the £5 mark. We opted for muesli topped with extremely creamy yoghurt, spiced figs and poached apple and a Proper Round of Toast (anything under 4 slices and the Egg Poacher will start to eye up the napkins as another source of sustenance). The locally-roasted coffee is excellent, and a peek at the breakfasts around me showed well-crisped bacon, perfect globes of poached egg and sausages that brought murmurs of appreciation from the diners around us.
You’d be advised to phone ahead and, if you can face it, get there early: a 9am start on a Saturday gave us the pick of the place, but by 11 the floor was full; a late brunch may be a quick one if you have to give up the table for an early lunch booking. Children are welcome and catered for with their own menu, quiet music plays and you can watch the resident baker do his thing at the wood-fired oven – no doubt this place will do very well indeed.
Price: from £1.50 (toast & jam) to £8.50 (Canteen breakfast).
The Galley sits between a rock and a wet place – on one side you have Hotwells Road, home to sinister looking pubs and fast food joints; on the other, you have the river and it’s swans, boat folk and masochistic rowers on a mission to reach the end of the course before their extremities fall off.
Inside, double glazed windows shut out the road noise and seats at the back show a better view than Hotwells Fried Chicken. The walls are adorned with nautical nick-nacks, vintage signs and globe lanterns and a soulful soundtrack plays – though by the third round, Al Green had started to grate a little. It’s not a huge space, so choose a table away from the coffee machine – and caffeine seekers should be prepared to order more than one vintage tea cups’ worth if they want to wake up properly.
Brunch comes from a short menu, and traditionalists will be happy – the full English comes with beans and fried bread, decent bacon and herby sausage; those looking for something a little different might opt for duck eggs on sourdough with spinach, and there are veggie options and lighter bites (granola, crumpets and homemade jam) too.
The ingredients are local and good quality, but breakfast feels like an afterthought here: I’ve heard great things about relaxed, raucous dinners, their Sunday roasts look fabulous and the cream heavy cakes testify to a fine afternoon tea, but there was something a little lacking from the morning menu. A chilly interior, hard wooden pews and a slightly distracted service meant we didn’t stay for long – those looking for a place to linger over their brunch would be better served elsewhere.
Price: from £2.50 (crumpets) to £6.50 (full English). Cash only.
The breakfast stars have aligned over Stokes Croft. The Bristolian has been a familiar sight in Picton Street for years, though its once grubby interior has had a spit and polish and it’s come up shining: on a sunny Saturday the pine floors, bright lanterns and fairylights make the place the feel like the inside of one giant toy box. And it’s full of good food.
The Bristolian is the best of what this city represents – all are welcome, from St Andrew’s poi performers to dads on the morning shift, freelance parents with free-range toddlers and last night’s casualties, invited in from the walk of shame and offered a sympathetic ear and a constant supply of coffee. In fact, this place is the perfect hangover cure, with Bloody Mary and her mates making an appearance, as well as an impressive breakfast menu that will suit all appetites.
Top of the list is the Bristolian Fusion, a Mediterranean delight full of deliciously spiced chorizo, salsa and fried potatoes; their full English is a carnivore’s dream with their bacon and sausages declared the best ever by the Egg Poacher – praise indeed.
This microcosm of Montpelier comes with all the extra options you’d expect – vegan and vegetarian, soya milk and super salads; there’s bread for sale from the wonderful Hobbs Bakery, home-baked cakes, proper leaf teas and a full-bodied coffee. Get here early to avoid the rush – by 11 most of the ‘Croft residents are awake and ready to descend on the tightly packed tables. But it’s worth the squeeze – this counts as one of the best breakfasts yet.
Price: From £3.50 (muesli & yoghurt) to £7.95 (Bristol Fusion).
Lovely Bath. On a chill December weekend we descended on the city in search of romance – the Egg Poacher and I were celebrating 3 years of brunch hunting and needed somewhere with an excellent breakfast reputation. Enter Villa Magdala.
Set apart from the sharp-elbowed tourist centre, the hotel is a sanctum of calm. On arrival our bags were whisked to our room before we’d even noticed we’d put them down, their staff attentive and friendly (with a welcoming waggle from Billy the dog). Following a gorgeous dinner at The Olive Tree (the owner is a gin expert) and a fine nights’ sleep in their lovely beds, we were hoping for another good feed. Things were looking promising with the weekend papers delivered to the door, a buffet table groaning with pastries and fresh fruit juices, Classic FM on the Roberts radio and one of the best possible questions at breakfast: “Would you like some Bucks Fizz?” YES.
The cooked menu is a bible of brunchy goodness – buttermilk pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, enormous kippers on toast, eggs doused in freshly made hollandaise and a proper full English. Cafetieres of coffee and topped up toast-racks appear from nowhere, and a young waiters were keen to make sure all was well. Nicely full (and with a slight Bucks Fizz buzz) we headed off in search of the Spa, smug in the knowledge we’d be back for more the next morning.
Price: B&B from £120 per night for 2.
Corn Street is a student favourite, home to Australian drinking dens, coffee shop chains and sticky, leather-clad pubs announcing SPORT! in faux chalk handwriting. It also hosts some of Bristol’s most local of businesses under the canopy of St Nick’s market; and now, just a few steps away, The Birdcage.
The interior is pure Bristol: part boutique festival, part PG Wodehouse production and with bona fide vintage shop in one corner, the arts crowd flock in their oversized shirts, bobble hats and Chelsea boots to sip on pumpkin lattés while reclined in old Chesterfields. Velvet lampshades clustering around fairylights and the ubiquitous bicycle hanging from the ceiling add to the vintage theme, and the staff – some expert baristas, ex- fashion professionals or events organisers – look as if they were always meant to be here.
Happily what could have felt reserved only for those who are intimately familiar with a brothel creeper is actually very welcoming: on my visit one member of staff seemed genuinely delighted to see a young couple with newborn in tow and was quick to offer up the toys they have for such occasions, while drinkers and diners of all ages came in to have a nosy, scanning hopefully for a free sofa.
There’s not a huge amount in the way of brunch, but the coffee is delicious (their Americano on the bitter side of the spectrum, but with a healthy punch) and there are homemade cakes, muffins and sandwiches to fill the hungry hoards. The bar takes central stage and can be noisy, but a decent soundtrack of 60s music soon revives even the most irritable shopper. Pressés and smoothies add a touch of virtue while local beers and a short wine list will tempt you to the other side. Mix in their own ground coffee to take home, live music and some lovely pre-loved finds and you’ve got a perfect pit stop that you’re likely to return to again and again.
Price: from £1.90 (espresso); smoothies £2.75.