|The Breakfast Club London, photo copyright The Breakfast Club|
Think back, if you dare, to 2005. Dark days, café fans. Dark days. The city was awash with chains. Monmouth Coffee was practically a lone warrior in the fight against bad coffee. Brunch was something those crazy New Yorkers did.
It may have only been 7 years ago, but ask most Londoners in 2005 what a flat white was, and they'd probably tell you it was a Farrow and Ball paint shade rather than the addictive fusion of espresso and velvety steamed milk we know and love today.
Thankfully, Flat White opened on Berwick Street, Soho in September 2005, helping to usher in a new age of drinkable coffee and stylish, Southern Hemisphere-influenced cafés. But Flat White wasn't the only great café to open in 2005. Just round the corner in D'Arblay Street, the doors were flung open to an egg-yolk yellow caff with an 80s theme, smiley staff and some indecently big fry ups: The Breakfast Club.
Seven years later, I'm standing outside the Breakfast Club on a soggy Thursday morning in January.
There is a line. There is always a line; populated by the hip, the hungover, the hungry. They queue outside its 3 younger-sister cafés in Angel, Hoxton, and Spitalfields too, out the doors and around the blocks. Why do these tired and huddled masses wait patiently every morning? One word: breakfast.
The Breakfast Club arguably changed the London café scene for the better just as much as Flat White, but with half the hype. But is it still any cop?
On the menu you'll find all the classics, done well: the full English, eggs Benedict, huevos Rancheros. But it's worth veering off into signature favourites like the chorizo hash browns we've ordered this morning...
|Chorizo hash browns, The Breakfast Club Soho|
They're a permanent fixture on the menu, providing delicious ballast for hangovers since 2005. These are not your average hash browns: no oil-soaked, greasy patties here. A traditional hash of rough-cut, golden-edged potatoes and silky onions is topped with a free-range fried egg with a glistening, amber yolk ready to pierce and run over the sweet red peppers, plump portobello mushrooms and portly, crisp chorizo sausages. It's not especially complicated stuff, but it's a faultless assembly of quality ingredients. The very model of a modern fry up.
|Avocado and poached egg on toast, The Breakfast Club Soho|
Significantly less artery-troubling is the avocado on toast, topped with a poached egg. Another dish that's commonplace in London 2012, but was practically unheard of in 2005. The egg is wonderfully wobbly with an unctuous, gooey yolk and the creamy avocado is lifted with a liberal squeeze of lime and just enough chilli to tickle the tongue.
A Blue Monday smoothie with blueberry, strawberry and apple and a bolshy flat white help keep our hangover demons at bay. There's not anything particularly interesting to say about them: it's a smoothie and a coffee after all, but here's a picture...
|Blue Monday smoothie and flat white, The Breakfast Club Soho|
The 80s theme at this original branch of The Breakfast Club is subtler than at some of the other branches. Look closely and you'll find witty period details - there's a couple of Bruce Willis' 7inch singles hidden among the fairy lights, drawings and Polaroids that cover the exposed brick walls. It's scruffier too (they planning to do up the rather grotty loos in 2012, apparently).
Blondie and Madonna jangle on the stereo. Affable waiters dodge and dive their way through tangles of limbs and shopping bags piled in around mismatched wooden and enamel vintage tables. It's a happy little place, the Breakfast Club. And while great cafés and brunch spots might be a dime a dozen in 2012 (and amen to that), it's still one of the best.