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Brunch at Nopi - well not really

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

"Call it breakfast, call it brunch – it’s usually something topped with a couple of poached eggs, served with a strong flat white. Hold the Bloody Mary. In Oz, it’s definitely not about the booze." Australian Food Timeline

Behold avocado on toast. Bill Granger's and Australia's gift to the world, even though neither he nor Australia actually invented either avocado on toast or brunch. And to be honest it's probably because I am, for all intents and purposes, Australian, that I think that brunch is now considered an Australian thing - world wide. However, this is really not where it comes from.

There doesn't seem to be much dispute about origins. Namely the British hunt breakfast. The hunt breakfast was a meal most usually for men only, unless the women were going hunting too, served from a buffet of all manner of foods that were hearty and filling, and designed I suppose to provide energy. They also think that the alternative source from the other end of the social spectrum, was the meal that people ate after church on Sunday. Or rather that it was a replacement for this stodgy, heavy meal. Gradually the meals became lighter and more of a mix between breakfast and lunch which led to Guy Beringer, coining the word 'brunch' in The Hunter's Weekly, in 1895:

"Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week." Guy Beringer 1895

It was also considered a meal designed for recovery from a hangover. Although in this cartoon by Thomas Rowlandson it looks as if they might be building up to another hangover. Weekend seems to be the thing anyway - and not as early as breakfast, or as late as lunch, although it could continue into afternoon tea.

The Americans also claim its invention, basing their claim on the meal actors took travelling by train from Hollywood to New York, and stopping in Chicago for a meal. Which seems a bit too specific to me. Be that as it may it became big in America in the USA in the 1930s. And their brunch tends to include alcohol - most usually champagne or cocktails. Here in Oz, as, the quote says, we do coffee. Mind you I suspect a glass of bubbly or white creeps in quite often.

Apparently it became a sort of thing in Australia in the 1950s but it wasn't really until Bill Granger opened bill's in Bondi in 1993 and began serving avocado on toast that the Australian breakfast - served all day - and therefore kind of brunch, swept the world. I'm probably overemphasising the brunch aspect here, because really it's café culture rather than brunch that has been exported. You can, after all, eat rather more substantial dishes than avocado on toast in these places, although even avocado on toast can become a rather substantial dish, when combined with a whole lot of other things.

Which brings me to the impetus for this post - and I'm a bit apologetic about this, although it was David's choice - Ottolenghi's book Nopi, written with Ramael Scully - his chef at the restaurant - well he was when the book was published. I don't know if he is still there. So a lucky dip book and the page at which I opened it was simply the 'chapter' page for Brunch. Nopi is Ottolenghi's restaurant in London (well one of them), and, as he says in the introduction, it's restaurant food which would explain why I have not cooked much from it. Today, though, when I look at this particular section of the book I wonder why, because none of the recipes in this particular section are actually very complicated. That introduction and the overall expensive, refined design of the book - the page edges are gold for example - put me off a bit. Which just goes to show that you really shouldn't let your eyes rule your brain when it comes to books.

There are just a handful of recipes in this section beginning with Ham hock with baked beans, fried egg and sourdough. Below you see two different approaches to photographing this dish. On the left from the book - a classy photograph of the hock and the beans cooking together. On the right from the Ottolenghi Facebook page - how the dish is served. Looking good, but not quite as classy. It's all a matter of perception isn't it? The photograph in the book looks somehow 'special' and therefore a bit daunting.

The recipe is not that complicated - after all you are just cooking a ham hock in a pot with the beans and some vegetables and spices. It takes a while to cook the ham and beans, but no it's not complicated.

The other recipes in this section are a bit the same - Grilled grapefruit with star anise, sugar and elderflower yoghurt, French toast with orange yoghurt, Sweet potato pancakes with yoghurt and date syrup; Black rice with mango and coconut cream; Courgette and manouri fritters and Corn bread with grilled peaches and maple cream - the one I have chosen to feature with a photograph, because it looks wonderful, and one day I'm going to try it. They are all very simple, and all so very, very typical of what is served for brunch in cafés the world over these days.

And because of this you really don't have to go to a posh restaurant like Nopi to eat it. You can do it at home - at the weekend. As, if you are to believe his words, does Ottolenghi himself.

"Eggs, tomatoes, bread, feta, maple syrup, fresh fruit, lemons, my kids, my friends … and coffee. If I were to come up with a top 10 of “things I love”, it would pretty much read like that (note to my children and friends: not in the order listed, I promise). It also happens to act as a checklist for my perfect brunch, when bringing all these things together around one table is, to me, the very best way to start the weekend. I love everything about brunch: its informality, its generational mix and its “anything goes” nature when it comes to what’s being served (so long as there are eggs, tomatoes, bread and feta, of course)."

When David turned 60 - I think it was 60 - we had a big brunch party with all those things you sort of eat at a posh breakfast, but served late morning. It was a lot of fun. But, I will admit, a lot of last minute work because I just had to include the full English options didn't I?

Overall I think the best thing about brunch is that it is informal, and:

"If there is a philosophy behind this food, it is more about eating than about cooking." Julia Moskin/New York Times

Truth to tell this post is a bit patchy and not that inspired. It came about because I was feeling decidedly uninspired which is when I resort to the lucky dip option. But it did make me look at this particular cookbook again with a less critical eye, and it did make me wonder who I could invite around for brunch some time soon. When the peaches are back in the shops - no that's too far away. Sooner, with maybe some pears instead of peaches.


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