Thursday, 8 March 2012

reflections on the first meal of the day plus a trip to st.ali coffeebar and cafe

banana bread with cult of done espresso mascarpone
breakfast and i were not always on good terms. as a child it was the most fraught meal of the day as mama insisted on boiled eggs that i did not like. along with that my dadi would give me warm fresh milk claiming that she had strained it, which was not true as proven by my gag reflex. during my teens i dispensed with breakfast as a wholly unnecessary meal. all that changed in my late teens though as i got over my dislike of yolks and grew to love eggs. i swirled mama’s homemade jams and preserves into yoghurt and not only discovered granola but also became really good at making it. 

somewhere along the line breakfast became trendy and thank god for that! because i have some very sad memories of fauji cornflakes so thin that they would go soggy the moment they were introduced to milk. worse still was insufferable dalia (pakistani porridge) cooked in water, as it resembled the wet paper paste that i made for papier-mâché art projects in primary school. this february’s observer food monthly was ‘the breakfast special’. grace dent does a fabulous job of capturing the neo-breakfast movement with this line – ‘somehow, in defiance of centuries of dour social conditioning, we brits let breakfast get sexy’. and that isn’t just the case in britain but elsewhere too. 

i’ve never been keen on the great british fry-up as it is much too greasy and macho. but american breakfasts, they were fabulous. stacks of buckwheat pancakes whose sponge like texture was heavy with butter and maple syrup. eggs in combinations as endless as customised starbucks coffee. you could have bagels with all manner of filings, breakfast sandwiches and muffins. the bottomless coffee was not much to write home about but that can be forgiven. what’s more breakfast was an all day affair. we had a twenty-four ihop near our house in scottsdale where you could breakfast at mid-night if you so wanted. 

the two thousand’s saw the return of oat cuisine. porridge went posh with the addition of cream, compotes, toasted nuts and seeds, honey, maple syrup and the likes. the providores has on its menu brown rice, apple, maple syrup and miso porridge with tamarillo compote. this post-modern porridge has nothing in common with porridge, not even oats. it tastes like a fusion rice pudding, although you could argue that the consistency was somewhat akin to a runny porridge. the other trend was yoghurt layered with fruit and granola and bircher muesli (what the american's often call parfait). at pret-a-manger and eat you will find these trapped in plastic cups, perfect to eat at the desk and on the go. 

weekend brunches are now very much part of the london food landscape. and there is much more than just the british fry-up to choose from. along with american classics at the breakfast club, the australian’s and new zealander’s have completely altered the café and brunch culture in london. the british steakhouse hawksmoor has breathed new life into british classics like the calorie defying arnold bennett and seriously good breakfast cocktails. 

i sorely miss i whose mutual love for london and brunch would make her a willing riser on weekends. my husband not so much as his idea of brunch extends to sleeping in late and waking up to my softly scrambled truffled eggs or the labour intensive changa eggs. of course weekend brunches at home have their own charm but sometimes it is nice to be served and able to eat with o, rather than being the last at the table. the other breakfast lover in my life is my sibling. he makes the most perfect over-easy eggs with fried pastrami. better still, he will wake up at seven am even on vacation for the promise of an excellent breakfast. 

on his recent trip to london we had an early weekday breakfast at st. ali. originally from melbourne, st ali’s london out-post is in farringdon. we loved the high ceilings and spaciousness. a growing wall was such as lively green that one could be tricked into believing that spring was already here. m and i start on coffee. he has his black with milk on the side, i have a latte. the coffee here is a gentle awakening, not a rude caffeine kick. we later learn that this is because st. ali roasts are lighter than say monmouth or square mile. a lighter roast translates into softer floral and citrus flavours. the caramel notes are like light brown sugar. 
black coffee with milk
m breakfasts on house-braised beans, salted ricotta, lemon, mint, and truffled mascarpone. his plate is a medley of mild earthy colours. the beans are bound by a light tomato sauce and are seated on coriander and spinach leaves. they are finished with a finely crumbled ricotta that distributes its saltiness through the beans. a quenelle of truffled mascarpone rests on top. i wanted something sweet, preferably made with ingredients that had a natural sweetness. the combination of toasted banana bread with date and orange jam and cult of done espresso hit the right spot. australian’s love banana bread and they are definitely good at making it. it’s got the texture of bread unlike the british version, which is more cake-like. the edges of mine are crisp with toasting. the sweetness is subdued, more on the lines of salty molasses. the date and orange jam compliments that flavour adding a little stickiness. the espresso mascarpone is like a creamy latte and refreshes the earthy sugary tones of the bread and jam. in both our breakfasts the fusions works so well because one particular element pulls together the different flavours at play. in our case it was undoubtedly the mascarpone that did that.

house braised beans
St Ali on Urbanspoon 

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