I must admit, it's taken me a fair old while to come round to the concept of brunch. As someone who is almost permanently hungry, brunch appears to have two serious drawbacks: firstly, it requires the user to delay the first meal of the day by a number of hours; and secondly, it seems to sanction the omission of an entire meal altogether - breakfast + lunch = two meals, whilst brunch = just the one.
Recently, though, I have been drawn to this most cocksure of meals by the brunch menus at a number of Manchester restaurants, most notably SoLIta and Beef and Pudding. The latter have now stepped up their strong-arm tactics with the introduction of the Bloody Mary Buffet: in other words, the already pretty tempting brunch menu but with the addition of virtually compulsory alcohol. We went last Sunday, and didn't even make a pretence of food being our primary intent; instead, we headed stright for the bar where an array of ingredients awaited the talented mixologists amongst us. Into my glass I lobbed celery salt, bacon salt, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, bottled tomato juice, freshly-squeezed tomato juice, ice, a healthy glug of Woodford's Reserve, a slice of gherkin and a dainty bacon garnish. It was amazing, and I am clearly a champion amongst Bloody Mary makers, even if it may seem a little to the untrained eye as if I just got carried away and didn't know quite when to stop.
This seemed a good time to soak up a little of the booze with some food. The brunch menu is available 10am - 1pm every Saturday and Sunday and seems specifically designed to mop up stray alcohol; there's not much here that's dainty. Mother Liz - last Sunday's guest of honour - went for the smoked haddock kedgeree at £7.95 and found the flavours perfect: buttery rice, subtle curry spicing, generous pieces of flaked fish and a beautifully rich duck egg. She did however find the rice a little on the stodgy side, and I had a similar textural issue with my Brunch Pud. This sounded unbeatable on paper - a mini version of their famous suet pudding filled with black pudding, fairground onions and pulled ham hock, served with curry sauce and topped with a fried duck egg and smoked bacon. This was almost perfect - except that the top crust (or the bit on the bottom as you look at the picture) was overdone to the point of being inedible. I think was was purely due to it hanging around for a while, but it had dried out to the extent that even picking it up in my fingers and gnawing at it in an unladylike manner proved fruitless.
However, the third diner at our table couldn't have been more spoiled. I have no doubt that a vegetarian with allergies both to dairy and to duck eggs is likely to strike fear into any restaurant upon arrival, but our ridiculously helpful waiter patiently put together a plate of vegetarian, dairy-free items and even produced a couple of poached chicken eggs despite them not being on the menu (they arrived separately after this picture was taken, rather than being special invisible eggs).
Overall then, a few tweaks needed with the food but an utterly splendid concept all round and another step towards converting me to the brunch concept. I'm already trying to talk Dave Mooney into offering an all-day booze buffet, morphing seamlessly from Bloody Marys to wine to sherry as the sun progresses further over the yardarm...a Leo Sayer at its very classiest.
- You can read the rest of the brunch menu here. We were invited as guests of the restaurant but complicated matters by being three people rather than two, so the short answer is that we paid for some of our food and some of our drinks but not all.