There's something very attractive about a brunch menu. For one thing, it tends to include many of my favourite items, often involving a sausage or two, and bacon, and some eggs, and maybe a clutch of pancakes. For another, it opens up the thrilling possibility of hard liquor before lunchtime, somehow rendering it acceptable to knock back a martini or similar as long as it features something vaguely breakfasty - some kind of juice or marmalade product, perhaps. However, I rarely go out for brunch due to two basic flaws in the premise: I am an early riser but rarely find myself dressed and presentable in time for such occasions, and it forces me to forgo breakfast - something that makes me grumpy, and often a little petulant.
Still, the Bloggers' Brunch at Neighbourhood, held to preview their new mid-morning offering, looked to be worth attending, not least because the fragrant Didsbury Girl agreed to be my date. I've only eaten at Neighbourhood once before, and whilst the food was very good, I've always been slightly put off by the glitzy, rather waggish photos tweeted every Friday and Saturday night of thin women in small dresses drinking cocktails. And initial signs are not promising - we arrive to find the place full to bursting with hungry bloggers (always a terrifying sight), and whilst we bag a table to ourselves, it has a large tea stain right in the middle that isn't wiped away at any point. I ask for a pot of tea of my own and am brought half a coffee cup of hot water with bag and milk already in, and despite the fact that there can't have been more than a couple of inches of water in the cup, the teabag just isn't up to the job. I did warn you that not having breakfast made me grumpy.
The food itself is good though. We each order a main dish from the brunch menu - I go for the Full English, mindful of the importance of pork products at brunch - but are brought some samples unbidden in addition to this. The buttermilk pancakes arrive first, draped with a glossy chocolate sauce; the pancakes are light and fluffy and the sauce excellent, although I would have liked a few blueberries or other fruit items in the batter rather than just the solitary one on top (I ate that one - Didsbury Girl was too slow). We enjoy them, but wonder exactly how many you would get for the price of £7.50, which seems on the expensive side. Then comes the Breakfast Sandwich - a toasted muffin containing bacon, sausage and a fried egg. This is straightforward, and enjoyable, and I get to eat it all to myself as Didsbury Girl is given a spinach and mushroom number instead for her veggie option.
Best of all is the Full English Breakfast - two pork sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, Bury black pudding, grilled tomato, sautéed mushrooms and toast (except the mushrooms promised on the menu seem to have turned into baked beans - no matter). This is very good indeed; in fact, we both agree that the scrambled eggs are amongst the best we've had, hitting that correct balance between butter (lots of) and egg. The bacon is good quality and perfectly grilled, the toast is just to my liking, and they clearly understand here that a thick slice of black pudding is mandatory at brunchtime. My only (small) gripe is a preference for a thicker sausage. Meanwhile, across the table Didsbury Girl is enjoying her veggie option and is particularly taken with both the eggs and the spinach.
All of this takes a very long time to be served. But the staff are lovely - cheerful and efficient and liberal with the Bellinis and Mimosas that frequently appear as if by magic. It transpires that the kitchen were prepared for 34 guests but over 70 have turned up - and rather than gripe and sulk, Neighbourhood simply serve us all, with good grace and humour and some really very good food under the circumstances. Neighbourhood closes soon for a full refurb, and seems keen to position itself as a quality restaurant where everyone is welcome rather than just those hoping to bag a footballer - there is already a kids' corner with some excellent dressing-up props (erm, apparently), and all sorts of events are planned in order to fill this impressively large venue every night of the week. Definitely a case of watch this space I think (and hands off the crown in the dressing-up box - that's mine).
- Neighbourhood is at The Avenue North, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3BT. The new brunch menu is available Saturday and Sunday between 10am and 2pm.