Words: Chris Zacharia
Beware: festive brunch is coming. The mealtime that you just can’t escape, coupled with the season that you can’t ignore. What could go wrong?
Of course, this was always going to happen. Brunch is a fluid concept, more of an aspiration than a genuine mealtime. Breakfast bears the responsibility of fortifying you for the day ahead. Lunch makes weekdays almost tolerable. And if it wasn’t for dinner, what would you base your evening around?
Brunch is endowed with no such responsibilities. It radiates frivolity. Its perimeters are ill-defined. Its origins are decidedly modern. So if you want to add your own twist, brunch is open for business.
Aquum, a bar and nightclub on the notorious Clapham High Street, have taken it upon themselves to usher in the festive brunch. A nightclub isn’t the most promising location for a leisurely weekend brunch, but Aquum are at least trying to do things properly.
Head chef Anastasios Tologlou, formerly of Dinner by Heston and Chelsea’s excellent Medlar, brings some welcome Greek twists to the brunch fare. The staff are relaxed, pleasant and attentive. They’ve only been serving food here for a month, but it feels like there’s a determination to get things right.
Still, there are inevitable hiccups. Can we have coffee or tea with our brunch? Nope, because they don’t serve it. And even though we’re early for brunch, arriving at around eleven in the morning, we’re not joined by anyone else until past midday. Surprisingly, Claphamites seem wary of dining in a nightclub.
But that’s a shame, because there’s a decent menu here. Scrunched up like discarded Christmas wish-lists, it features all the classics – full English, eggs Benedict through Royale – and some mezze-style Mediterranean numbers.
I opt for the Big Fat Greek Breakfast (£12), featuring a robust clay-coloured Greek sausage as the key player. There’s grilled haloumi, poached eggs finely poised between perfectly done and a watery translucence, crescents of tomato with a herb crust, mushrooms, thick slices of lounza pork loin, and some thick chunks of pitta bread to mop it all up with.
And it’s good. The sausage is truly meaty and rich, far better than most English variants you’ll find on brunch plates around the city. Lounza and haloumi are the salty treats you expect them to be, and even though they’re not thin or crispy enough to be true pittas, the bread is nonetheless good at soaking up the yolky breakfast blend you always end up with when you’re eating a fry up. Sure, the mushrooms are downcast and drab by comparison to the rest of the plate, but it’s by no means a bad brunch.
My partner’s full English breakfast (£12) follows the same pattern. Baked beans are made ‘festive’ by the addition of bacon, there’s pigs-in-blankets rather than your usual bangers, and the sourdough is made fresh on site. Not bad, despite the tacked-on festive touches.
Beyond the plate, the Christmassy feel is less ignorable. You’re surrounded by giant snowflakes imprinted on the wall, cardboard masks and props on your table, yards of garish tinsel and stacks of board games, from Connect-4 to Uno. You’ll have to endure a Christmas playlist, but it includes Johnny Cash so it’s forgivable.
The overall effect was that of an impromptu meal in the seasonal department of a quiet BHS store. But had we visited during a busier time, the atmosphere would have lifted the place. Either way, once we’d licked our plates clean we settled down to a game of UNO, discovering that my girlfriend has no idea how to play UNO. After half an hour of failing to pick up the admittedly basic rules, she dumps all her remaining cards in the middle because “they’re all the same colour”. It’s what Christmas is all about.
To be fair, we were drinking prosecco on arrival at 11am. Good prosecco is was too, crowned with half a fresh strawberry for a fresh nose.
Is festive brunch a game changer? Of course not. It’s an edible marketing ploy, a doomed merger of two money-spinners. No matter: the food served at Aquum is good. At £12 for a full English, though, it has to be. It’s pushing the boundaries of good value, even for Clapham. But Aquum are trying to do things right, and when the ingredients are obviously of a good quality a higher price can be forgiven. Which, after all, is what the festive season is all about. Probably.
68-70 Clapham High Street