There's a whole new meaning to BYOB now, and no, it doesn't involve bringing your own booze and corkage charges
“If you've missed breakfast, and it's not quite lunch, why not build your brunch,” encourages the website of Farmer J, a fast-casual restaurant in the City.
The “building” referred to here isn’t so much a brick and mortar construction job – rather, simply sitting back and choosing from various options on the menu, constructing your own meal through various components, including egg dishes, baked goods and meats.
Farmer J’s menu is a veritable what’s what of Instagram-friendly and hip dishes, from the requisite smashed avocado to a shakshuka, via harissa smash.
Speaking of Instagram-friendly, the whole restaurant looks like it’s been lifted from the Explore pages.
The thing that’s important to admit from the offset, though, is that this is all delicious. It might look good on camera and sound impressive to your friends, but above all it is food you want to eat. The drinks (cucumber kombucha! citrus turmeric juice! kale smoothies!) aren’t much different in aesthetic, or overall deliciousness.
There are nearly 30 options to choose from, with no real order beyond being grouped by food type. There’s no starters, mains or desserts to speak of, but the food tends to come out all at the same time, so it’s more about choosing the size of your main by the number of dishes than anything else.
The first choice you’re faced with is whether you want three, five or seven dishes, and which one you choose probably says something about you. Me? I’m not driving, and I’m greedy, so seven it is.
Most of the best options are from the “greens & veg” part of the menu, particularly the harissa-tinged smashed sweet potato and butternut, along with the wonderfully rich kale mac and cheese, a gut-buster which somehow manages to sneak in next to the healthiest looking choices. Similarly good is the buttery and extremely satisfying mini grilled cheese, as well as the warm almond croissant, the filling elevated from pedestrian to gorgeously gooey by being heated up.
Eggs often make or break a brunch, and the options here just about lean to the former. The shakshuka in particular is well done, with a welcome lick of zaatar and feta, but falls short of perfection as it lacks the tomatoey richness and paprika and cumin punch of the best versions. The miso scrambled tofu, meanwhile, performs the textural function that vegans miss from an egg dish, though it suffers from being watery, which the spring onions can’t save. Stick to the real thing if it’s an option for you.
Thankfully the meat dishes on offer are more worthy of your attention, especially the beautifully grilled and generously portioned flank steak – a better flank steak than you’ll find in just about 90 per cent of London restaurants.
Other options veer into the super-sweet, such as the syrupy pumpkin pancakes, or the loaded banana bread, which is topped with date syrup. Even the porridge comes with pecans and grilled banana, taking it more into dessert territory than breakfast. If that sounds like a complaint, then rest assured it isn’t.
With mostly delicious food, a comfortable and trendy setting and endless menu variations, Farmer J should satisfy even the pickiest brunchers. Why not build your brunch? It’s a good suggestion, and it rhymes, so why not indeed?
Farmer J, 24-32 King William Street, London EC3R 9AT; 020 7621 1850; open Mon-Sat; farmerj.com