There’s no doubt about it – London brunches are branching out. Gone are the days when the only real choice was how you wanted your eggs with your Full English, and Eggs Florentine looked positively exotic. That late-morning weekend fusion of breakfast and lunch is now a much more exciting meal and, when it comes to broadening our brunching horizons, the Antipodeans are leading the way. A brilliant example of this is Lantana – a cosy Australian café in the heart of Fitzrovia which has become something of a brunching hotspot. At 11am on a Sunday morning, when most of the area around Charlotte Street is all but deserted, Lantana is packed. A gaggle of small groups – mostly girls – are gathered outside, giggling and gossiping in thick Aussie accents as they wait for a table to free up indoors. My dining partner and I are told it will be about 40 minutes, so we head out for a walk around the block to pass the time. When we return, we order tea and coffee in take-out cups to keep ourselves warm while we wait. The queue moves slowly, and we wait out in the cold for fifty-five minutes in total before we finally get a table.
Once inside the bright, whitewashed dining area, we were shown to a table towards the back. The room was narrow, and the pale wooden tables were crammed close together, with diners sitting very much elbow to elbow, but the atmosphere was nevertheless friendly and relaxing. Having intended to eat at 11am, by the time we came to order our food at 12pm we were both starving, so it’s a good thing Lantana’s portions are generous. My dining partner went for a dish of sautéed mixed wild mushrooms on potato bread with crumbled baked ricotta and crispy parsley. This was a great combination of flavours and textures – the potato bread was fresh out of the oven, stodgy and comforting, while the earthy, nutty flavours of the mushrooms were enhanced by the slight saltiness of the baked ricotta and the pure, fresh taste of the crisped parsley. The menu suggested adding a fried egg as an optional extra, but my dining partner prefers them scrambled. The kitchen was more than happy to accommodate her request, providing a veritable mountain of silken smooth, quaveringly soft scrambled eggy goodness at the side of her plate. I had high hopes for my own choice of toasted courgette bread with grilled halloumi, slow roast tomatoes, a poached egg and chilli jam. For the most part, I was impressed – the courgette bread had a delicate flavour and light, crumbly texture, the slow roast tomatoes were bursting with sweetness, the poached egg was perfectly executed – the brilliant yellow yolk running over the plate, and the chilli jam packed a subtle but effective punch. The only slight disappointment was the halloumi, which was delightfully salty, but sadly a touch overcooked, the charred outsides tough and difficult to cut. I had also chosen to add a little something extra to my meal, and the little pot of smashed avocado that perched on the side of my plate had me quite excited. Again, however, it just fell short of perfect. The avocado had great texture, the smooth mash shot through with larger chunks of avo, but the dominant flavour was the lemon juice used – however understandably – to stop the pre-prepared mix from going brown.
After these generous plates, neither my dining partner nor I had much room left, but we just couldn’t resist ordering one portion of Lantana’s toasted banana bread with mascarpone, banana custard and salted chocolate crumb to share. The warm banana bread was light, with real fresh banana flavour, but not over-sweet. The banana custard was sumptuously smooth, thick and richly sweet with overtones of caramel. The salted chocolate crumb gave a clever, almost savoury twist to the dish, while the fresh, creamy mascarpone just toned everything down and brought all the elements together. Once we had polished it off, we felt utterly stuffed, but it was well worth it. As for drinks, like any brunch place worth its salt, Lantana offers a selection of fresh-pressed juices. On a cold winter’s morning, however, I preferred to sip some of Lantana’s loose-leaf tea, which was served in a good-sized individual teapot, while my dining partner enjoyed a smooth, rich, flat white coffee. Service throughout our brunch was friendly and efficient, and while the slow pace had irked us when we were outside waiting, we were pleased to note that the staff put no pressure on diners to rush their meals in order to move the queue along. With the bill coming in at £20 per head including tip, this wasn’t a cheap brunch, but it was certainly satisfying. Taking into account the slight quibbles with my main dish, and the significant irritation of having to wait almost an hour for a table, we’d rate Lantana a respectable but not-quite-mind-blowing three and a half Forks-Up.Lantana
13 Charlotte Place