I like brunch. It’s my favourite meal of the day if I can’t convince people to get to up early enough to call the same meal breakfast.
Somehow, brunch feels more relaxed, friendly and informal than evening meals and drinks. There’s something about it being the morning as well, gearing up for the day ahead with all sorts of opportunities. There’s not only the conversation about what’s happened but there’s forward thinking and planning.
All that, of course, also centres on company. The only thing better than eating pancakes is eating pancakes with someone else. Obviously they would be eating their own pancakes. Ain’t no pancakes for sharing.
Ezra & Gil’s rather sparse website would seem to agree with me.
We feel that this experience should be enjoyed communally. An experience that creates a relaxed mood and with a sensual vibe – animated by an array of smells, tastes, sights and sounds to feed the senses.
So off we went to Hilton Street at the Piccadilly end of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, arriving shortly after 11.15 on a Sunday (the time is important). The place was packed so we had to wait to be seated which I don’t mind. It shows the place has a reputation. We were eventually seated after only 10 minutes at a window where our table was actually a window sill overlooking Fan Boy 3 across the road.
The menu isn’t the biggest and, oddly for somewhere that advertises all day brunch, there is no bacon or pancakes on the menu. We chose what we wanted (a classic breakfast sans bacon, a French toast, a flat white and a tap water) and, unusually for somewhere like this, I wandered over to the counter to order.
It’s at the counter where Ezra & Gil gets its personality. The place is airy yet industrial with wooden floors and it reminds me of a market, especially when you consider the “provisions” for sale at the counter, ranging from a vast variety of cakes catering to every dietary requirement to being able to purchase one hen’s egg for 20p to take away with you for later.
And yet it was also at the counter where I felt that Ezra & Gil failed brunch. That important time I mentioned earlier? If we arrived at 11.15 and waited 10 minutes to be seated, I think I went to queue just before 11.30. Having had to pour my own tap water from a jug that was empty except for cucumber in to a paper cup and take that to my friend, I went and returned to the queue to wait for my coffee.
I got a text at 11.39 asking why I had to queue twice. At 11.51 I got back to the window sill just as my French toast was arriving. At 12.21, having finished eating, left the place, slowly and meanderingly taking the Google estimated 6 minute walk to Primark, wandered round their for as long as I could manage trying to find something in particular, exiting and walking across the road again, I text my friend who had gone for a bathroom visit to say where I was.
Whatever you think about not having bacon on the menu or the fact that the French toast was definitely more still on the “bread” side or that my flat white went strangely bubbly in the foam on top or the fact that the place is cool and quirky, the bit that makes brunch the best is the fact that you spend it with friends. From seating to leaving, I think I only spent 15 minutes sitting with my friend.
For me, small changes would make a massive difference. Take the person off the till and have them join the two or three people circulating to take orders. Or maybe have them make the smoothies or put the tea bags in the pots so that the barista can concentrate on the time-consuming coffee preparation. Effectively removing the self-service would mean that they could ask whether you want another coffee, and go and get it for you.
It takes more than a few bench tables (certainly more than a few window sills where you sit with your back to the room), and more than catering to everyone with the variety of provisions being sold to make somewhere communal. In fact, I don’t believe that a restaurant has to work very hard to do this. It should be incidental. Just keep friends together for as long as possible. It’s what brunch is for.