Whenever someone enquires as to whether I take after my mother or my father, I usually respond with the biologically correct answer of “both”. Recently however, I’ve come to realise that I take after my father in ways that extend beyond a set of squinty eyes and a hairline that likes to play hide and seek. Primarily, I’ve realised that I’ve inherited his militaristic discipline and organisation, which, over the last few years, has manifested itself in an obsessive desire to plan all my chores, tasks and social escapades for each and every day of the week – with little room for deviation. It’s a lifestyle that would seem rigid and mundane to most, but it’s one that gives me the order and structure that I need. For me, “spontaneity” is simply a synonym for both chaos and anarchy.
So, when I planned a pleasant Sunday brunch with Steak at the Table Cafe in Southwark, only to arrive and find that they were closed due to plumbing issues, my brain very much imploded into a state of emergency. We strolled around the nearby roads in a desperate bid to find brunch nearby, and just as I loaded up the Steak and Teeth map to search for a contingency, Steak declared that she could see some bread. Mistaking myself for a pigeon, I looked towards the pavement for crumbs. “No, the bread over there” she said, pointing to a glass display in the distance. Unsure if it was a hunger-induced mirage, we stumbled towards it, and found ourselves outside an attractive, glass-fronted cafe and bakery called “Gail’s”. Having begun life as a single bakery in Hampstead, named after the mentor of two budding bakers-in-arms, Gail’s has expanded rapidly into a chain of thirty-odd artisan bakeries. Whilst East London remains neglected by Gail’s growing network, (presumably because offering “brown bread” translates into cockney as a death-threat), residents of the East-End can, rest assured, make a quick trip to the Bankside branch, and we’d certainly recommend you do so.
Note: None of the meat here is halal, but non-meat/vegetarian options are available.
As well as an extensive selection of artisan bread, pastries and cakes, Gail’s offers a small but varied breakfast menu, which is served until 3pm every day. After glancing through it, Steak opted for a helping of sweetcorn pancakes – a decision that initially raised my eyebrows so high, that they risked exiting the orbit of the Earth itself. Served with tomato salsa, sour cream, and avocado, (a substitute for the usual constituent of guacamole), these savoury pancakes quickly dissipated my doubts, and proved to be utterly divine.
The soft, moist pancakes possessed a thick, potato-like texture, which contrasted incredibly well with the crunchy sweetcorn pieces within. The batter had also been infused with coriander, creating a beautiful, earthy aroma that escaped into the palate with each and every bite, whilst the light consistency of the salsa combined well with the thicker avocado mash and the smooth sour cream. Together, all three accompaniments amplified the delightful, savoury flavours within the pancakes. For once, I was willing to admit that Steak had made a better judgement call than I did.
Sweetcorn pancakes with salsa, avocado and sour cream
Whilst I eagerly waited for Steak to feel full and hand over the remainder of her pancakes, I dug in to my helping of brioche french toast – made with Gail’s signature dark french sourdough by default, and served with raspberry compote and crème fraiche. Personally, I adore a good piece of fresh bread, and the high quality of the dark french sourdough was instantly evident in its soft but firm core, and its beautifully chewy crust. Each piece possessed a sticky, glazed surface, which added a subtle sweetness to the bread, and contrasted well with the tartness of the raspberry compote. The crème fraiche, by contrast, was fairly neutral in flavour, and together with its smooth and light consistency, it added a cleansing dairy freshness to the palate. (Though, in reality, its high fat content was probably about as “cleansing” as an intravenous injection of butter).
Brioche french toast with raspberry compote and creme fraiche.
Bread. (I really didn’t need to caption this did I?)
With our stomachs happy and placated, we ordered a couple of flat whites to round off our brunch, both of which came with a smooth and crisp layer of microfoam, and were of a surprisingly good calibre for a non-specialist cafe. Though fairly thin in body and mouthfeel, they were relatively well-balanced, delivering a smooth, bitter touch that was robust, yet delicate.
Flat whites for two
Value For Money: 4.5/5
Both the sweetcorn pancakes and the brioche french toast cost £7 each, whilst our flat whites cost £2.80 each, amounting to a total bill of £19.60. Generally, breakfast items range from £4-£8, pastries and cakes range from £3-£5, and hot drinks cost around £2-£3. Relative to the quality of their food, and the satisfaction to be gained from it, we believe Gail’s charges a very reasonable rate. Every item is homemade and freshly-prepared, and despite the “organic” label, (which usually justifies charging an arm and a kidney), brunch at Gail’s remains a relatively inexpensive affair.
In keeping with human nature, some of the staff members we encountered at Gail’s were extremely friendly and accommodating, whilst others were fairly aloof and indifferent to our presence. On the whole however, service was prompt and courteous, and there was very little to fault.
Gail’s Southwark cafe is housed within a large, glass-enclosed unit, and boasts an interior decor that is every bit as chic and graceful as it is modern and minimalistic. Slim, wooden beams adorn the high ceiling in an attractive geometric fashion, whilst oversized jars hang below them, serving as quirky substitute light bulbs – or, should you wish, as giant anvils with which to crush your dining companions. The cafe as a whole is covered with a mixture of warm, wooden flooring and cool, dark tiling, with a seamless transition from one to the other. Elsewhere, wall-mounted plants and flowers harmonise with the surprisingly comfortable wooden furnishing, creating a charming set-up that invokes a certain sense of revitalisation. The cafe can be found a lengthy 10-15 minute walk away from Southwark station, and parking spaces may be available on nearby residential roads.
The simple, yet stylish setting of Gail’s Southwark branch helps to create a remarkably relaxing ambience. Rather than being rudely awakened by a bout of rowdiness, you’ll be greeted by a pleasantly calm and sleepy environment, which makes Gail’s an ideal brunch destination for those who bludgeon loud objects and/or people in the morning (myself included).
As a man with a perpetual plan who feels a great deal of anxiety at any such deviation from it, this was one occasion where I was fairly glad that it had failed. Had we not been bitterly disappointed by the Table Cafe’s temporarily closure, we would not have ventured forth into the local area, and we certainly would not have stumbled across Gail’s glass-fronted gem. Given the vast array of brunch-giants in London, and the fact that they serve primarily as a bakery, Gail’s is perhaps not the first destination that comes to mind when one desires a breakfast or brunch – (unless perhaps, you’re making it yourself). But, with a number of delectable and affordable breakfast items on offer, in a stylish setting with a healthy dose of calm composure, Gail’s is one brunch-underdog that is worth giving the time of day. Having enjoyed a pleasant, impromptu meal, Steak asked – rather smugly, whether I had learnt a valuable lesson with regards to spontaneity and my pedantic planning. As I sat up and stroked my beard, I smiled, and replied: “Yes. Never make a plan – without making a backup-plan and a backup-backup-plan”. At which point she threw a fork in my face.
Gail’s Artisan Bakery
Address: Unit C Neo-Bankside, 70 Holland Street, London SE1 9NX
Telephone: 0207 620 3064