I sometimes wonder what foreigners make of British eating habits. We seem to have so many different meals in a day: breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tea and dinner or supper. Even our national summer sport of cricket must be the only game in the world with two meal breaks plus drinks. To add to the confusion we in Yorkshire have our dinner at lunchtime and tea at dinnertime. There is also the weekend repast of brunch, an amalgam of breakfast and lunch, although I wonder whether we Tykes should call it brinner!
The idea of brunch was first put forward by the English writer Guy Berringer in 1895. He sounds like a bit of a lad as he suggested it so that people who had been out on the lash on Saturday night, or carousing as he put it, could have a lie in and wait until after they had been to church on Sunday before bothering to make something to eat. He suggested starting with tea or coffee with marmalade and other breakfast dishes before moving on to the more substantial luncheon stuff. I mention this because I was invited to review the new Vice Brunch menu at Vice and Virtue. With a name like that how could I refuse?
There are two versions, a Classic Package, the one I tried, comprising five courses, each with an accompanying cocktail; and a Prestige Package which is the same food menu but with more exotic drinks. The prices are £50 and £75 respectively. My invitation was for noon on a Saturday but without the after effects of any Friday night carousing, maybe next week. The aforementioned Mr Berringer would have been impressed as the courses did indeed follow his suggestion of moving from breakfast food to lunch dishes, but here we finished with dessert just for good measure.
The first course was Coconut and Cranberry Bircher with Passion Fruit. It came in a small glass jar and topped with a granola biscuit which acted as the jar lid. Bircher is oatmeal and other cereals soaked overnight in water, milk or cream and usually has apple added, but as the name suggests here it was made with coconut and cranberry pieces instead and then laced with passion fruit. There was also the odd raisin in the mix. The texture of the oats was wonderfully creamy and the tastes of the added fruits were individually discernible but combined to make an exceptional start. The granola biscuit provided crunch to contrast with the softness of the porridge. The cocktail which was presented with the dish was Viced Mimosa, described as Prosecco with Raspberry, Thyme and Pineapple. The fruits went well with the food and the hint of thyme meant that it was not too sweet.
Beetroot and Juniper Cured Salmon with Beetroot Powder and Miso was the next dish to be delivered. There was also some caviar and slivers of cucumber. It was at this point I thought that things were going to go downhill. The constituent parts were beautifully presented and the taste was delicate but the portion size was smaller than I would have expected for brunch. I have been around the block a few times when it comes to food and I have seen more than my fair share of naked emperors when I was told they were wearing Savile Row suits. The most notable was the nouvelle cuisine of the eighties when we were charged a fortune for minute morsels prettily arranged on a plate. This was rumbled eventually and suffered a quick demise. There is more to food than taste and whilst I don’t judge a meal by whether I have to loosen my belt, I do like there to be enough so that I can test the texture and, with so many combinations of flavours on offer, try a combination of each with the others. This just about fit the bill but only just. The other disappointing part of the second course was the cocktail which came with it, Red Snapper, billed as being ‘Like a Bloody Mary but with Bombay Sapphire Gin and a Little Spicier.’ It was certainly spicier and also had crushed salt flakes and ground black pepper round the rim of the glass which gave it even more of a kick. Had this been presented as an aperitif before a robust meal of say steak it would have been great but being paired with the most delicate course on the menu it was just plain wrong and blotted out the taste of the salmon.
Enter the third course and exit my concerns about the portions. It was Black Pudding Morcelo Style Croquette with Baked Beans and Rhubarb Gel. There was also some Tarragon sauce which was not mentioned in the description. The beans were a combination of three or four types of the pulse in a rich tomato sauce. They were cooked to perfection, being solid enough to chew but not tough, a great trick and an illustration of my theory of texture. The black pudding was a ball covered in a shell of cereal. The crispness of the outside revealed a pitch black unctuous filling. Brilliant. The drink was a Martini Spritz which comprised Martini Speciale Riserva Rubino Sous Vide with Forest Fruits and Topped with Lemonade. Light, fruity and very refreshing. Ironically this came with the most intensely flavoured course on the menu – only just, as the next one was another corker.
Round four saw the entrance of the big hitter. Buffalo Flank Cooked Overnight in Arabica Coffee and Almond Milk with Basil and Tomato Toast, Coffee Gel and Aerated Hollandaise Sauce. It was sprinkled with finely chopped bacon, another illustration of how texture is an important part of a dish. I loved every aspect of this. The meat had absorbed the flavours of its marinade, the gel gave it an unusual twist, similar I suppose to putting a spot of plain chocolate in chilli, and the hollandaise adding a creamy consistency. The bread was done well, being properly toasted but not brittle. This was what Guy Berringer meant by the substantial dishes. The drink was Cuban Star, Bacardi Carta Blanca with Black Grape Juice, Star Anise and Lime. It is the restaurant’s take on a daiquiri and was light and sweet. The star anise worked but was a bit sticky for my taste.
And so to the grand finale: Mocha Green Tea and Cherry Roulade with Pistachio Sauce, Cherry Gel and Pistachio Powder, a very well thought out and presented dessert. The flavours were intense but it was not stodgy which was good as there is nothing worse than a heavy pudding spending the afternoon slowing you down. The parts were delicious individually and combined with each other very well. The final cocktail was Breakfast Mojito, Bacardi Carta Blanca Rum with Mint, Mandarin, Marmalade and Lime. The marmalade was a neat twist to bring us back to the breakfast element of the brunch and gave a bitter taste which was a good counterpoint to the dessert.
I discussed my experience with Ross who looked after me during the meal and told him of my thoughts on the Red Snapper. To be fair this is only the second week of the Brunch Menu so it is still being tweaked. If the Red Snapper and the Cuban Star had been swapped I feel that it would have worked much better. I am also not a huge fan of cocktails but they worked well with brunch. Ross said that they didn’t want to go down the ‘Unlimited Prosecco’ route and I tend to agree – sparkling white would have jarred with the black pudding and buffalo courses, not to mention dessert.
I must finish by saying that with only one exception I enjoyed my Vice Brunch very much. I must try having my next one after a night of carousing.
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Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.