A Blackfriars brunch
24 hours in London: 8 a.m.–10 a.m.
By Karl New
It’s 8:30 on Sunday morning, and already Toast Boy is showing up for work.
Brunch is less than three hours away at Blackfriars Bistro, and there’s plenty to do.
The small restaurant, on Blackfriars Street, can only seat about 40 people, but the popular Sunday brunch brings the week’s biggest crowd. Sometimes as many as 60 guests will come over the course of a few hours, and that’s why Toast Boy is on hand – to help prepare fruit, herbs, batters and, of course, toast.
“I have a job in another kitchen too,” says Toast Boy, whose real name is Daniel Gilbert. “But this is a very particular environment with some great chefs, so I like working here on Sundays. It’s a nice change that one day a week.”
And others are clearly looking forward to the Sunday-only brunch as well, with a few guests regularly lined up outside, 15 minutes before the doors open.
“When people call for the first time asking about brunch, I tell them their best bet is to simply make a reservation so they know they’ll have a spot,” says chef Mike Moore. “We can always manage everybody, but just today I have two reservations of 14 people – one at 11 and one at 11:30. It gets busy.”
Photo by Karl New Mike Moore, chef at Blackfriars Bistro, cooks for Sunday brunch.
Moore has been a chef at Blackfriars for two years since completing a culinary program at Fanshawe College. A few years ago he was downsized following the economy’s slip, and returned to school pursuing a lifelong desire to cook for a living.
“This is what I always wanted to do. But before the economy changed I was doing everything but this,” says Moore, who now relishes the creative atmosphere at Blackfriars.
“We have free rein with our specials and the menu, and that means we get to be creative, but it also helps us to please the guest. Some of them have very particular dietary needs or allergies and they know we’ll work with them.”
Many of those guests are professors from Western University, staff from other nearby businesses or neighbours from around the corner. And Moore says it creates a sense of community.
“We have a vast array of people who make up our clientele base,” he says. “And the best part is that you come to know many of them by name, and they’ll stick their heads in the kitchen to thank you before they leave. There’s nothing better as a chef.”
And one couple that every member of the Blackfriars Bistro staff expects on Sunday mornings is Rick and Sue Kitto. Both are retired, and for years they have had a standing reservation at the same table, at the same time, every Sunday morning. The pair come in each time, not needing to look at the menu, and work on the New York Times crossword together.
It’s something nice to look forward to at the end of the week,” says Kitto. “We were phoning in so often we figured it made more sense to call them if we weren’t going to be there. It worked much better.”
And Kitto gives credit to the small group of chefs up early on Sunday mornings, making the whole thing happen. He seems to know all of the staff by name, referring specifically to Moore, Gilbert and Stephen Burns, another cook who works Sunday brunch.
Burns studied at the Cordon Bleu culinary arts school in France and has worked in Spain, helping to open up wineries. Now at Blackfriars, he echoes the appreciation for creativity mentioned by the other cooks.
“We’re given carte-blanche here with how we cook,” Burns says. “Brunch, traditionally, was about making a meal with what was left over, but we’re obviously getting to do so much more than that with it here.”
Photo by Karl New Opened 16 years ago, Blackfriars serves brunch every Sunday.
Blackfriars was opened 16 years ago by Betty Heydon, who continues to be the owner and operator. With a degree in fine art and art history, she has hung several of her own paintings in the dining room. .
“It’s a way of supporting my artistic habits through my work with food and restaurants,” she says with a laugh.
Describing the food at her bistro as international gourmet, Heydon works by the mantra that not all stomachs are created equal.
“We’ll do what we can to please anyone. I see our menu as a stepping stone to getting our guests where they want to be.”
And for a restaurateur who was worked in the business since she was 14, Heydon believes that flexibility has been a key to the success of Blackfriars Bistro.
“There’s a common ground here,” she says. “When I opened, my daughter asked about my target market, and I told her – people who like good food.”