Gabriella enjoys cocktails, brunch and Gershwin tunes at a Covent Garden institution reborn in its new location.
It’s a bright and crisp autumn morning and London is sleepy as we slip down a side street off the Strand to sample brunch at Joe Allen brasserie.
Joe Allen has been a staple of Theatreland since 1970 when it was imported as a sister restaurant to the New York eatery with the same name. Although you wouldn’t guess, the restaurant has recently moved to a new site a stone’s through from its original home in Covent Garden.
The new Joe Allen is an easy place to like. It’s not quite midday but it’s already busy and buzzy with a mixture of families (little ones boosted by cushions), friends and couples. The interior has a basement feel with lots of dark wood and walls crammed with memorabilia and posters from stage and screen.
There’s a gorgeous vintage jukebox tucked in the corner but it’s superfluous today as a pianist effortlessly runs through a repertoire of familiar jazz classics and tunes from vintage musicals. She doesn’t miss a note as she chats to the friendly and efficient waiters. The music is unobtrusive and the tables are well spaced out, which means you are still free to talk as you tuck in to the extensive brunch menu.
As the clock ticks past twelve, we kick off with cocktails. While the traditional Bloody Mary looks bloody good, we instead opt the signature Good Morning Sunshine cocktails. I’m not the biggest fan of gin cocktails but these are the perfect start to proceedings. Fruity and light, with just enough sugariness to perk you up.
While Joe Allen is arguably more famous for pre-Theatre and evening dining, there’s a robust brunch menu on offer. We deliberate over traditional favourites such as eggs benedict, the now-obligatory avocado and poached eggs, and grilled steak with hash browns. I’m very tempted by the ricotta pancakes with poached strawberries and sweetened mascarpone but instead go for the waffle with blueberry compote and whipped cream.
My dining partner is in a more savoury mood and orders the breakfast bun which comes packed with scrambled egg, a slab of bacon, smoked sausage and melted cheese.
While the atmosphere is languid the service is brisk and our food arrives quickly. Our cocktails seem to have vanished in the blink of an eye so we order some sparkly and fruity mimosas to accompany our food.
My waffle is delightful. It’s cooked just right – crispy on the outside and fluffy inside and the compote is rich, sweet and delicious. I especially like the little glass jug filled with maple syrup that accompanies the dish which means I can drizzle to my heart’s content.
While I’m feeling slightly smug about my choice, my dining partner’s breakfast bun is also a winner. The toasted brioche struggles to contain all the egg and meaty goodness inside. The fact the sausage and bacon are smoked rather than the more traditional English style gibes the dish plenty of flavour and depth and it’s ideal for soaking up a (mild) hangover.
We’re offered desert but given the generous portions, I already feel like I’ve indulged enough. There are some intriguing cocktails on the menu too including a Cup of Joe (Stoli, Kahlua and espresso) and a Salted Caramel Martini, however, having already had two cocktails before lunchtime we decide to save these for another day.
We’ll definitely be back for brunch at Joe Allen. It’s a great setting, cracking atmosphere with some delicious, unpretentious food. Brunch, it seems, is the new Sunday lunch for Londoners and it can be a bit of a mixed bag.
This is certainly one I’d recommend for service, quality and toe-tapping show tunes at prices that won’t make your eyes water.