On brunch

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“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well,” Virginia Woolf tells us, “if one has not dined well.” Cutting to the truth of the matter as ever, Woolf nevertheless gives me cause to quibble. The formal, candle-lit, smartly-dressed connotations of ‘dining’ are smugly satisfactory in their own way, but dinner is not the meal through which we can really achieve the balanced fulfilment Woolf envisions. 

Dinner marks the closing of the day; there’s no new hope in it. Once one has settled down to dinner, one resigns any right to carpe diem – one instead seizes the carp and tucks in. Its communal ideal is what we find in Woolf’s To The Lighthouse: “Some change at once went through them all, as if this had really happened, and they were all conscious of making a party together in a hollow, on an island.” The rich food of dinner time ties us to sleep and to each other.

I could say a great deal about lunch, but little of it would be complimentary. It has always struck me as the most difficult of meals, coming as it does in forms as varied as a sandwich wrapped in cling fi lm or a steak with all the trimmings. What is lunch? I leave this dilemma to other pens.

Breakfast is, of course, the most important meal of the day. All my worst days begin with a bad breakfast. It is the meal that promises a whole new day ahead, and it must be attended to with care. But breakfast taken alone at an early hour can feel perfunctory. The truest unification of reinvigoration, communality, and inspiration comes in breakfast’s sexy younger brother, brunch.

First suggested by Guy Beringer in 1895, brunch is the perfect solution to finding breakfast too light and lunch too heavy. It brings people together but it also provides the individual with a way to recharge and regain confidence for the week ahead.

I learnt the craft of brunch at home. I have memorised the recipe for American pancakes, and found the perfect time to boil eggs. My father rises early on the weekends for a bike ride and by the time he returns my mother and I are wandering the ground floor in our dressing gowns. We make eggs with cheese and spinach, coffee is poured, and the three of us eat together at the oversized dining table. We delight in it more than any other meal, buying treats to go with it like smoked salmon or brioche.

When friends visit, we lose all sense of proportion and ridiculously over-cater. Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve laying the table for a huge eight-person brunch. In the kitchen, the adults would battle spitting fat to produce bowls of bacon and sausages. A basket of pains au chocolat was passed around. These could last past midday and even require a refill of the large cafetière, but we were still left with the entire afternoon to dispose of as we pleased.

In brunch, time does not exist in the same way that it does elsewhere. It glides on in measures of “one more coffee” rather than minutes. There is no strain to achieve in brunch. Satisfaction is reached through the completion of a crossword with friends, or the slant of the sun through the window, or the discovery that there are indeed more hash browns. At Somerville, brunch is served for twice as long as any other meal; the concept of midday becomes so elastic that it can be spread to cover several hours of reading, talking, eating, and drinking.

Going ‘out’ for brunch is, I grant you, a different experience. But what it loses in affordability and homeliness, it makes up for in luxury. Breakfast foods are among the easiest to prepare, but there are certain things that I will never have the inclination nor the imagination to produce. Professionally made French toast or eggs Benedict are a gift worth paying for. 

In this setting, the natural community feel which comes from brunch at home or college is put under strain. Instead it is replaced by an air of celebration. This is a tool to be used as frequently as possible. I have comforted old friends in hard and hungover times by taking them out for a reassuring full English. I have forged new connections through a mutual appreciation of eggs Royale. I have been for countless birthday brunches in London and Winchester and Portsmouth, each of them with a group of people I want to see happy and well-fed.

Brunch is not just a meal, it is an experience. At over 100 years old, it is still relatively novel to us, and to some is still appears unnecessary. This is precisely the point. I do not need brunch, but its very uselessness removes any pressure on the meal. Instead, one can relax, refresh, and enjoy.

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