Holly Mac tucks in at the Porridge Cafe in Shoreditch, east London. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Venture serving only porridge-based dishes follows trend for ‘brinner’ – using foods associated with breakfast and ‘reinventing’ them for dinner.
For lunch, Ellie Bamber had treated herself to an arborio rice porridge of slow-cooked beef ragu, feta and basil, which she followed with buckwheat porridge topped with passion fruit, coconut and agave nectar. Dessert, she concluded, wasn’t quite as good as the main, “but only because the beef was fantastic”. How was it otherwise? “Filling.”
Most people wouldn’t generally tend to have a two-course porridge meal, all the same? “Oh, I probably would,” said Bamber, a student who had skipped her daily morning porridge to save some room for lunch. “I just love oats.”
Proving that there is no limit to the inventiveness of those seeking to part bearded east Londoners from their bitcoins, Shoreditch on Monday saw the opening of the nation’s first pop-up cafe dedicated to porridge.
Porridge, as the space is known, will offer a daily menu of stews and fruits on warming cereal bases, and if the mid-afternoon custom on opening day wasn’t quite a stampede, those behind the cafe will hope that Bamber is not the only one who has been scanning the capital’s restaurant listings just waiting for a specialist supplier to sate her porridge cravings.
The cafe is the brainchild of 31-year-old Nik Williamson, who in a neat embodiment of the east London aspirational career trajectory, quit his job in IT management in the City two years ago to run a street food stall specialising in slow-cooked British meats. A visit to a Copenhagen cafe serving only porridge convinced him of the value of a similar London establishment.
“More often than not, people in this area are having a chocolate croissant or something for breakfast, and they are going to be wanting elevenses after that,” he said, as the cafe quietened after lunch. “You don’t want elevenses after our porridge.” Though his savoury options, he admitted, might equally be described as risottos.
Breakfast, as it happens, is proving quite the new thing in this part of London, after the opening last year of a cafe serving imported American cereals, which can be enjoyed alone or in “cocktail” combinations with a variety of flavoured milks.
The Cereal Killer cafe has sold 35,000 bowls of Cap’n Crunch and Marshmallow Mateys since it opened on 10 December, director Gary Keery said on Monday, about seven times what it expected. It is open seven days a week until 10pm, and at weekends can frequently see queues out the door.
While stressing that he “loved” Keery’s initiative, Williamson insisted that his own breakfast cafe, a cool, quiet space of Scandinavian-inspired stripped wood, owed nothing to its kitscher predecessor.
“We’re not going for the novelty side of things,” he said. Porridge’s grains, where possible, were British and processed sugars were avoided in favour of maple and agave syrups and honey.
So why in that case had he chosen to open in the hipster heartland of Old Street? “London is already a very diverse city in terms of food, but we chose Shoreditch because it’s where new foods are broken.” The start-up whizzes and ad execs populating the rapidly gentrifying area were, he said, more “open-minded” than elsewhere in the capital.
A bowl of porridge at the cafe, which opened on Monday. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
That might be an understatement. Among the establishments that that have recently opened in this part of London are a cafe offering flavoured nicotine “vapes”, a specialist mussel restaurant and London’s first cat cafe, where “visitors can kick back and relax with a cup of tea and spend time in the soothing company of our purring feline friends”.
This month will see the opening in Shoreditch of a deep frying emporium which offers to “fry anything” – on Easter Sunday diners can enjoy a whole fried lamb joint, served with battered roast potatoes, rosemary, carrots and sprouts. Those locals wishing to enjoy smoothies in the company of owls, however, will have to venture all the way to Soho later this month for the (brief) opening of Britain’s first owl bar.
For now, Williamson’s own ambitions extend no further than the end of March, when the cafe will close, though he says he has been contacted by “some fairly well-known department stores” with a view to other possible porridge pop-ups.
“There’s a real trend for ‘brinner’,” he says – “that’s ‘breakfast-dinner’, where you’re taking things that you would normally have for breakfast and reinventing them for dinner.”
Ideally, as well as expanding to meet the nation’s hunger for all-day porridge, he’d like to extend his menu to introduce more brinner options to the national palate. Any examples? “We’re developing a few options at the moment. I’m not going to reveal too much at this point.”
Kipper-flavoured doughnuts? A “full English” spaghetti stall? Don’t bet against them popping up in east London soon.