Anthea Gerrie enjoys a floral lunch at EL&N Cafe at Selfridges’ flagship London store.
At a time when outdoor terraces are the restaurant venue of choice, department stores are having to go the extra mile to attract customers to dine indoors. Mindful, perhaps, of an affluent, cosmopolitan clientele which values discretion as much as social distance, Selfridges is acing the challenge with a private brunch offer at EL&N Cafe on the 4th floor of its flagship Oxford Street store.
The pretty, floral-themed cafe, is both family-friendly – the perfect place for a multi-generational birthday party, a small bridal or baby shower – and sophisticated: “Everything that goes on the menu has to be Instagrammable,” our waiter informed us, and indeed, rule-of-six groups of yummy mummies had their phones out at the ready as plates of delectable-looking food arrived. You can tell owner Alexandra Miller, who reached London from Miami by way of Jamaica and the Middle East, is a fashionista, with colour and dramatic presentation as much a keynote in her food as the forward flavours.
While this is a place to come with a friend on a shopping day out for a beautiful brunch or lunch or just a gorgeous slice of cake, £500 will secure exclusive use of one of the cafe’s two pretty rooms for up to six for three hours and includes a main course apiece, a slice of one of the gorgeous cakes plus two drinks from the elaborate mocktail and coffee menu apiece and a tote bag to take home. We dined à deux in the airy main room, all pink upholstery banked with flowers and marbled tables, which felt safe and spacious and was great for people-watching.
The brunch menu, rich with egg dishes, was still being served when we arrived at 3 pm, hungry for a savoury treat. The cafe’s eggs Florentine may be the best in the capital – a pair of poached with perfect runny yolks on a bed of fresh spinach dressed with properly-made hollandaise and a scattering of edible flowers – a treat for the eyeballs as well as the tastebuds.
The Israeli favourite, shakshuka, looked just as good but was marked down a soupcon for yolks which were not runny as requested. On the other hand, the dish came loaded with extras appropriate for its Middle Eastern heritage, sprinkled copiously with feta and served with tasty flatbreads and a little dish of hummus on the side. Enticing alternatives for the egg-averse include mascarpone and fig on sourdough, crunchy fruit-based smoothie bowls with nuts and seeds and “Dutch-baby” pancakes topped with fresh berries and drizzled with maple syrup. Filled focaccias and stuffed chapatis are a welcome take on the sandwich for those who crave a bread-based meal. Cold drinks are ravishingly pretty, particularly an ombre passionfruit cooler shaded from gold to purple in the glass.
Come hungry, because this is a cafe it’s impossible to leave without tasting one of the cakes which mug you on arrival, their bright colours and patterns reaching out to tempt from a lit display cabinet in front of the entrance. At least two dozen choices include beauteous blocks of pistachio sponge resembling a rose petal-scattered lawn, green eclairs, caramel cheesecake, tiramisu, creamy choux puffs and macarons of every colour. As for a hot drink to wash it all down, it’s a toss-up whether to opt for a gorgeous-looking flora tea with a bloom floating in the glass pot or one of the mind-boggling coffee choices, which include both Aeropress and Chemex brew options for caffeine purists. While an Aeropress purist myself when it comes to home-made breakfast coffee, I went for a cappuccino for the pure pleasure of the teddy-bear face pressed into the foam.
Sitting at a flower-bedecked banquette facing a marble counter which recalled old-fashioned ice-cream parlours and eating off a table to match, this was a happy meal enhanced by the colourful presentation which evoked, as it was surely designed to, a past more joyous than the difficult present.
Tell Me More About El&N Cafe
EL&N Café, Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street, London W1A 1AB
Book a table or private brunch session for up to six at Selfridges.