I love brunch. Give me some avocado and a poached egg and pop it on some fresh bread and I’m happy. I’ve got time for granola and porridge with fancy toppings and shakshuka and smoothies and juices and creamy hot chocolates. When it comes to brunch, I’m easy to please.
We’ve imported avocado on toast (with halloumi or salmon for an extortionate bonus charge) brunch culture from Australia and Israel in the past decade or so and it has taken off. London is absolutely crawling with hip brunch places, serving basically the exact same dishes with creatively worded menus to try to make ‘avocado on toast with poached eggs’ sound edgier.
On Sunday, we visited one of these places: Farm Girl in Notting Hill. They don’t take reservations, so we had to queue for half an hour to get a table. They allow dogs and the staff would offer treats to Nemo as they walked past us queueing in the narrow entryway. Nemo, a medium sized Labradoodle, was basically a giant among dogs, as tiny scrappy Chihuahuas, Terriers and Dachshunds very much appeared to be the preferred pup of the West London set.
We finally made it inside. The décor is a very calming shade of teal, with cartoon drawings along the top of the ceiling and a few neon signs imparting important information like ‘loos’ and ‘pink flamingo.’ The noise levels were pleasant, the cutlery was provided in an upcycled can and we were primarily surrounded by other white people holding tiny dogs. There was a bottle of water infused with a very phallic slice of cucumber, because making water taste like vegetables is really good for your chakras. The setting was nice enough but, guys, the menu. The menu.
I started this post by underlining just how much I like brunch. I love it, I have no desire for people to stop finding new, ingenious ways to combine avocados and nuts and oats and cinnamon. And it is worth highlighting that the food at Farm Girl was extremely delicious. But there comes a point where someone has to say, “hang on a minute, what have you done to food?”
I have a lot of feelings about ‘health food’ fads, superfood powders, how many people refuse to eat gluten unnecessarily, non-vegans only ever using almond milk because it’s ‘healthier’ and many of those same people shunning peanut butter but slathering almond butter on their toast as if those two spreads aren’t essentially the same bloody thing. Some of these health claims might be true, though nutritional science is notoriously inaccurate (read Michael Pollan’s In Defence of Food for a fascinating look into the real science of nutrition) and I appreciate the power of good marketing. But regardless, a lot of these claims are unsubstantiated and having an obsession with your diet and health (with health being defined as how many Goji berries you’ve consumed in the past week) is very rarely a positive addition to wellbeing. Farm Girl is so brazen in embracing every ridiculous morning food fad that it could all be an elaborate joke. They might just be waiting to say, “ha, I can’t believe you paid to have chlorophyll on your yoghurt” (an actual menu item).
Example menu items include: coffee-infused ghee, Greek yoghurt with chlorophyll (what? Is this just greens made into a paste?), organic Amazonian berries and, possibly the worst offender, coconut bacon. This is not coconut-flavoured bacon as I first thought (and was horrified by) but rather coconut that apparently functions like bacon in some way. Look, I’m not a bacon fanatic. I don’t even like bacon (because, according to Jake, I don’t have a soul). I have literally nothing against vegans. But come on – a slice of coconut cannot be called bacon. It just can’t. Call it what it is: a strip of fried coconut (probably fried in coconut oil, which we all know is somehow magically healthier than other cooking oils *eye roll*).
The whole menu is basically vegan, apart from chicken and smoked salmon because those are the sexy meat options. Cow’s milk? No thanks, we use almond. No bacon, ugh, so fatty and gross but of course there are eggs on every plate because, haven’t you heard, we’re a brunch place in West London, so there must be eggs on everything. It’s sexy, pick and choose veganism (or should I say plant-based lifestyle?) full of bad nutritional science and caveats based on nothing other than people’s insistence that cow’s milk is bad because think about the poor cows whereas chicken is a white lean meat so let them all die so I can meet my protein macro for the day. Did you know I’m trying to build muscle? Only in my glutes, of course. The sexy muscles.
Ugh. I’m giving myself a headache.
The drinks menu was equally clichéd. You had your standard coffee fare and then rose and lavender lattes, hot chocolate made from date and cacao because refined sugar is apparently evil (though maple and date syrup were used with abandon and that’s different because it’s natural. What?) and a ‘Happy Hot Choc’ with cacao, date syrup, peppermint, matcha, CBD and hazelnut milk.
There’s so much to unpack about this beverage. Cacao is basically chocolate without the sugar, so it’s okay but it’s not as a good as regular chocolate. Thinking about your overall sugar consumption is not a bad thing but let’s all just admit that chocolate with sugar is so much nicer than bitter cacao powder. Then let’s also remember that date syrup is basically as close to pure sugar as the bag of white caster sugar sitting in your cupboard and you might as well have killed two birds with one stone and used some sugary chocolate. Isn’t a common health tip to look for the fewest number of ingredients? Ha.
Peppermint, matcha and CBD seems very busy for a drink that already has cacao and date in it. These are three extremely different flavours and I can’t see how that would made anyone happy, unless the CBD is supposed to rise above taste and mellow you out so much you don’t care (CBD is a marijuana derivative). And then hazelnut milk, the final nail in any plant-based coffin. Apparently even almond milk was too mainstream for this minty green tea bitter fake sugar weed drink.
There is the Latte Black, made with activated charcoal, date syrup and cashew milk. My dad sampled the Liquid Gold Latte, which was comprised of turmeric, astragalus (could be literally anything), ginger root, ground nutmeg and honey. Farm Girl took liquid gold literally, and the drink that arrived had an unsettling similarity to warm urine, which isn’t really what you want to be drinking on a Sunday morning (or, uh, ever).
All of the drinks have the option to add CBD, if the process of navigating such a complicated menu of nut milks and questionable nutritional trends has rendered you in desperate need of some liquid relaxation.
I tried the Hot Choc (plain, no CBD to be found), Mum had the Rose Latte, Jake had a flat white, which I can’t make a joke about, and Dad had the aforementioned Liquid Gold Latte. To be honest, we weren’t that thrilled with the drinks. The Hot Choc was sorely in need of some sugar, no surprises there, and the Liquid Gold was a little weak, as the was the rose in the Rose Latte. Basically, while very ‘healthy,’ the drinks lacked the heavy dose of sugar, cream and fat that tend to make, well, all food and drink delicious.
The food, however, was a different story. Mum and I both got the Island Breakfast, consisting of avocado, labneh (an amazing creamy cheese), hazelnut dukkah and poached eggs on sweet potato toast. That’s right, slices of sweet potato, instead of bread, because in the world of modern ‘health,’ gluten is the devil. Despite questionable toast choices, it was extremely good, as were the Berry Pancakes made from buckwheat and buttermilk, topped with maple syrup, berries, coconut shavings and candied pistachios that we also shared.
Jake had the Oven Baked Aubergine, which was somehow devoid of all crazy faddy ingredients, and Dad had the Farm Bowl, full of any number of colourful vegetables, chicken and goat’s cheese, because veganism is all well and good until someone says you’ll actually have to eat tofu.
We then split a piece of the activated charcoal and white chocolate cake, because activated carbon products are apparently my favourite way to participate in weird food trends. The cake was good, despite Jake’s insistence that anything filled with the dregs from a chimney should not be for human consumption.
The food at Farm Girl was good, it really was. We all agreed we would go back. I don’t mean to pinpoint Farm Girl specifically, who are really just cashing in on what the market of anxious, woke, Goop-y millennials want (which we are all part of, at times. I mean, we ate there, queueing along with everyone else). Business was booming, the egg yolks were perfectly runny and no one seemed to have an issue with the gluten-free doughnuts that were more like a shotput than a dessert. Yo-pro bliss (balls, dairy-free, sugar-free and gluten-free, of course).
I do have many, many issues with modern health fads, bad nutritional advice and wellness culture. By all means, enjoy the poached eggs and avocado, as I did and probably will do again. But keep in perspective that health and wellbeing manifest in a lot of different ways and hemp milk is only one of them (if that).