The Barge House sits on the canal side in Hackney in east London. A versatile venue, this bar is, however, particularly well known for its signature brunch item. The ‘breakfast in bread’ consists of a bespoke sourdough loaf hollowed out and packed with one of five fillings: the original (a full English), the vegetarian, the vegan, smoked salmon, and hot stuff (chorizo, hot beans and chilli mushrooms).
How important is breakfast and brunch to you?
When we first got the site – we’ll be four in February – I said, ‘We’ll need a very special brunch’. Fred, my partner, in work and life, is French, and when we were discussing the menu he got particularly French about it and said he wanted to create something very special that basically merged the two cultures – French and British.
I had no idea at the time that our brunch would take off quite as massively as it has. The first few weekends we ordered 50 loaves; we now order between 500 and 600 every weekend.
And you only offer it at weekends…
We do, and it took a while to convince the kitchen to offer it at weekends as well. We wanted to keep it as this brunch ritual, rather than it being an everyday dish. Also, it’s a ‘leisurely’ dish; you’re going to want to take it easy afterwards.
Now it’s very much a staple of our business. If I ever say to people ‘The Barge House’, more often than not they reply, ‘Oh, you’re that brunch place! Breakfast in bread.’ We’ve got a lounge, an events space, a kitchen… but people still know us for this.
Was this your intention when you opened then?
No, if I’m honest. We wanted it to be a multi-faceted space, with exhibitions and DJs and so on, but it’s definitely been the brunch that has allowed us to put our roots into the ground.
So, what percentage of your business has it become?
Oh gosh, 50% of our food sales, if not more. Alongside them we also sell our bloody marys. We infuse them ourselves, with cucumber, rosemary and chilli flavours. They fly out. It’s just a winning combination, as a brunch, as a ritual, as a treat. We also offer fresh-pressed juices.
You also source the bread locally…
It took us about six weeks to get the perfect loaf. We went with the Better Health Bakery, who are just down the canal from us. They’re a social enterprise and they’re great. We work with them to get the right consistency and the right bake, as we have to bake them again after we have hollowed them out.
On the health side, I guess people regard it as a weekend treat…
Yes, it’s very much a treat. It’s just a perfect brunch: it’s breakfast and lunch. You’re not going to go out for lunch shortly after. Although it looks like a big dish, they are designed for one. People look at it and say, ‘Oh my god, I’ll never eat that’… but a lot of them do.
And people have all sorts of ways of eating them. Some people cut it like a cake. Some people cut the top off. I’ve got one amazing regular who is incredibly glamorous who eats the whole thing with her hands, but doesn’t spill a thing. It’s like Cadbury Creme Eggs: ‘How do you eat yours?’
How important is social media to your business?
Breakfast in bread practically started our social media presence for us, because of the public posting. We have about 9,500 followers now on Instagram, and most of the posts are of the breakfast in bread. It’s a very pretty dish, so people naturally come in, take a photo and post it.
What one tip would you offer on how to offer a decent brunch menu?
I think we are quite lucky in that we live at a time when there is a lot of great produce about. We have sourced all of our ingredients to make sure they are of the best quality. You also have to make sure it is aesthetically pleasing, as that goes a long way in the current foodie climate. We all like a pretty plate.
To enter the National Breakfast Awards, go to www.nationalbreakfastawards.co.uk.