Dandy: brunch brunch......

Dandy: the bistro taking brunch to the next level

by Tom Shingler 23 August 2017

Forget poached eggs and avocado on toast – Dan Wilson’s Dandy in Stoke Newington, London, serves up thoughtful dishes that mix comfort food with exciting international flavour. Tom Shingler learns more.

Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

There’s nothing wrong with eggs on toast. Even avocado on toast, which is on the precipice of going from beloved Instagram-friendly dish to tired, done-to-death faux-health food, has its merits. But because both dishes have become so ubiquitous on the brunch menus of restaurants – particularly in London – it’s refreshing to come across a place like Dandy, in Newington Green, with something different to offer. While both are still an option (although the avocado on toast comes with feta, onion ash, cucumber and spring onion salad), it’s the other items on the menu that make Dandy stand out from the late morning weekend crowd.

‘Anthony Bourdain has written at length about how awful it is having to poach eggs for hundreds of people every Sunday, and how it represents the fall of any great chef,’ co-owner Dan Wilson tells me as we sit down over a plate of lamacun, made with crispy lamb mince, slow-cooked spiced lamb shoulder and plenty of tahini sauce. ‘But in the UK at least, that’s kind of what everyone expects brunch is going to be. An extension of breakfast with some avocado and bacon. That’s not really what I like to eat, and it’s not the sort of stuff we enjoy cooking here.’

Dan opened Dandy with his business partner Andy Leitch in April 2017 – before that, they’d run a pop-up out of a shipping container in London Fields (where else) serving modern dishes inspired by various international cuisines. While the café-restaurant-bakery is open all day and does a full dinner service it’s become best-known for its brunch offering, thanks in part to Dan’s baking background, which means all the pastries and breads are made in-house. Throw some speciality coffee into the mix and you’ve got a pretty decent set-up, but a quick look at the menu proves there’s more to Dandy than meets the eye. Corn and ‘nduja with pickled Padrón peppers and egg yolk; Linseed and coconut pudding with smoked syrup and Crumpets with Parmesan custard and courgette are just a few examples.

Dandy opened in April 2017, after owners Dan Wilson and Andy Leitch's successful pop-up in London Fields
All the breads and pastries are made in-house, and the café-restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner

‘No one seems to make their own crumpets, and I’ve no idea why,’ says Dan. ‘They’re so good and so easy to make. The Parmesan custard and courgettes just add that little bit of finesse. It can be hard serving brunch that’s a bit different – you have to tread the line between what people are expecting and pushing them towards something a bit more adventurous. With a lot of our dishes, we’re just trying to do something fun with flavours and textures, but sticking to dishes everyone wants to eat in the morning.’

Perhaps Dan is able to break tradition and offer brunch with a difference because of his background. He didn’t follow the standard route of becoming a chef – both he and Andy worked in coffee shops and kitchens throughout university in Australia, and after training to become an artisan baker (‘I had this romantic idea of moving to rural France and becoming a pastry chef but baking sucks; the hours are so long and it’s exhausting’) Dan decided to move to Italy and study a masters in traditional food culture. Dan’s travels have clearly influenced the food he likes to cook, and while he now has a baker making the breads and pastries in the restaurant and a head chef manning the pass, he’s still heavily involved in recipe development.

Of course, brunch is a relatively new thing in the UK. Chefs like Peter Gordon were the first to bring the idea over from New Zealand, and it’s only in the past few years that it’s become a normal weekend activity in London. Perhaps that’s why we always expect it to be an extension of breakfast, simply served later in the day. In Australia, it’s a different beast. ‘Cooking breakfast and brunch in Australia isn’t treated with the same element of resentment as it might be in the UK; there’s a lot more freedom about it,’ explains Dan. ‘Lots of Australian chefs have cooked at brilliant places all over the world then come back to Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane and just started throwing down really cool brunches, because that’s what they want to cook. Sure, they might be making an omelette, but they’ll be hanging ducks and making hoisin sauce, or smoking their own meats and curing their own fish. Food with thought behind it doesn’t always have to be served in a formal dinner setting. I think that approach is starting to filter over here more and more.’

Because Dandy serves dinner as well as breakfast and brunch, it makes ordering more interesting, higher quality produce easier for Dan and the team. ‘It just makes sense for us,’ he says. ‘We get all our lamb from a woman called Daphne in Wales, and a lot of our vegetables from NamaYasai in Sussex. Because we follow the seasons you don’t get as much choice, but that pushes us to serve up something more interesting. If you’re baking bread in-house using awesome flour from France, you’d expect all the other food to be of the same quality.’ Just a quick look at his dish of Girolles with herbs, fried breadcrumbs and eggs shows that seasonality and quality is at the forefront of what Dandy are doing. Cooking hundreds of eggs every weekend might be seen with disdain, but if you can then combine those eggs with potato, spiced sugo and cheese curds, whip them up into a Parmesan custard or use it to top off a dish of corn, ‘nduja and peppers, that’s a pretty good sign of a culinary mind at the top of its game.