202 Cafe – London, England (7.5/10)

Background:

When our Canadian friends wanted to go to Notting Hill on a Saturday, my immediate thought revolved around where to have lunch. I normally either avoid Notting Hill altogether on the weekends or ensure that I have a reservation. However, because this was such a spontaneous outing, the lunch venue also had to be decided on the day. I had a couple of options in mind, Tom’s Deli and Ottolenghi, but fortunately our friends wanted to return to a place they’d visited last time they were in London. And I was more than happy to try a new place. It turned out to be Nicole Farhi’s 202 Café, which has been around for a few years now. When I first read about it, I was a little skeptical about dining in a home furnishings store. However, I was to be proven wrong.

First impressions:

Reservations are only accepted for dinner, but when we checked in the morning, the waiter reassured us that the wait for lunch would only be 5 or 10 minutes. Returning at 1pm exactly, the wait was exactly that, 10 minutes. We were first in the queue, and others behind us had to endure a far longer wait. Seated at one of the best tables and far away from the queue, we proceeded to enjoy a pleasant and relaxing lunch. I was impressed with the service, given how busy the café was. The waiters were efficient and polite and responded to every request positively, whether it was tap water with ice and lime wedges, or espresso with water served on the side.

Menu:

The breakfast menu ends at noon, to be replaced by the brunch menu. There was a selection of twelve to fourteen mains, plus a few daily specials on the board (including a Kobe burger for just £15.95?!). Most dishes sounded light and appealing and very ‘New York brunch’ (how I miss those). In the end, we settled for two fish and chips with mushy peas (£12.50), having established that the fish was haddock and not endangered cod, and two portions of smoked haddock fish cakes with spinach, poached egg and chive sauce (£11.95). I must also recommend the white hot chocolate, of which I had two cups.

The chips were thick-cut and delicious, the mushy peas so light and fresh, but unfortunately the batter was too thick for the piece of fish. However, the star dish has to be the smoked haddock fish cakes. Two enormous cakes arrived on each plate. I would have been perfectly content if just one had arrived with a side salad, but to be served two for brunch was a real treat. Every mouthful of delectable chunky fish and potato was slowly savoured. The poached egg wasn’t quite soft and runny enough for my taste, but with such incredible fish cakes, I wasn’t going to grumble.

The verdict:

I could never afford to buy more than a spoon at Nicole Farhi (okay, I do own a skirt from many seasons ago), but brunch is perfectly do-able, and a pleasant experience. Despite the packed tables, the waiters remained remarkably calm and catered to our every (quirky) need. I very much appreciate good service, which should be the accepted norm rather than something I write about with amazement. After 1pm, the queues are unbearably long, so time your arrival unless you like observing others eat. While tucking into my fishcakes, I reminisced about the two years I spent enjoying leisurely weekend brunches in Manhattan. 202 is a pretty good NYC substitute in London. Please let me know if there are other great brunch places in London that you recommend!

Brunch for 4 including wine, coffees, hot chocolates and service charge cost £90.

10 – Perfection, 9.5 – Sensational, 9 – Outstanding, 8.5 – Superb, 8 – Excellent, 7.5 – Very Good, 7 – Good, 6.5 – Above Average, 6 – Average

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Contact details: 202 Café 202-204 Westbourne Grove London W11 2RH Tel: 020 7792 6888

Opening Hours Sunday: 10am – 5pm Monday: 10pm – 6pm Tue/Saturday: 8:30am – 10:30pm Breakfast until 12pm Brunch until 4pm

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