From the outside, M1lk looks like a work-in-progress, with the name splashed in neon pink paint across the old “Almas” signature. Yet, nestled in this unassuming corner between Bedford Hill and Hildreth Street Market, is one of London’s finest brunch spots. And for me, its South London location – just a stone’s throw away from Balham railway – adds to its charm.
As usual at the weekend, a long queue was forming for a sip of M1lk’s legendary brunch. One of the waitresses took our names and the number of people in our party and as we were keen on a table inside on this chilly October morning, she told us it would be a short wait before we got a table. There’s a good choice of seating, with four long tables/benches outside on the pedestrianised Hildreth Street. In the summer, the windows on this side slide right back, effectively opening the whole café to the street. In the colder months though, these remain sensibly closed to keep the warmth in. Despite this, the outside seating is still pretty warm, courtesy of a large awning, complete with plastic side-panels which enclose the outside benches in a manner reminiscent of French pavement cafes.
Once inside, the atmosphere was a mix of laid-back brunching combined with the hustle and bustle of the sounds of frying pans beaming out from the kitchen, the hiss of milk being steamed on the La Marzocco Linea, and the murmur of conversation. With its distressed interior and an electronic “m1lk” sign lighting up the coffee counter, M1lk is reminiscent of a Brooklyn café. And the coffee is top-quality with beans sourced from Koppi in Sweden and my favourite Workshop, making for cups of silky, sweet goodness. Juices and smoothes are also blended fresh to order and served in old-school milk bottles with straws. Everything here is m1lk themed of course.
The food menu is eclectic and thoughtful, with organic ingredients sourced from local farms. It’s no surprise that there’s a strong Antipodean influence. But there are bits and pieces from the Middle East, Asia and Skandiland too. Although it’s harder than it should be to decipher the menu, once you’ve worked it out, you’ll find it’s harder to choose from the options that are there. I was torn between the Sweet Maria, consisting of sweetcorn fritters served with grilled halloumi, smashed avocado, kasundi and lime (£7.80) and the Kurdish baked eggs. Their buckwheat pancakes also sound delightful, with accompaniments of, from what I can remember from the recitals of the daily specials, blueberry cream and caramelised apples.
As their baked eggs are considered a house special, I went for this with roasted butternut squash, feta and crispy sage (£7.50). Having ordered at the counter, I lingered for a while longer, pondering over the tempting treats, ranging from their signature Anzac Cookies to a Pistachio Cake with Yuzu Buttercream. The view of the kitchen was also drool-inducing, with delicious-looking dishes, including sides of green avocado, being plated up and scurried over to tables.
Despite the brunch rush, our food came out quickly. My Kurdish baked eggs were artfully presented, in an individual-sized frying pan and placed on a wooden board with oily sourdough to dip. The combination of salty feta, oozy butternut squash and healthy eggs worked well. Though I felt the dish could have done with a touch more seasoning and the eggs could have been slightly more runny (a la Kopapa), it was a well thought out combination. My companion’s cornbread with jam, meanwhile, was a solid gluten-free option.
Nothing M1lk do is rocket science. It’s just quality sourcing, light touch cooking, a bit of innovation and the right amount of care. Most significantly, they get breakfast. The food doesn’t just wake you up and set you up for the day, it actually makes you want to get out of bed. This certainly places M1lk amongst the holy grail of coffee/brunch spots. And better still, they’ve just opened up a sister café in Clapham Common, Fields, which serves coffee, cake and natural wine. Fields here I come…
M1lk, 20 Bedford Hill, London, SW12 9RG
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