Sunday morning I meet friends for brunch at Balthazar. We are promptly seated in a cosy booth next to a quartet devouring some deliciously flaky looking pastries. Coffees are ordered, and champagne. Our neighbours second course arrives at the same time as our coffee. They place their pastries to the side and hoe into their plates of scrambled egg and Cornish crab with abandon; we study the menu.
“What do you think the Omelette Arnold Bennett is?’ I ask, ‘It’s my namesake, I think I should order it”.
“Look at you!” one friend replies, “There is an omelette here named after your Great Uncle Arnold!”
I don’t have a great uncle Arnold Bennett, though I’m sure if I did he would be famous enough to have an omelette named after him at the very least… I motion to the waiter “Excuse me, what’s in the Arnold Bennett Omelette?”
“I go check” he says, scurrying away and returning quickly, leaning towards me he says conspiratorially “It’s Cod”.
“Will you have the fish, the whole fish, and nothing but the fish, so help you cod?” my friend intones.
“I will!” I reply.
A few moments later the waiter returns, “I’m terribly sorry, it’s not cod, it’s haddock…”
The same friend rolls his eyes “What am I supposed to do with haddock? That’s not punny. Will you still have it?”
“I will!” I reply.
The waiter takes our orders and returns a few minutes later with our champagne. We clink glasses and soak up the sumptuous room; the efficient bustle of the waitstaff, the gold, red and Art Deco detailing, in the centre of which, a beautiful shining bar..
Our neighbours in this time, have continued the assault on their breakfasts. The poached eggs, muffins and cornish crab are long gone, their remaining pastries also, and in their place the waiter has placed four enormous servings of waffles.
“Where are they putting all that?” another friend asks, “That’s actually insane”. We don’t have time to ponder the possibilities however, because in the meantime our orders have arrived. I am told not to touch my plate of Arnold Bennett Omelete. “Careful” the waiter says, “Don’t touch, it is very hot”. I immediately touch it. My finger burns.
The omelette is nothing like I expected, and nothing like any omelette I’ve ever eaten; in a good way. It is a layer of omelette and haddock slices covered in a sort of baked cheesy bechamel. Both rich and creamy and luscious. One friend looks at it enviously, and sighs “I mean, I like my herby omelette”, she says “but yours is better. I wish I had yours…”. I shrug and shovel more Arnold Bennett Omelette in my mouth.
Brunch and bubbles consumed, we are too full and satisfied to indulge in pastries, New York pancakes or waffles; we are forced instead to ask for the bill, and ponder again amongst ourselves… How on earth did those people eat all that food?
Balthazar London – 4-6 Russell St, London WC2B 5HZ – Visit their website HERE
Footnote: At work on monday I say to a colleague “I went to Balthazar for brunch on the weekend and ate an Arnold Bennett Omelette”.
“Oh yes” she replies, “I know of Arnold Bennett, he was that famous English writer from Stoke-On-Trent. I was in ‘Bennett House’ at university…”
I am fascinated. At no time during brunch had it occurred to me that Arnold Bennett would be anyone more interesting than my own imaginary Great Uncle Arnold.