Art to Zen, Islington
27 Upper Street
020 7226 5300
by Hamish Pastry
What’s in a name, readers? Is it more enjoyable to breakfast at a venue that sounds exotic, cosy, or just full of breakfasty promise, than one called something like 'Turds on Toast', or worse (shudders), 'Art to Zen'?
While I’m firmly against judging a place until you’ve had the full English, the name of this café-cum-gallery-cum-Buddhist hangout has always bugged me. It sounds like the worst kind of Upper Street pretentiousness.
Breakfast options include said full English for £4.25, and a few other bits and bobs (parmesan on toast is one). I ordered the former. It was alright. The toasted ciabatta was light and buttery, but it doesn’t soak yolk in the same pleasing way as your bog-standard white sliced. The sausage was fat and herby and the eggs nice and runny, but the bacon was a crashing disappointment, not at all crispy and with a taste reminiscent of something long ago (school dinners?). The mushrooms were chunky but strangely wizened, like an old lady’s thumbs.
So what is arty about Art to Zen? Inside, canvases dot the wall. The menu cover is some kind of painted effort. It doesn’t feel very arty though. It doesn’t feel very anything. There was, we realised, a distinct lack of atmosphere (is this the Zen?). We decided to ask our waitress (the staff, by the way, are pleasant and efficient). It turned out our waitress was the owner, and she happily explained that she is an artist and a Zen Buddhist. The ‘to’ part was added to form a cunning A-Z London connection.
There you have it. I left feeling fairly satisfied with my breakfast and very pleased to know that Art to Zen’s name is not some affectation, but a reflection of its owner’s life. I am bugged no more.