The London Review of Breakfasts

"Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper." (Francis Bacon)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Art to Zen, Islington

Art to Zen
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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh dear! As usual, truth is more prosaic than misconception. I had always comforted myself in thinking that the name was the result of some pretentious N1 git trying to be punny and clever . (If you say Art to Zen quickly it comes out artisan, geddit?) I thought it referred to artisan = workman = workingman's cafe, but Upper Street stylie. How I would sneer at that name each time I passed, picturing in my mind's eye some dreadfully serious and self-regarding Islingtonian thinking "look how clever I have been with the cafe that daddy bought me! I am so arty yet street." I took it as read that it would be filled with N1 fashists being poorly attended by the usual po-faced staff, way too cool to actually render service.

Sigh....I supppose now you have shattered my prejudice I'll have to try it out with an open mind and be less cynical; but I do enjoy being able to sneer at the over-hyped-and-priced crap that litters Upper St. You know what I mean - all those trendy faux boho places filled with smug faces all looking so proud of themselves just for being there. Oh well, with so many fat and easy targets already ripe for my loathing I suppose one less won't hurt. Maybe I am a bit too grumpy.

So, well done (no pun intended, unlike the rest of this site) to you LRB for providing such a useful service. How often can one say that a humble breakfast review brings with it a flash of self-realisation? And the review wasn't even written by Sigmund Fried!

Thanking you.


11:36 AM, February 18, 2007  

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