Whole Beast Brunch 44 Lewisham Way, London SE14 6NP
Whole Beast Brunch as The Fat Walrus: Making the ubiquitous original, all over again
For years my parents would lay on an obscene American brunch every 4th of July. Partly a snipe at American culture, but also a tribute to the excess for which it’s both mocked and envied. My Dad defined the Freedom enjoyed by the States as the ‘right to put your dessert on the same plate as your main meal’. As a child of seventeen stone, discovering a properly recognised, legitimate mealtime to bridge breakfast and lunch was both validating and fucking wild.
Today, brunch is a wretched term, having muted into a performative social function rather than a glorious elevensies for the greedy. Venues base themselves on the idea with Instagram in mind; neon signs wreathed in fake plants, watery bottomless mimosas ripe for the umpteenth Boomerang take and hollandaise that would see Escoffier die twice. For some, it’s an attempt at clawing back some of the class jettisoned the night before, around the same time its arrangement was slurred into existence.
I’ve been preoccupied with Whole Beast since their bruiser of a roast at The Fat Walrus returning specifically for their outstanding cheeseburger. I love their style of cooking because they have this Midas touch for making the tired feel rejuvenated and ubiquitous, unique. If Whole Beast could do this to a roast, could they defibrillate the idea of brunch? Particularly as the fabled cheeseburger had been reconfigured for the brunch menu. 'A take on a take' that is pure, archetypal Whole Beast.
Just like their Sunday and weekday menus, there’s not a single thing that doesn’t have you pulling a Dwayne Johnson. The opening volley is chubby slices of supple trout that have been given the pastrami treatment, striking a considered balance of sweet warmth and spice elevating the essential oils of the fish. Twists of bread crisps and Alicja’s moreish coins of bread and butter pickles, accompany a smoked cream cheese that demands to be thickly trowelled.
At first glance, there appears to be a BBQ briquette plated by mistake; beneath its substantial moody crust lies tender, fibrous innards verging on maroon. As sacred as black pudding is, this iteration does make you wonder if it’s been underperforming up until now. Flanked with a fried egg and an apple mustard, it’s branded with the Whole Beast approach: classics executed beyond their standard and embellished in ways that hide in plain sight.
Here it is. Fluffy yet loadbearing, buttermilk pancakes are a logical evolution of the burger bun, with which Whole Beast have obliged. Still retaining all the brass tack finesse of their traditional Maillard doily smash burger, it comes double-stacked along with burger sauce, bread and butter pickles and the critical American cheese. This seamless conversion is, to me, the very essence of brunch.
The same buttermilk pancakes come mounded with ‘face bacon’ which, judging by the translucent fatty deposits around rubied flesh, points towards guanciale. Oozing with smoked maple syrup, it equally oozes with another facet of the Whole Beast philosophy: referencing their love of BBQ in a way that’s always a chef’s kiss, rather than a blatant 'for the heck of it' shoehorning of self-interest.
You might roll your eyes to see a ‘smoked cauliflower taco’ on a menu, especially if you don’t eat meat. Often a runner-up platitude to dietary requirements, its reputation has been sullied. But not here. Blending Mexican and Japanese odes to umami via a sourdough mole and Gomashio with their signature deployment of tasteful smoke, you get another glimpse into the beautifully tilted lens of Whole Beast’s approach.
Similarly, mushrooms on toast would otherwise be another tired option for the corpse-averse. Coal-roasted until at maximum plump, these little beauties are tumbled onto a thick slice of toast that’s been anointed with the piquant funk of cultured cream. Rosary goat's cheese has been crumbled over the top, creating pockets that move from cold to warm, from solids to cream without the degree of acidity so commonly found in the cheese.
Next is a history lesson with The Peckham Fatboy. A mere two stone heavier than my record and imbued with an intense bitterness for those around him, I find myself pounding my chest and pointing skywards, pouring out a dram of my spicy margarita in his honour. This dish takes the bypass-inducing form of a hashbrown slathered in beef fat mayo, raclette and sprinkled with crushed cheese and onion crisps, that brilliant flick-of-the-wrist touch, straight out of Mrs. Bryant’s Sunday roast playbook.
Dessert reminds me of how London has really cucked my expectations of portions. Roughly the size of a buckler shield with a boss of milk ice cream and big ol’ scorched marshmallows is a take on America’s fast-track to type 2 diabetes, the S’more. Except, it’s actually good—mostly because we don’t have to tolerate the remedial stylings of Hershey’s. Land of The Free™ indeed. A slab of just baked chocolate chip cookie resembles a diorama of the earth’s crust concealing pockets of oozing chocolate magma beneath.
Finally, I should point out that you’ve been had. You currently won’t be able to sample any of these things because The Fat Walrus pub that houses Whole Beast, has closed for the foreseeable. Have I just written the most redundant review of my career? Yes. At least for now. But also cut me some slack you monster because I'm in mourning. Sam and Alicja are looking for new pastures to let their Whole Beast thrive once more but let's take it one day at a time. Grief is a process.