If I were to count all my flaws, being a hopeless early riser would rank quite highly on the list. Side effects of being at my most productive in the morning include waking up at 7.30am on weekends, fiercely envying anyone who can fall back asleep after waking at silly o’clock, and dreading the thought of ever having to skip breakfast. 10.30am is the latest I can wait for a morning coffee, while to my sleepyhead friends, 10.30 is practically dawn: if we have a breakfast date, they’ll suggest that we meet no earlier than noon. So, when one of said friends invited me to a 1pm brunch, I felt we’d reached a fair compromise: finally, a time that suited her love of lie-ins, without playing havoc for my tried-and-true meal routine. It was with this spirit that I headed to The Well, a popular pub and restaurant in Clerkenwell, ready to enjoy my…lunch.
Chosen by my Central London-savvy friends, who had reserved a table as a precaution against queues, The Well was pleasantly uncrowded when we gathered for our Saturday get-together. Ditto for the surroundings: as I made my way from Farringdon to Saint John Road, up the half empty Clerkenwell Road, I sensed a quiet that felt unnatural, out of place – but in a good, comforting way. There’s something glorious to finding peace and silence where traffic and chaos usually reign; to walking alone on a crisp winter afternoon, and hearing nothing but the sound of your heels resounding on the pavement. It’s moment like this that make London’s overcrowded streets and exhausting commutes worth enduring.
The Well only serves brunch until 1pm, so ours turned into a proper lunch, even though a few of us were still hungry for breakfast (to your face, late risers!). And because we had a hopeless laggard to wait for, we started by tucking into a basket of warm bread, so good we went for seconds before our friend finally turned up.
Try as I might, I’m at a loss for words to define the menu. Does the pigeon terrine my friend got have anything to do with French cuisine? Would I class my other friend’s wild mushroom tortellini as typically Italian? Are beef burgers the go-to dish for anyone craving a fix of hearty pub grub? And where do the queen scallops fit, what about the pots of mussels? I’ll go with my gut instinct, and refuse to put a label on The Well’s cuisine. All that matters, all that should matter, is that we all had very good food. The tortellini were tasty enough to please another Italian’s palate, and my spiced parsnip soup with hazelnut, listed as a starter, felt every spoonful as filling as a main dish. I doubt I’d have had room for dessert if I had ordered a main!
Speaking of dessert, feeling peer-pressured into ordering it is without a doubt one of the sweetest first world problems one could ever hope to have to solve; although to me, it’s more of a no-brainer, as long as I can count on my tablemates’ company. The wait was a little longer than I’d have expected at such a quiet time, but well worth enduring, as we all found when we finally received our treats. Enter two slices of banoffee cake, two Valrhona chocolate paves with a scoop of pistachio ice cream, and one well-sized cup of praline and coffee ice cream. Let the indulgence begin.
Being the proud receiver of a chocolate pave, I can vouch for its wonderfully creamy texture and rich flavour, a given when Valrhona chocolate is involved. The ice cream, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as tasty as my beloved Italian gelato, but still nice enough to end my meal on a high note. As that wise man said: “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you just might find (you just might find) you get what you need“. If anything, I’d only need more pistachio ice cream in my life.
It’s surprising how filling a simple starter and dessert can be: my meal left me perfectly contented, without a trace of my usual cravings for more sugar, or for a (very Italian) post-lunch espresso. And just as I was trying to dismiss my qualms over spending £11.50 on a light meal, reminding myself that quality is always worth rewarding, the bill presented me with the proverbial icing on the cake. Online bookings through TopTable award 50% off the bill, which brought my balance down to £5.75. If this isn’t excellent value for money, I don’t know what is. Hats off to The Well; I shall hope to return very soon.
180 St. John Street
London, EC1V 4JY
(nearest tube stations: Farringdon, Barbican)
020 7251 9363
Open 11am – midnight Mon – Thu; 11am – 1am Fri; 10.30am – 1am Sat; 10-30am – 11pm Sun (check website for kitchen opening hours)