Ragging on British cuisine is so ingrained that it’s inherently funny to call it cuisine—but the tide appears to be turning. British food is coming out of the dark, dank pub that will always be its comfiest home, and setting up shop in bright, even hip spaces.
It’s about time. The finest thing our onetime overlords ever did was create the Full English Breakfast and its crown jewel, black pudding. A little spot of dark sausage, blood, fat, and grit congealed into a cuttable shape, it seems unpalatable to many but will always be the star of an English breakfast, snug among pork sausage, back bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, baked beans, and toast.
There are two clear frontrunners for hip English food right now, each with a fine breakfast plate but different priorities. Inner Hawthorne’s colorful Toffee Club has been serving savory pies and soccer pubbiness since 2016. The pies are excellent, from fork-and-knife piles of meat and/or veggies to handheld snacks like the polarizing pork pie, perhaps the only dish for which I’ve ever received unsolicited warnings and recommendations from unrelated strangers in a span of five minutes. (The warning was unwarranted: eat that cold, crusty pork pie, especially in the Lunch Pick and Mix, where you can pair it with a more heart-friendly salad or soup for $8.)
But while Toffee Club has a great blood sausage (a drier one from Nicky Farms, more mineral grit than fat and grease), it’s clearly a bar, and the breakfast menu is only available on the weekends. Enter Kingsland Kitchen, a new, fancy-looking, properly British spot, whose downtown brick-and-mortar in the Embassy Suites is just a few blocks away from where the beloved Kingsland Kitchen food cart stood.
You’ll see your Full English, which can even be crammed into a sandwich called a Big Ben. But it’s offered next to simple breakfast sandwiches of two stripes. The simpler are just fried eggs and one or two ingredients (meat, arugula, etc.) on English muffins for $4-7. While tasty, these are maybe the greasiest of all, in part because, like so many breakfast sandwiches, they have cheddar on them, despite the many meltier, less oily cheeses on the market. (Don’t get me wrong: I love cheddar, but not as much as I hate having oil all over my hands.) The bigger sandwiches, $8-10, are the kind that you feel like you need to trim the edges off before you can even pick them up. The #10 is the surprise favorite here, considering brisket doesn’t really show up on the menu otherwise: It’s the ideal balance of perfectly rendered, biteably delicate brisket and crispy, light hashbrowns. Don’t miss it.
Lunch is another deep list of sandwiches, headlined by a Guinness-braised beef option and a burger with crispy fried onion straws, although even those are overshadowed by a spicy fried chicken sandwich: Served simply with cheddar, gherkin mayo, and lettuce, the sandwich is made a star by the spicy sauce on the chicken, with a heavy Asian influence and a creeping heat.
The sandwiches all run $8-12, and while none are served with a side, the bang still feels pretty big for your buck. I can’t overstate how filling this food is. (The “pigsty fries” have basically a sandwich’s worth of pork and even pork cracklings on them.) Of course the trade off with the lower-than-expected prices here is that Kingsland is yet another full-fledged restaurant clinging to the counter service model. It may keep prices low, but the reinvigoration of hip restaurants in Portland hotels alone should be a sign that table service may need to be the default now.
While Kingsland Kitchen is a to-go hotspot, it also seats about 75 and has a full menu, not to mention beer, wine, and even a cocktail program. I’ve seen Kingsland Kitchen face sustained lunch lines to the door from the counter, and they handled it very well—wait times were impressively reasonable and service remained top notch, but that service still basically ended once the food came, and that’s not the vibe implied by the menu. The decor isn’t particularly inviting, either—all stark whites and silhouettes of the queen, with no soccer on TV (in fact, no TV). It’s unclear if you’re even supposed to be comfortable here, and that’s totally mismatched with the food-coma menu.
That Full English ($16) implies you’re in for the long haul. It is very heavy on the “full”: Two big hunks of back bacon, two slices of toast thick enough to piss off a Texan, charred tomatoes and mushrooms, baked beans, two full-sized bangers, and, yes, a medallion of fat-slick, springy black pudding—rich and smooth, with just enough of a hint of iron to remind you that whether surrounded by posh marble or rowdy footballers, there are things to love about British food.