If you’re going to make me book a table in advance for breakfast, you ought to be offering something special. The views of the Shard, the unique menu of Duck & Waffle, or the reassuring bustle of The Wolseley. Berners Tavern seems to always require booking, but I’m not sure that it offers anything that justifies it.
The restaurant — I don’t know why it’s called ‘Tavern’ because there’s nothing tavern-like about it — just off Oxford Street and attached to a hotel, has been there since 2013 but only recently popped up on my radar. I wandered in off the street and was given a pitying look as I had no reservation. Later I tried to book online, but all the sane breakfast slots on weekends were booked up for weeks ahead. Clearly the place was in high demand; eventually I booked a table during the week, when I was on leave and demand was slightly lower.
What was the big deal? Why were people booking weeks in advance for breakfast here? I don’t know. It’s certainly a big, fancy room — maybe the biggest, fanciest room I’ve ever had breakfast in. High ceiling, chandeliers, posh coving and the walls covered in framed paintings. It’s impressive, but once you’ve basked in it for a bit, it’s also only decorative — it’s not like you’re wandering around a museum, reading the notes, taking a good look and buying postcards and prints at the gift shop. You’re sat at your table, and after a short while the only time you look around is when you’re trying to catch the eye of a waiter.
The food is decent enough, but that’s all it is. The menu is London standard: eggs, salmon, French toast, a sexless Full English, the ubiquitous avocados, the perfectly good coffee. It’s largely faultless but it’s also exactly what you can get without booking ahead at the nearby Jackson + Rye, Dean Street Townhouse, and a dozen other places in and around Soho. There’s nothing unique on the menu, no signature dish.
Food and service were unexceptional, not bad, just, you know, fine. Presumably there’s just a large audience of people who want to sit down at breakfast and strain their eyes at distant, anonymous artwork, and don’t mind booking weeks in advance to do this. Like a good, high ceiling? Berners Tavern has you covered. For everybody else, there are plenty of equivalent options that aren’t so fussy about walk-ins.