We can hazard a few speculations as to why:
Firstly there’s the climate. Not for nothing are Sydney and LA front runners for brunch capital of the world.
Also, here in the UK, brunch is drowned out by the grim ubiquity of the ‘all day breakfast’. The fact that you can eat bacon, eggs and black pudding in a pub at 3pm (or drink ale at 9am) hasn’t really provided much room for brunch to flourish.
Thirdly, everyone gets up so much later in Europe. And the French and the Italians barely eat breakfast, let alone brunch. (They make up for it by taking thirty-nine-hour lunch breaks.)
Fourthly, a brunch menu doesn’t have provenance which makes it suspicious to European minds. Usually when I’m dining in London, I’m eating French food made with French ingredients at a French restaurant. Or a Puglian restaurant. Or Corsican. Whatever. Each have their own reasonably specific rules regarding seasonality or tradition. Ie no milk in after-dinner coffees, bread is eaten before a meal and without butter, the truffle season is over… that sort of thing.
Brunch is assembled according to temporal appropriateness only. It’s entirely colonial in that way.
Sunday’s brunch was corn fritters with poached egg, haloumi and kasundi on a bed of baby spinach. That’s a cacophony of flavours and provenance but it is pitch perfect for 11:30am, in the sunshine, with a skinny flat white.
Just walking into St Ali is like going home -it’s probably Melbourne’s best brunch, recently transplanted to trendy Clerkenwell here in London where it also does the city’s best coffee. (My people give good java.)
We braved a monstrous clusterfuck of weekend track work to schlep across the city -our fifth time at St Ali since April- for a hastily convened gathering of Antipodeans. (I had an inkling -which turned out to be correct- that is was an ‘engagement announcement’ breakfast for two Bristol-based Antipodeans. Felt the surroundings should match the mood.)
As we walk in, the front of house recognises us and greets us with a broad, unfiltered Melbourne accent. (It’s more sing-songy and less nasal than a Sydney accent.) There are no bookings here and we’re early so we take our coffees out into the sunshine to wait for the other Antipodeans. The front of house tells us to come and see her specifically when we’re all there so we don’t have to queue.
Then I play a game that I know you all play: I use my wizard eyes to observe decidedly un-wizardly things.
From the flat whites to the lack of bookings to the communal tables to the ordering system to the instantly familiar menu to the service that isn’t openly hostile (this is London, after all) to the colour scheme to the opening hours (7am! Praise Vishnu!)… the place screams ‘other side of the world’ without being incongruous. It is like a Dan Brown/Rosslyn Chapel map of urban Australia.
Sure, St Ali is an unintentional book but wizards can read them just as well as intentional ones.
After brunch, because of the afore-mentioned cursed track works, we wander along the path of the old Roman wall of Londinium, past Saint Paul’s to Mansion House tube stop.
Because I probably should’ve been a tour guide/really like the sound of my own voice, I regale my Bristolean visitors with some Saint Paul’s info that borders on a whiskey rant. In one sentence, it’s basically a Eurowizard trick par excellence.
As these (exact) words come out of my mouth, it occurs to me that this makes it a talisman in the literal sense and thus qualifies as a Real Life Magic Artefact.
Also, the latest issue of Wired UK has a write-up of Spherical Images’s work in the cathedral which is too much fun to keep to myself. Feast your wizard eyes on this and then come back for the rant. (BYO whiskey.)
A company of wizards
The Royal Society was founded following the civil war by Royalist wizards that included
- Elias Ashmole: founder of the Ashmolean in Oxford, likely the first person to be initiated into Freemasonry on English soil
- Robert Moray: also a freemason and hermetic royalist spy
- Christopher Wren: presumably needs no introduction
It was magical ideas rather than any nascent concept of the scientific method that brought these men together.
Indeed, even more than a century later, Samuel Taylor Coleridge confessed that he didn’t much like the word “scientist” because it sounded “too atheist”. He, like the founding wizards of the Society preferred the term “natural philosopher”.
The very idea of the Royal Society itself was copied from what these wizards saw in Paris with the Académie Française. (Both began with twelve informal founders and then moved on to forty official founding members.)
You see, several of them, including a young Christopher Wren, spent time in Paris with Charles II as part of his exiled court. Now, the Stuarts loved them some magic they did -potentially even more than the Tudors. Their royal connections extended as far as the extremely Hermetic court of Frederick V. (Germany having seized the title of ‘magic capital of Europe’ from the Florentines.)
The French circles they moved in contained sorcerer/cardinals, wizard/architects and a whole host of newly-minted Rosicrucians all kicking about in Paris at a time when the French royal court was styling itself as the home of an hermetic sun king. (It was only a couple of kings and one royal house back that Giordano Bruno was teaching magic in the French court.)
A new Jerusalem
The mood for these Royalist wizards, upon Charles II’s triumphant return to London was a very Hermetic/alchemical version of Rule Britannia’. The king had returned -itself cosmically significant (pity he was an asshole)- the empire extended to an enormous ‘promised land’ across the Atlantic and the centre of their world had been permanently shifted from Rome to London.
London was Wren’s New Jerusalem. These are his exact words. The exact words of an hermetic Natural Philosopher about to encounter a series of odd lucky breaks.
Wren returned to Paris in 1665 in order to sit out the Black Death currently decimating London. Like so many young men with privileged backgrounds, a few years beforehand he’d changed careers. He’d become an architect. And in Paris he was fortunate enough to meet a couple of his architectural heroes, André le Nôtre and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Le Nôtre in particular was one of the key men in charge of reconfiguring Paris as a giant hermetic/royalist mandala. This is cutting edge seventeenth century stuff. But as we know, the transmission of architectural ideas -like other philosophical ideas- isn’t a conspiracy, it’s a movement. And this movement really suited young Chris. It’s royalist, it’s hermetic… it’s all good.
Unfortunately he had to return to London after only a year. England, once again demonstrating her perpetual inability to play nicely with others, declared war on one of France’s allies and France jumped right in. (It’s a bit rude to mooch off a king when your own monarch is sinking all his ships. Like arguing with your spouse at a dinner party, you should probably leave at the earliest opportunity.)
Later that year, the next really lucky thing happens.
London burns down
If you’ve ever worked with a designer or architect, you’ll know that there is the amount of time you think a design will take to put together and the amount of what feels like geological eras that have to pass before you actually see anything.
A week after London burns down, Wren goes before the king with his plans. Detailed plans. Plans that no one else in the Royal Society had seen or been consulted on. It was a beautiful and complex Hermetic astrological map with boulevards aligned the heliacal risings, grand plazas around the Temple area pointing down Fleet Street toward Saint Paul’s… A true Civitas Solis befitting the king of all the world.
He had obviously been working on it long before the fire, probably in Paris. (The other plan to show up early was this kabbalistic layout by John Evelyn. Obviously another one that was prepared earlier.)
Anyway, it doesn’t matter. For a variety of reasons (cheapness) The king opted for the arguably more insane idea of cheaply rebuilding everything as much as possible based on the original layout of the city. (I’m grateful for that, actually, because I still get funny little lanes and alleys to explore.)
Two years after the fire, Wren did ultimately get the chance to bring part of his semi-secret hermetic/masonic plan to life when he was appointed Surveyor of Saint Paul’s.
And whilst he couldn’t build an astro-hermetic-kabbalistic New Jerusalem, he could at least build its heart.
Have a look at the Spherical Images site again. Now read what architectural historian Adrian Tinniswood wrote:
The building was quite unlike anything seen in Britain before. A round central space more than 120 feet in diameter had four stubby arms of equal length projected out to north, south, east and west. The sloping sides of the octagon thus formed were concave, so that in plan the cathedral looked like a Greek cross. And inevitably, the central space was crowned with a monumental dome supported on a ring of eight pillars.
Wren (re)built the Dome of the Rock -Solomon’s Temple- right at the Tiphareth centre of New Jerusalem. The octagonal layout even gives you a Templar cross.
This is an artefact I used to walk past twice a day. Indeed, in the mornings, I’d stop and have my coffee across the road and stare up at the dome, at this Hermetic game, originally built on top of an old temple to Diana, right in the heart of possibly the briefest of Jerusalems and I’d think to myself:
It’s quite incongruous, really. An enormous dome, once surrounded by wooden buildings and muddy streets, now surrounded by hedge funds squatting in Regency townhouses. It’s incongruous but it’s also hiding in plain sight.
It’s like a brunch of the Gods.