Brunch review: Ozone Coffee Roasters

Ozone checks all the brunch boxes; excellent food, coffee, ambience, and staff. On a recent Sunday, our post-brunch stroll led us to one of our new favorite London discoveries: a free museum with a world famous Caravaggio inside.

Ozone is just a block away from the busy loop of Old Street, but feels relaxed on an unassuming side street. The café has an open plan, reclaimed wood, window and bar seating, and spacious upstairs and downstairs tables, so when we arrived to a small queue crowding the front door, it was only a matter of minutes before we reached the front and were led to our window seat of choice with the Sunday paper spread out before us. (Note: the ‘view’ from the windows is a row of rubbish bins, but these ended up being where smokers with serious street style gathered, so we enjoyed our prime view for people watching). The staff are lovely, helpful, and attitude-free which is refreshing from such a ‘cool’ venue. After brunch, we went for a stroll west along Old Street to check out an Italian restaurant we are dying to try (Luca – refined Italian cooking in an absolutely beautiful space with a sun-filled back terrace, we’ll post a review once we eat there). After finding the restaurant, an old stone-castle structure caught our eye, and we stumbled upon St John’s Gate, the remains of a priory of the Knights of St John built in 1504. We stumbled in to the free museum and had one of those London experiences where you’re immersed in rich history and legend right alongside the modern everyday thrum of city life

During the week, Ozone is packed with creatives on their laptops, and lunch meetings with hipster employees from any number of startups in the area (the Farfetch office is close by, as is a popular WeWork). We had been for midweek business coffees, but wanted to return for a lazy Sunday brunch to try more of the menu. There are two Ozone outposts in New Zealand, and the menu has a rich range of flavours, with twists on ubiquitous avocado toast. We ordered the savory field mushrooms on sourdough with smoked chilli, aged parmesan, pickled onion, & crème fraiche, and a poached egg, and the braised wagyu mince on focaccia with Essex smoked cheddar & piccalilli with a poached egg. The hand-cut fries with 7 spice salt and aioli were flavorful and perfectly crispy, and a good vehicle to soak up all the egg and sauce left on our plates.  We added a side of green beans with goat cheese for a dose of virtue. They also offer a range of granolas with fruit and yoghurt, spiced banana bread, and pancakes with crushed apple, smoked butterscotch, earl grey labneh & salted hazelnut for carb-loving brunch fiends. There were half a dozen additional items on the menu that looks worth trying, so after our lovely experience, we’ll be back.

It’s not everyday you stumble upon what looks like a castle dating to the 1600s right in the middle of the city. Well, unless you live in London, in which case this does in fact happen quite often. Curious, we followed the ‘free museum’ signs, and found ourselves in the Museum of the Order of St John, an order of Knights who pioneered the use of First Aid among civilians, and famously founded a hospital in Jerusalem in 1080 that cared for pilgrims who fell ill on their travels to the Holy Land, regardless of their race or faith. The Order later moved to Malta after the crusades, and the Priory in Clerkenwell (now the site of the museum) was established as an English headquarters. Henry the VIII seized the priory when he split from the Catholic Church, and the building at one point in the 16th century became the offices of the Master of the Revels where thirty of Shakespeare’s plays were licensed. In the 18th century, it was a coffee house run by none other than famed English artist and cartoonist William Hogarth. The museum is just a few rooms filled with armour, various texts and maps from the Order, and a particularly menacing taxidermy Maltese Falcon. One of the highlights was a copy of The Gentleman’s Magazine, credited with being the first monthly general interest magazine ever, founded in 1731. The magazine famously employed Dr. Samuel Johnson, and covered everything from news and commentary, to commodity prices and Latin poetry.

Just as we were leaving the museum, we happened to look up and notice high above our sightline, a painting that looked distinctly like a Caravaggio. It didn’t look like just any Caravaggio, in fact, but his famous painting The Cardsharps, and turned out to be a contested version of this famous painting, depicting a card game with one of the players cheating. The story of Caravaggio’s connection to the Knights of St John adds particularly interesting context to this painting being displayed here. Caravaggio was an infamous brawler, but was involved in one particular dispute that led to him murdering a young man, and then fleeing the charges. He ended up in Malta where he was taken in by the Order of St John, made an official painter of the order, and inducted as a Knight. Under the protection of the order, he completed some of his most famous works including Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Jerome Writing, both of which are still in Saint John’s Co-Cathedral in Malta.

21st century brunch and 16th century history is all part of an easy afternoon stroll in London 

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