There are parts of Cheltenham that just feel nice. Well off, too, of course, but wealth is by no means a guarantor of niceness. Around Suffolk Road in Montpellier, however, the immediate neighbourhood just felt, well, nice. The small terraced houses, white – or pastel – washed to perfection stood out against the grey backdrop, many of their facades, curiously different in height to each other considering they were terraced houses. A hundred years ago, you could see this place having quite a different atmosphere, but today it looked spick and span. And this was despite a downpour that seemed never-ending, the sort of rain that doesn’t seem so bad from indoors, but can soak you through in seconds. It was thus we arrived at Baker and Graze.
Stepping through the door, though, one felt bathed in the orange glow of the antique feel lightbulbs – I keep promising myself I’ll get some – and instantly encouraged further in by the delicious aroma: it’s the one where you can smell pastry, fresh bread, sweetness and coffee all at once. Talk about reassuring: it’s an aroma that lets you know that barring a catastrophe, you’ve made the right choice, and that [insert meal here] should be a treat. If the aroma was not enough to convince you, the array of breads, pastries, and other baked treats perched handily by the till – just in case you want to extend to Baker and Graze experience father into your day – would settle things.
It was still early, so the place was nowhere near full, the the usual screen of condensation that masks a humming and thriving eatery like this had yet to form, so I took my seat and gazed out at the Farrow & Ball opposite. First things first, though: coffee – I could have downed a bucketful – and a hot chocolate for young Miss Cirencetera. The understanding smile that greeted my very hasty order, was still there a few minutes later to accompany the delivery of my flat white and even before taking a sip I felt warmed still further. The coffee was good, though frankly I was in such need of something warm, milky and caffeinated, my critical powers disappeared as rapidly as the contents of my cup.
The menu, delivered attached to a clipboard – I do wonder whether clipboard manufacturers are seeing a resurgence in demand these days, or whether these were procured merely from an office clearance – offered much promise and no little dilemma. There was nothing on there that I did not want to eat, not least because the prospect of sourdough as part of your breakfast is never a bad thing. The ubiquitous avocado was accompanied by streaky bacon and a poached egg, but there was also the option of spicy Nduja with poached eggs, or roasted field mushrooms with spinach and a poached egg, but I went for the fennel sausages on sourdough with anchovy butter and kale on the side. With a poached egg on top. Little Miss Cirenetc. had a sausage sandwich upgraded to the fennel variety – I admit to feeling I felt a teensy flush of pride when she asked if that was possible. Other dishes we sampled were the shaksuka baked eggs and avocado, hummus and roasted peppers on toasted pumpernickel.
As we waited for our breakfast bangers and the other dishes to arrive, hungry diners did also and the place was very soon full and alive with a satisfying buzz – all the better to conceal the rumbles emanating from my stomach. The wait was well worth it, however, as dishes to warm up the heart as well as everything else started to arrive. I can’t pretend to have sampled the sausage sandwich but having opted for the fennel sausage on toast I feel safe in recommending it as an option. As a twist on the boring/traditional – pick your adjective – fennel sausages are to be recommended. My sausages, on toast with anchovy butter, were delicious with the softness of a poached egg and some of the kale. While the addition of the kale may seem unnecessary and faddish, it works, definitely adding to the dish as a whole, rather than being a mere extra.
Good as the sausages were, the other two dishes were probably better. The coolness of hummus, avocado and roasted pepper on the hot, nutty pumpernickel, was a genuine surprise. The poached egg was a good extra hit of protein, but the dish would not have missed it. I’m not entirely sure why toasted pumpernickel should be so much of a revelation, but it was and I can see us having that more often at home. Ditto the shaksuka – a Tunisian dish in case you were wondering – two baked eggs looking so wholesome they might just have been at Sunday School, sitting in a spicy and fragrant tomato and pepper sauce, finished with chopped coriander leave and a couple of pieces of toasted sourdough, wedged at the side. It was fragrant, spicy and immensely satisfying, not least that combination of tomato and pepper with a bit of velvet egg yolk just to cool the heat. It seems to be a regular on the menu, so if you get a chance, I recommend you try it.
For breakfast dessert – who says breakfast has to be a single course meal? – we had the granola and greek yoghurt topped with blackberries and poached pear, and a sticky toffee cruffin, that insanely good combination of muffin and croissant. The granola was a perfect follow up to the baked eggs and the sausages: the fruit and yoghurt providing cool softness as a counterpoint to the sweet cinnamon tastiness of the granola. And that cruffin, OMG. Even after all I had eaten, those mouthfuls I was permitted to enjoy, were moments of pure, sweet, flaky, buttery joy. I’ve always views the cruffin – alongside its portmanteau pastry sibling the cronut – as gimmicks, but count me among the converted now.
When it came time to leave, so sated were we after so much deliciousness, we were deaf to the pleas of those tillside treats to take them home for further pastry indulgence. Baker and Graze has only been in situ for less than a year and is in good company considering some of the eateries it has as near neighbours. And from our relative outsider perspective, it feels like it is already an established part of its neighbourhood that is set to stay should its owners wish to do so. They’re on to a good thing and, I think, so are we.