You’ve heard of confit duck, of course, and confit garlic or tomatoes, but confit tofu? That’s a new one. Should you add said block of spongy bean curd – marinated overnight in mushroom stock and slowly cooked in olive oil – to the kimchi toastie at Brighter Coffee? It’s debatable. Not so much because the tofu itself wants for anything in particular, but because that toastie is a thing of beauty on its own.
The kimchi is made in house, more a fresh and fragrant ferment than a pungent lactic acid bomb, and it’s sandwiched between two pieces of Iggy’s miraculous sourdough in the company of sweet tomato passata and a combo of nutty Gruyère and mild Gouda cheeses. Much like the other five items on the Stanmore café’s (very) short, entirely vegetarian menu, the toastie is a variation of ‘stuff on bread’, and it might not even be the best of the bunch.
That title might go to Where the Wild Things Grow, which isn’t a psilocybin hunter’s guide, but what co-owners Ben Richardson and Junji Tai call their mushrooms on toast. Here, a plate-length slice of Iggy’s (or Nonie’s next-level gluten-free bread) gets a light swipe of mushroom purée, made from reducing mushroom stock to the consistency of Vegemite and blitzing it with cashews and truffle pâté. Layers of various sauteed fungi get stacked on top – field mushrooms, buttons, woodears – and elegantly finished with saffron-stained enoki strands and shiitakes seasoned with koji. Shiso, sage and dried rose get a little bit lost amidst all the earthy uproar, but you’ll notice them and be grateful they’re there when you do.
That’s the real joy of Brighter, though there are many – you’re given the time and the space to daydream, to take note of the thoughtful little things (a shelf of children’s books tucked away in the corner), as well as the big ones (the handsome jet-black Probat roaster in the back). That hulking piece of machinery is a not-so-subtle hint that coffee is taken pretty seriously around these parts. So, too, the offer of “s-l-o-w” and “fast” filter coffees on the menu. The former affords you a choice of whatever bean you fancy from the Made of Many coffees on display, the roasting company founded by Richardson and his wife. And you’re in luck if the latter happens to be a batch brew of La Ponderosa – a mild and pleasant Guatemalan number, both fleshy and nutty.
This is a place that, wisely, chooses not to overextend its reach when it could just as easily boast a bigger kitchen and offer a much larger menu, more seats and longer operating hours. What we get as a result is a case of less really being more: an effortlessly welcoming hangout where a flood of sunshine highlights the unvarnished wood, hanging light globes, potted plants and mid-century modern furniture. A café captained by a crew wholly invested in working with quality goods and committed to making your day. Brighter.