Instagrammer and chef Michael Zee has taken the food world by storm with his Symmetry Breakfast social media feed, which features daily mirrored breakfasts. The former teacher from London has gained appreciation from some of the industry’s biggest names, including Jamie Oliver and Kevin Systrom, the co-founder of Instagram.
The modern weekend: out with the roast chicken, in with the avocado; Font: Telegraph.uk
He began creating the lovingly prepared breakfasts for his then-boyfriend (now husband) Mark van Beek in London in 2013, as a way to carve out time together before the onslaught of the working day.
At the time of writing, he has amassed a total of 752k followers on Instagram. When we catch up he has moved to Shanghai having published bestseller Symmetry Breakfast: 100 Recipes for the Loving Cook, and has been experimenting with breakfasts of dim sum and Suzhou 'mooncakes' .
Simultaneously, he's taking on London's burgeoning brunch scene with an ongoing breakfast series, collaborating with Dutch vodka brand Ketel One to present menus and host events in some of the capital's most interesting venues. “The brunch phenomenon has grown at the expense of lunch,” he says. Zee ascribes this to changing lifestyles - and a decline in living standards in the UK.
“Young people think they can never buy a house, but at least they can have a nice brunch. People are spending more time at work these days too, so weekday breakfasts are getting crushed,” he explains. “Breakfasts are seen as a more practical thing which can be tied in with a meeting and getting stuff done. Lunch is non-existent. But brunch is a time to spend time with your friends at the weekend.
“You don’t have to rush off, you don’t set off an alarm, and you’ve got nowhere to go in particular. When you finish the food, you don’t get up, you just keep chatting and drinking. Eating is just a small element of brunch: the ceremony itself is quite long.
“In the UK, people are eating fewer Sunday roasts. We left seven months ago, but before that I don’t remember the last time we cooked a roast dinner - whereas as a child, we’d have it every Sunday. More people are renting, while our parent’s generation had big houses, big kitchens and dining rooms. These days, especially in London, you might not have a dining room. It’s not necessarily a question of money, but of lifestyles and living standards.”
Earlier this year he curated a brunch series inspired by the dining customs of Netherlands at hipster hangout Paradise Garage in Bethnal Green. “My husband Mark is Dutch, and a lot of the inspiration behind Symmetry Breakfast actually came from exploring the slightly absurd things Dutch people eat for breakfast,” he says. “Over there, 60-year-old men will eat things like chocolate sprinkles on bread for breakfast. To me, that seemed like children’s food for a birthday party.”
He’s not kidding: Dutch breakfast recipes include the likes of hagelslag (literally a “hailstorm” of sugary sprinkles), poffetjes (fluffy buckwheat pancakes) and bitterballen (bite-size beef croquettes).
Now, his Insta-worthy creations are taking up permanent residence beneath the chimneys of Battersea Power Station, at No 29 Power Station West. The venue is in keeping with his preference for an industrial vibe, and is filled with handmade design pieces from independent neighbourhood bar group Darwin & Wallace (they’re the people that brought us converted fire station No 197 in Chiswick and Clapham hotspot No 32. The Old Town).
Industrial cool: Zee is a fan of the quintessentially British retro aesthetic; Font: Telegraph.uk
“It’s very art deco, in the vein of the old control rooms, with almost a Bakelite finish and a post-war charm,” describes Zee enthusiastically. “I love the big leather chairs, and the fact that it’s very British in its aesthetic.”
The triple cheese truffle and avocado toasty with Taleggio, ricotta and honey roast ham is the one to go for
For the sweet-toothed, there’s indulgent coconut pancakes with caramelised bananas and coconut yoghurt.
If you’re after something rich and savoury, the triple cheese truffle and avocado toasty with Taleggio, ricotta and honey roast ham is the one to go for. It's best washed down with Ketel One Vodka Bloody Mary cocktails with Ketel One vodka, spice mix and freshly squeezed Sundance tomatoes. Zee's appreciation for all things Dutch, it seems, also extends to Dutch courage.
As part of the ongoing Ketel One Brunch Series with Michael Zee of Symmetry Breakfast, Michael Zee will be hosting a "How to Blog Your Brunch" event at No 29 Power Station West on Sunday 24 September.