Breakfasting venue: De Vine
Date of breakfasting: 8am, 20 May 2015
Location: 19 Vine Street, London, EC3N 2PX
Nearest tube: Tower Hill
See you there!
Breakfasting venue: De Vine
Date of breakfasting: 8am, 20 May 2015
Location: 19 Vine Street, London, EC3N 2PX
Nearest tube: Tower Hill
See you there!
After a series of unfortunate events put paid to March breakfast (yes, here’s the apology – sorry for calling it off at the last minute folks!), April and early May proved fertile ground for breakfasting around the globe. So here’s four breakfasts to feast your eyes on as recompense.
First up was Hispania, which although on familiar turf in central London offered an alternative take on the breakfast staples. Yes, you’ve guessed, it’s Spanish cuisine here – and the obligatory churros and chocolate are on the menu, but I didn’t bite on this occasion. Instead I settled for the ‘cooked breakfast’ option, of fried eggs on toast with chistorra (mild chorizo).
First observation, this place does not seem to anticipate much custom at its opening hour of 8am – I was sat at table in the empty restaurant for 5-10 minutes before anyone noticed I was there. Waiting and front of house staff appeared momentarily a various points, and vanished again. It gave good opportunity to appreciate the fine decor, but overall the impression was of being sat in the first class waiting room of a long abandoned Victorian train station. A few signs of life upstairs might tempt in slightly more of the morning trade, because at the moment I’m not sure anyone is really going to believe it’s open.
Which is a pity, as the breakfast was definitely good, if not wildly adventurous. I’d go as far as to say that I don’t think it really exceeds the fare at Camino. That’s not exactly a criticism given how good the Camino breakfast was, but the ambience and the ambition of Hispania are clearly aiming for a slightly more exclusive feel – and the breakfast options need a little more inspiration to achieve that.
The end of April was dominated by work travel, which gave the opportunity to sample a wide cultural range of breakfasting options. First up, Bahamian breakfast at the Old Colonial Hotel in Nassau. An authentic Bahamas breakfast is apparently boiled fish with “johnnycake”, a dense roll of slightly sweet bread – a bit like brioche. The fish is boiled with onions and potatoes and is served up in a bowl with the water/stock. It was pleasant, but certainly hasn’t dislodged my preference for the full English … and oh boy, it was a real plateful! More fish than I would eat for a fish dinner was a bit much at 8am in the morning, and I’m afraid to say I couldn’t finish the dish (or at least, it would have been unwise to attempt to just before a meeting).
This authentic Caribbean experience was followed up with a somewhat less regionally authentic sampling of the bagel with salmon and cream cheese option – given the volume of Americans populating the hotel, it seemed a reasonable bet that staple US breakfast options might be done reasonably well here. This bet was on the money, with a fabulous mound of salmon delivered up with mouth-wateringly juicy strawberries, tangy capers and some fresh lemon and orange to boot. As bagel breakfasts go, this was definitely living the dream.
Sacriligious though it may be, I’m afraid I was not sold on the traditional Bahamian breakfast – nor on the potato, peppers and onion hash that seemed to be a local staple on the hotel buffets either. Back in London however, I had the opportunity to return to familiar territory in the form of the Workers Cafe in Islington. Although its been many years since we were there, it’s still a tremendous experience. When it says “all day breakfast” it really does mean that. I walked in at 8pm and they happily dished me up a delicious ‘Mediterranean breakfast’ with Halloumi, mushrooms, hash browns, two lusciously fried eggs and some sumptuous spicy sausage, along with a freshly squeezed orange juice and a vast mug of builder’s tea. A truly heroic establishment, that should stand forever as a testament to the best tenets of breakfasting.
Breakfasting venue: Hispania
Date of breakfasting: 8am, 24 March 2015
Location: 72-72 Lombard Street, London, EC3V 9AY
Nearest tube: Bank
See you there!
It’s certainly not going to be the first place you think of when the question of breakfast comes up, but then again The Fish and Chip Shop (TFACS) isn’t quite what you think it is anyway. Tucked discreetly away in the underbelly of Liverpool Street, it’s quickly apparent why the detailed directions on the website are necessary – Bishopsgate Courtyard is definitely a very missable corner of London if you’re not looking out for it – which, of course, practically nobody is.
Once you’ve located this City equivalent of platform 11 3/4, then about halfway along a rather smart looking bar/restaurant pops into view. You’ve gathered by this point that you won’t be getting served up a pile of fat, floppy fries slathered in curry sauce. So what does lie in wait for the breakfaster in this establishment? I’ll start with two words that should be writ large on the forehead of every breakfast purveyor in town.
Sure, I get why your latte, or your flat white or cappucino might need to be separately itemised for each cup you consume. But when you’re serving up someone’s first meal of the day, then a basic filter coffee should be part and parcel of the deal – and given that it’s integral to both the time of day and the meal you’re serving it should flow as freely and as constantly as the mountain springs. That’s just my personal view of course – but it’s also plain sense.
So TFACS gets it right here even if they do feel the need to follow the tiresome trend of dishing up the milk in a tiny milk bottle. On the first encounter, the tiny milk bottle is faintly amusing in a retro-chic kind of way. Perhaps it is intended to encourage you to imagine that maybe the milk has been delivered by a tiny leprechaun milkman running an independent milk delivery service supplied by his herd of micro-cows – rather than shipped in in bulk from some faceless corporate dairy which pays the farmers in modern day magic beans. Perhaps I’m overthinking this, but anyway, the point is that by the time you’re in the fifth restaurant that deploys this quaint little serving concept it rather loses the charm.
Moving onto the food, I suppose I really should have sampled one of the fish dishes – the kippers perhaps, or maybe the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. However the allure of the Full Breakfast was more than I could resist, and I have to say that I found myself in no way disappointed. Two things in particular require special mention.
1. The bacon. Oh, the bacon! Let me say first up that given the choice between bacon and sausage I would in general opt for the sausage any day, but for this bacon I would make an exception. I don’t think I would exaggerate to say that it is the best bacon I’ve yet had in six years of Breakfast Wednesdays. Not crispy, but perfectly cooked with just the right degree of chewableness – and ever so slightly caramelised, with the net result being an explosion of flavour and texture that made me wish I had two more slices and one more stomach.
2. French toast! This is, to my recollection, a first. Perhaps they’ve taken advantage of the omission of “English” from the title of the dish to up the “Frenchiness” factor. In any case, it’s unusual. Personally, I think I’m probably in favour of the crunchier end of the toast spectrum, but I have to confess that it was a pleasant change to have something a bit different on the plate.
The rest of the offering was simple good quality breakfast fare. My request to omit the beans was happily accepted and fulfilled, and my suggestion that any surplus mushrooms that might find their way onto my plate in lieu would be gratefully received was evidently catered to.
In summary, despite the unlikely title, TFACS definitely offers one of the better breakfasts available in central London – you owe it to yourself to sample their bacon if nothing else. And I will certainly be heading back to make sure that I try out some of the more pescatarian options – on this showing, it will definitely be worth the while.
While it may appear to the untrained eye that Breakfast Wednesdays has been napping, nothing could be further from the truth. Nevertheless, you might be forgiven for thinking so given the absence of posts of late. Rather than trying to go back and do individual posts to catch up, we’ll just have a three-in-one to get us back on track.
November was the Folly Bar, down by Monument. December took us back to the dependable sumptuousness of the Hawksmoor. January found us in the newly opened Bad Egg, in CityPoint just round the back of Moorgate. So, how did they fare?
Truth is, November is kinda hard to remember at this distance. Browsing back through the photos reveals an establishment rather at ease with its own sense of swank. However they do at least concede to provide, along with the seemingly obligatory chopping board, a dish to contain the breakfast and prevent the eggs from dispensing their contents down your front (unlike the unfortunate Anthologist). To quibble that said dish is in fact a cast-iron frying pan is merely to split hairs – it does at least go with the equally robust teapot, which looks like it may have been recylced from a Dalek. But hey, the milk comes in a pretend mini milk bottle, so it’s all alright!
Once you’ve accepted the silliness, the food is on the whole decent, although the bacon left a little to be desired. Nevertheless, the eggs were just right, the chop was juicy, the mushrooms flavoursome. Although the sausages did not exactly thrill, they were at least two of them – it is a source of constant amazement to me that the places that serve the more expensive breakfasts can often be the most stingy with their servings. Gratifying that this is not the case here.
What can you say? The Hawksmoor does not disappoint. The only hitch was getting a table – on first attempt to book the site came back with no tables available between 7am and 9:30am. Not much good to me so off I went to check for availability elsewhere. This came back also as a negative but suggested some alternative venues with availability at 8am, including … Hawksmoor. Slightly baffled, I clicked through and lo and behold, a reservation for 8am drops into my inbox. Don’t ask me what witchcraft these booking systems work on, but at least it worked in the end.
Hawksmoor retain their reputation for being one of the vanishingly small number of breakfasting establishments where I will concede to the offer of beans on my plate. In this case, because the pig’s trotter beans really do make a positive contribution to the overall balance of the meal, unlike the usual slop of half-warmed Heinz that most places slap on to obscure the fact that they’ve failed to fill your plate with actual food.
Bad Egg is a curious endeavour. Clearly pitching first and foremost for the lunchtime crowd, which seem to be here in droves, the place was rather deserted at 8am, which is a pity because they do offer an original flavour of breakfast. Unfortunately there are a few niggles – first as I tried and failed to sit down in one of the booths. Although they lend an attractive retro-chic look, the enormous bases of the tables make it practically impossible to actually sit at them with the seating packed in as tightly as it is. And that’s when there was just my own legs to negotiate into the space – I dread to think what getting six people in might entail.
Nevertheless, although the place is not technically open when I arrive a little before 8am I do at least get a seat and a coffee while awaiting co-breakfasters. Disappointingly, the coffee arrives with a little plastic carton of UHT. I mean, I know we’re going for the diner vibe here, but there ought to be some limits. Glady that is where the disappointment ends, because everything else from here on in is bliss. The staff are friendy and conversational, the menu is alluring, the food arrives quickly and the breakfast itself is delicious.
The Huevos Rancheros is a taste explosion in a bowl, with just the right level of kick for a morning pick-me-up. The smooth cool sour cream and guacamole accompanying loads the experience with just the right level of comfort eating feel to accompany the hit of the spicy chorizo and make a truly splendid breakfast. It’s gone before I know it, and I’m wishing that the theory of relativity could be somehow reversed to allow the experience to feel like it lasted longer.
Likewise, the baked breakfast eggs with bacon and black pudding turned out to essentially be three mini breakfast fajitas – each featuring a baked egg on a little tortilla garnished with a mini-black pudding, globs of guacamole, and a sprinkling of shredded bacon. Novel, and sumptuous. As the curate would say, Bad Egg is definitely good in parts – and fortunately those parts are the great majority. I’d definitely go again – if only to discover whether their “fried chicken, peanut butter and jam” bap actually works.
Better later than never …
Breakfasting venue: The Folly Bar
Date of breakfasting: 8am, 26 Novembver 2014
Location: 41 Gracechurch Street, EC3V 0BT
Having been tipped off to the recent re-opening of the unfortunately demised City institution, The Sign of the Don Bar, it was almost a duty to sample the wares. Since our visit it seems to have been making a proper stab at getting folks through the door at breakfast time by hauling in professional opinionators to give a “City breakfast” talk – the latest being Anthony Hilton to discuss the merits or otherwise of “Brexit” from the European Union.
Certainly they need some sort of gimmick to get people in, because if our experience was anything to go by then quality of the actual breakfast provision is not going to do it. Let me say first though, that in first impressions terms it does itself quite well – down a half-hidden side street, with a simple and stylish neon sign to announce its presence, pleasant wood panel interior decor – it carries off its grandiose title pretty adequately.
Unfortunately that’s as far as the good impressions went. After placing our drinks orders, a lengthy wait culminated in the arrival of a completely different set of coffees than those we had ordered. Perhaps excusable in a busy moment, with orders flying left right and centre – but since we were the only patrons in the establishment at that time the reasons for such an error are rather less clear.
The breakfasts themselves arrived, and presentationally they certainly looked the business. Unfortunately the eating experience did not match the viewing experience. The sausages were bland and uninspired, and the toast was not really edible by anyone with jaws less formidable than a Great White. Perhaps as an effort to counterbalance, the muffins of the eggs benedict appeared to have been unacquainted with any heating implement.
Returning to the full English, while tomatoes balanced on top of mushrooms might look good (and I have to say, I’m not even especially convinced of that), they are certainly not flavours that you want to combine. The bacon was more charred than crisped. The saving grace was that the eggs at least were as good as they looked.
Unfortunately, as good as eggs are, they do not a full breakfast make. This point was perhaps not lost on the staff, as when our bill did arrive it included an unexplained 25% discount, which may or may not have been a effort to apologise for the beverage balls-up. Or (less likely) the general disappointment of the dishes. It’s a pity because on the face of it, this place should have everything going for it – but if Don Corleone were to take his breakfast here, I suspect someone would be waking up the next day to a pig’s head on the pillow. Let’s hope it gets up to scratch before it comes to that, because I can’t imagine the folks paying £35 a head to hear the venerable Mr Hilton recite from his Evening Standard columns over their morning sustenance would have much truck with this fare.
Easing back into the Breakfast routine after the arrival of the second Brekmeister Jr was never going to be easy – so the idea of making the first foray at a venue that’s practically by my desk seemed sound. As such, I set the alarm early once again (with some reluctance, I confess), and made my way (with rather more enthusiasm) down to One Under Lime to sample the finest on offer to the denizens of London’s premier insurance market.
It was a slightly peculiar experience from the outset. The first portent was the fact that H. was early, and even arrived before me. This should really have warned me that things were not as they ought to be. We perused the menu, provided on an A3 brown paper sheet – in its favour it had a couple of Sudoku to keep you occupied if, for instance, you are waiting for your co-breakfaster to turn up. Unfortunately it was a little lacking in other respects – such as any elaboration on the contents of the “Full English” and “Half English” options. In the spirit of adventure, H. ordered the Full English without inquiry, and I opted for the One Under Lime special of ‘Keta Caviar, smoked salmon, poached eggs, toasted muffin and hollandaise sauce” at a rather reasonable £10.00.
This is where it began to get particularly strange. “Oh” said the waitress “I’m not sure we have any caviar, I’ll just check”. Sure enough, no caviar. Bit of a flaw for your signature dish.
“We could give you something else instead” she volunteered “maybe some mushroom?”. Well it’s not exactly what I would call suitable recompense for a lack of caviar, but it was better than nothing – and, of course, the Brekmeister can never refuse extra mushroom.
Thus it was that our dishes arrived to a look of moderate puzzlement from each. “No beans!” grumbled H. “An enlightened decision.” I rejoined “But mushroom in the Eggs Benedict …?”
The thing is, I did envisage the mushroom coming as an accompaniment to the dish – not as a subsitute ingredient. Well, never let it be said that I am not game for experimental culinary adventures – dear reader, I tried it. However I can sadly confim that mushroom on smoked salmon does not please the tastebuds. While we’re on that topic, another thing that does not please the tastebuds is very stale muffins. Ideally they should be crunchy on the outside, and the fluffy centre damp with butter.
The Full English proved more palatable, if uninspiring – and I’m still curious how the “half English” would be assembled. Presumably it doesn’t include half an egg. But who knows! All in all, this could readily be renamed “One Under Whelmed” in respect of the breakfast provision. Have a drink instead.
A shift from the norm this month as the Brekmeister was too busy with nappies, deliveries, and above all, the miracle of new life to arrange breakfast for us hungry Breakfast Wednesday folk.
So it was left to me (although I have no breakfast-related name to call myself) to take up the mantle and ensure that Breakfast Wednesdays were not left unloved and languishing in the doldrums for the next few months.
With that in mind, I failed at the first hurdle. I had breakfast on a Thursday. Though the Brekmeister is strangely resistant to retitling the blog to Breakfast Thursdays.
But…I did follow the Brekmeister’s example in one respect: I invited my old colleagues to join me. The location for this reunion was Browns on St Martin’s Lane.
The morning got off to a great start. I was exactly on time (a feat I have not managed for many of the breakfasts I’ve attended to contribute to this blog). But unfortunately, I was the only one. One breakfast attendee was 15 minutes late, and the other attendee completely forgot we were meant to be meeting. We had chosen browns for its breakfastly offer of two full Englishes for the price of one. In the end, I had the full English, and my companion had the Bubble & Squeak.
Let’s start with the full English – the apotheosis of all breakfasts. It was a decent effort, but never in danger of troubling the great breakfast providers of London. It included beans as standard, which was good. And mushrooms too, which wan’t.
First, the good. The black pudding was excellent, just the right consistency. The egg was nicely done, and the beans were a good complement, providing some moisture to what can be quite a dry breakfast. And the seeded bread and cooked tomato gave a veneer of health to the plate
But the bad: the sausage was slightly overdone, and seemed to have air pockets at either end. Very strange. The bacon was slightly underdone, but that’s just my taste.
My companion was similarly underwhelmed with parts of his breakfast. Billed as bubble & squeak with bacon, poached egg & hollandaise, it seemed to resemble a sort of hollandaise soup.
While it wasn’t a complete fail on the breakfast front – I was quite satisfied, it’s not somewhere I would be rushing back to in a hurry, even though you can get two full Englishes for £9. Perhaps I’m spoiled for ordinary breakfasts, but it’s the right word to sum this breakfast up.
For someone who is not naturally a early-bird, but who gets up regularly at 5:45am purely for the love of breakfast, the instant appeal of a purveyor of morning-time sustenance that goes by the name of “Hush!” can no doubt be appreciated. You feel straightaway that they understand that precious commodity of modern life, tranquility. Of course, there is also the matter of their bold claim to lay on the “best breakfast in the City”. Can it be possible? Do they really know what they’re up against?
There being only one way to find out, we endeavoured to put them to the test. On arrival, the establishment itself seemed promising at least – although the seating possibly a little densely packed to live up to the promise of quiet introspection to the background of at most a low hum of other conversations around you. Counter-balancing that however, was the fact that at 8am we were almost the only people in there. So we sank into the blissfully comfortable seats in a tucked away booth and settled down to the task of choosing our fare. Hush certainly like to put a generous dollop of character into everything they do, and the menu is no exception, offering a “Cabbies breakfast” among the choices.
Quite tempting actually, and there’s a good smattering of unusual offerings too, such as the fantastic sounding “Pulled Pork, Caramelised Apple and Gruyere Baguette”. But the lure of the Full English proves ever irresistable to me – while my compatriot casts a guilty glance at her Fitbit wristband and opts healthily for the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. To my horror, as the plates arrive, I realise that I have omitted my usual instruction to replace the beans with something – anything – more edible. My heart, and my stomach, lurches uncomfortably but since they are there I must make the best of the situation and at least give them a fighting chance to prove their worth. Now I don’t want this getting around too much, as it rather undermines my fundamental position that beans are a vile and repulsive addition to the otherwise sacred combination of breakfast essentials … but astonishingly it turns out that the beans that Hush rustle up actually quite delectable. There. I said it. I hasten to qualify here, that these are certainly not the usual Heinz (or worse) muck that gets slopped lazily onto your breakfast plate in most establishments, but a mixture of various types of bean that appear to have been marinated in a perfectly seasoned, thick and textured tomato base. They are served up alongside the meal in their own little saucepan, one of these typical trendy restaurant conceits designed to impress the ‘hand-madeness’ of their food or something – but whatever the reason, on this occasion they actually merit the special treatment. Just don’t expect me to ever admit to enjoying beans again, OK?
So, what about the important bits? Well it has to be said that Hush don’t disappoint, the quality of the other essentials is tip-top, with two practically perfect eggs perching at the centre of a sumptious selection of sausage, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes. No skimping either – two sauasages, two tomatoes, two mushrooms. OK, so two rashers of bacon isn’t exactly over generous, but when it’s this good it’s not stingy either especially when everything nothing else has been skimped upon. Butter comes fashionably presented in a twist of paper, which I have never quite understood the point of – is there really any reason not to put it in a butter dish? Really? But it’s only really an aesthetic issue, as the butter itself is creamy heavenliness with a good salty tang.
So basically, there’s a lot going for Hush, if you can put up with some low level pretentiousness. Is it the best breakfast in the City? Well that’s a hard fought title, and I’m afraid it’s not quite all that. But it is really very good, and a very palatable price, both of which are more than you can say for many an establishment in the vicinity.
Oh, and did I mention the slippers?
I’m afraid we neglected to put in our request, but the waitress assured me that they will actually produce a pair on demand for anyone who wants to really get into the spirit of early morning quietitude. Now that really is something you won’t find anywhere else.