Regarding the lobster at breakfast time

June 30th, 2015

What do you think when you hear the word “breakfast”?  Chances are, no matter what your culture or background, what springs to mind involves neither lobsters nor burgers – and almost certainly not both.  On the other hand, the same could be said for “lunch” and that hasn’t stopped Burger and Lobster carving out a very successful niche for themselve in the City lunch space, so will they manage the same with the breakfast crowd?

I can’t tell you that, but here at least is what you can expect if you do trot in to the new Threadneedle Street premises of this ever popular franchise. First of all, you can expect a vast, cavernous space. As with most of the places on Threadneedle Street this is housed in one of those old bank buildings that feel almost like a cathedral. As you might expect, the conceit is the same as with their lunch – there’s no grand menu, you get burger or you get lobster. And the price is straightforward enough too – it’s £15 . That said, it’s slightly unfortunate that our server seemed to think that this included a tea or a coffee. According to our bill, it doesn’t.

And if you don’t want your burger bloody, then you’d better be sure to tell them so when you order, because you won’t necessarily get asked. As it happens we are both quite content with a juicy medium-done piece of prime beefburger, but there are certainly those who might be unhappy to find their burger bun red from anything but ketchup …

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So, onto the food. If you’re looking for a banquet, then you are in the wrong place – the provisions come in modest (some might even say dainty) proportion. Nevertheless, it done well and is surprisingly filling. While the burger looks inescapably lonesome with nothing but a couple of hash browns and a cup of beans to keep it company, it is delicious. And the cheese topped egg perched atop it is cooked to the perfect point of semi-solidity that allows you to consume the burger without egg-splosion difficulties, yet the yolk is still soft and melt-in-the-mouth. Inevitably, I did not sample the devil-spawn (beans) that come with this, but I am advised that they appear to be standard Heinz. This will probably please and displease you bean fans out there in roughly equal proportion. Certainly I feel that at the price level Burger Lobster pitches at, they could afford to jazz this up somehow. The hash browns are crispy outside, moist inside as they should be: good but nothing to write home about.

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For the breakfast table, Lobster comes in the form of lobster scrambled eggs. This is muffin, scrambled egg, large flakes of lobster topped with cooked vine tomatoes and a sprinkling of chives. A sort of crustacean eggs benedict, in a way perhaps? In any case, the scrambled eggs are rich and creamy and complement the lobster well. The actual quantity of lobster is quite restrained, but sufficient to let you know you’ve got it.

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So, to the point – how was it? The verdict is that it’s surprisingly good – and surprisingly filling, despite what you may think when it arrives in front of you. At nearly £20 apiece once the drinks and service are added though, it must be said that this is one more for the novelty than anything else … but then, it’s Burger Lobster so you already knew that before you came in. It’s worked well enough for the lunchtime crowd it seems, but will there be enough interest to sustain the novelty breakfast concept, that’s likely to be entirely reliant on local workers and, unlike lunches, will get little or no support from tourist footfall? I’m not convinced, so if you want to give it a try I’d do so now – but you never know. If anyone can pull it off, then probably Burger Lobster can.

June Breakfast

June 16th, 2015

Breakfasting venue: Burger Lobster

Date of breakfasting: 8am, Wednesday 17th June

Location: 52 Threadneedle Street

Nearest tube: Bank

A De Vine breakfast

May 28th, 2015

After foiling the best efforts of the capital’s workmen to impede straightforward access to the premises from nearby Tower Hill tube station, De Vine is an unassuming caff tucked cosily beneath the railway bridge arches.  A notice on the fridge advises of a sale on bottled beers – £1 each.  Alongside it, a selection of impressive looking cakes are available for purchase.  None of this £4 for a slice of something elaborate that’s sat out all day on a poncy stand nonsense.  Nor some delicate x-sized cupcake hiding under a metre of garish icing.  It’s a slab of cake.  And you know you want it.

But enough of that – we are here for breakfast, and this is certainly taken seriously at De Vine.  A healthy array of … well, perhaps ‘healthy’ isn’t quite the term, but a substantial array of full breakfast options adorn the board.  I am informed by a regular that in addition to the extras on the menu, it’s open season on any of the sandwich filling options too if you want any of them added on the side.  This is a new but welcome riff on the usual greasy spoon tune, and so we place our orders with added sides of fresh sliced avocado.  The requests are accepted unblinkingly by the proprietor, who then whisks back promptly with several vats of coffee – another big tick there. 

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The breakfasts are dished out without undue delay, and they certainly do the job.  It’s unusual these days to find a place that does two black puds by default, but here it is.  The sausage, bacon and egg are without fault and it must be said that perfectly fresh avocado makes a remarkably good Full English accompaniment.  While it does tread on dangerous ground by introducing ‘greenery’ to the scene, it neatly fulfils the ethos of the Full English by being packed with calories and fat.  It’s a clear winner.
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Our hearty (in all senses of the word) feast comes to around six quid apiece, and that speaks for itself.  A “De Vine” breakfast is all that the name would suggest and with all of its unique features, you won’t find a place like it so go search it out – it’s worth the trek.

May Breakfast

May 15th, 2015

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!

Four breakfasts and an apology

May 15th, 2015

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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March Breakfast

March 23rd, 2015

Breakfasting venue: Hispania

Date of breakfasting: 8am, 24 March 2015

Location: 72-72 Lombard Street, London, EC3V 9AY

Nearest tube: Bank

See you there!

The Fish and Chip Shop Breakfast

March 11th, 2015

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.

Bottomless.  Coffee. 

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. 

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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.

Three breakfasts

February 3rd, 2015

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?

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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!

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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.

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Hawksmoor

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.

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Bad Egg

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.

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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.

November Breakfast

November 24th, 2014

Better later than never …

Breakfasting venue: The Folly Bar

Date of breakfasting: 8am, 26 Novembver 2014

Location: 41 Gracechurch Street, EC3V 0BT

I’m gonna make you a breakfast you can’t refuse …

November 11th, 2014

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. 

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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. 

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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.