How now, Brown sow?

April 7th, 2014

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.

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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.

Hushing it up

February 27th, 2014

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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

February Breakfast

January 28th, 2014

So apparently there’s a new chain in town, busy touting the “best breakfast in London” on placards outside their outlets. Obviously, this sort of claim can’t simply be allowed to go unassessed by the gallant breakfast Wednesday brigade. So let’s see you there next week to test whether their self-confidence is justified …

Breakfasting venue: Hush

Date of breakfasting: 8am, 19 February 2014

Location: 1 Ludgate Hill, EC4M 7AA

A breakfast fit for Andrew

January 28th, 2014

With the advent of the long commute into work, time to search out good quality greasy spoon venues suitable for the Breakfast Wednesday itinerary has been sadly lacking.  However, a determined resolution to put this right for the first breakfast of the New Year culminated in a visit to the inventively titled “Andrew’s Restaurant” on Gray’s Inn Road – and what a good idea that turned out to be. 

The unassuming exterior, with displaying its name rather unprominently in cursive script spoke of breakfasts of yore, before the advent of ginger pigs and other such swank.  And of an establishment where actually knowing the name of the place is less important than simply being able to see, through the vast and unobstructed glass frontage, the formidable formica table capacity and the vast array of set breakfasts on offer.  In fact, such is the extent of the possibilities open to the customer simply by uttering the words “Set” in combination with any digit you can choose, that it took five minutes just to mentally weigh up the options and their respective merits.   Fortunately, they were more than happy to take drink order while I stood gaping at the board, and a mug of steaming hot milky instant coffee was swiftly procured.

Settling for “Set 6″  (without beans, naturally) I sat to await the goods, noting with satisfaction the respectable throng of yellow vests inhabiting other corners of the caff.  Almost universally a good sign – and this proved to be no exception.

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Breakfast was delivered swiftly and in whole plate-encompassing style.  Additional points are awarded for excellent presentation, with the alternating hash brown and black pudding cornerpiece deserving a special mention.  A generous serving of deliciously cooked mushrooms sets a standard that all greasy spoon breakfasts should aspire to.  Meanwhile, the two eggs atop my fried bread sliced were both perfectly cooked and looked a beauteaous sight, staring up and demanding to be demolished. 

While I would not rank the bacon as the best I have had, it certainly passed muster – and the sausage was pleasingly hearty; no pretensions but just a good, well cooked, perfectly proportioned for egg stabbing.  Was there anything to criticse at all?  Well, presentation aside, the black puds were perhaps a touch dry, but by no means crisped and were tasty enough, so this is perhaps plucking at straws.  And for six quid, there’s certainly nothing one could level any serious complaint at in the whole experience.

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Did I mention also, that the whole delicious shabang cost the princely sum of £6.20?  Of course, out in the sticks where I live one can toddle round the corner to places where a full English (admittedly a fairly sparse one, but with all the essentials nonetheless) can be had for merely £1.99 … but in London I rather doubt you’ll do much better than Andrew’s for value for money – and even if you find a cheaper option, I would be surprised if it offered comparable quantity and quality for the pound in your pocket.   In short then – Andrew’s excels!  If you haven’t been here, you owe yourself (if not your arteries) a visit.

January Breakfast

January 21st, 2014

Breakfasting venue: Andrew’s Restaurant

Date of breakfasting: 8am, 22 January 2014

Location: 160 Gray’s Inn Road

Nearest Tube is: Chancery Lane

What does the fox eat?

January 6th, 2014

December breakfast is always a tough call.  Along with Christmas, the last Breakfast Wednesday of the year feels like it can never quite live up to the expectations that are held for it – it must be a glorious success and have some sort of celebratory feel to it.  Yet revisiting a ‘tried and tested’ venue also seems like cheating.   This year’s selection was no different, and after lengthy debate over which establishments offered the best chance of an early morning festive tipple along with the the standard fare, the Fox and Anchor was selected.

Seems hard to believe that Breakfast Wednesdays has been going this long without yet visiting this formidable force on the Breakfasting scene.  The Fox and Anchor is tucked away on a side street running off from Smithfield Market, a mere stone’s throw from the location of previous Breakfasts, yet we’ve never noticed it.  Perhaps because it is a pub, and it has to be said that the general performance of pubs in BW’s experience has been poor (with the notable exception of Simpson’s Tavern, of course).  Nevertheless, the offer of a “City Boy” breakfast including a pint of stout along with the Full English with liver, kidneys and black pudding suggested true dedication to the best principles of pre-work consumption and demanded at least fair consideration.

The first hurdle was actually getting through to secure a table, and after the phone rang out again on the third attempt to get through, I opted for the “turn up and see” approach. For practically every place we’ve been to, this would be unproblematic as they are usually at best half full at 8am. Not the Fox and Anchor, which was crammed from corner to corner with merrily feasting suited types.

However, I must offer full points to them on this front – other than a slightly furrowed brow when we said we had no booking, no fuss was made at all as we were guided to a cosy little table for four in an out of sight alcove. Not even when the fifth and sixth breakfasters turned up. I am, sadly, unable to report on the merits of the “City Boy” breakfast as, in the event, none of our party turned out to be up to the challenge. However the noises emanating from the adjacent table, which had been supplied with several “City Boys” suggests that it met with satisfaction.

Those of our own breakfasters who contented themselves with a modest full English were not disappointed either. Where many inferior competitors have gone the way of the single sausage, it is heartening to know that the real deal is still on offer. In addition to the double helping of processed pork, the standard serving also includes two eggs and a healthy(?) portion of bacon. In short, this breakfast does not go short on anything.

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The only real stumbling block was the tomatoes, and it is almost a shame to mention it given the quality of pretty much every other aspect of our experience – but on the other hand, when so much of it is done so well anything that doesn’t quite come up to scratch sticks out like a sore thumb. So here it is – breakfast tomatoes should never ever be served cold. It’s contrary to all logic and to the laws of the Medes and Persians (or I’m sure it would have been, had they had any rules about breakfast). I don’t care what fine herbs are daintily sprinkled across them, or how beautifully they’ve been cut, a hot breakfast should be hot. And breakfast tomatoes should ideally be served up with a sprinkling of salt, gleaming skin, and dark brown grill lines like plough furrows across them, HOT from the grill or skillet. I’ll even accept tinned tomotoes that have been heated up in a microwave at a pinch. But a cold tomato plonked on the side of the plate is anathema – we’re not here for a salad. We’re here for a breakfast.

With that rant aside, breakfast at the Fox and Anchor was without any further blemish (well, any blemish other that was the responsibility of the venue … we cannot, of course, blame the veritable establishment for the menu choices of some of our less enlightened co-breakfasters. Porridge, honestly!!)

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Anyway, I would happily be back here for a hearty start to the day – and the lure of the “City Boy” still remains …

December Breakfast

December 17th, 2013

Breakfasting venue: The Fox and Anchor

Date of breakfasting: 8am, 18 December 2013

Location: 115 Charterhouse Street EC1M 6AA

Nearest Tube is: Barbican

Drift into the morning

December 17th, 2013

November’s breakfast was a return visit of sorts – back in the Heron Tower, but this time at ground level rather than the heady heights of Duck and Waffle.  In retrospect, it would have been better to return to a tried and tested purveyor of top quality fare, but you live and learn. 

The Drift Bar offers an enticing array of breakfast options from the traditional full English to the entirely original (in the Brekmeister’s experience) “Breakfast Club Sandwich” and the rather promising “Californian Kick Start”.   Unfortunately the reality doesn’t quite live up to the promise. 

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What can certainly be said though is that Drift like to do everything with a bit of style, whether it’s delivering your full English to the table complete in skillet, having the most elaborately decorated breakfast menu I’ve so far seen, or serving up the “Kickstart” in top trendy style, on one of those wooden chopping board style slabs.  Obviously they didn’t get around to reading our review of the Anthologist’s similar serving choice.

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Likewise, the club sandwich arrived, looking very impressive – and accompanied the perennial dilemma of how exactly one goes about eating such a thing as a club sandwich.  The sad truth is, however, that surmounting that challenge was probably the most satisfactory part of the experience, as the sandwich itself as a meal didn’t really have much about it to speak of.  Perhaps smothering all the vital elements of breakfast in a stack of slightly chewy toast is not the best way to go about bringing out their qualities, but whatever it is the Breakfast Club Sandwich certainly isn’t a show-stopper.

The overall verdict on the other dishes comes in a similar vein – the Californian Kickstarter had disappointingly little kick to it, and the once the novelty of eating from a skillet has worn off (after approximately 30 seconds), the full English does not manage to distinguish itself particularly in any other way.  Verdict – come here for a drink maybe, but if it’s breakfast you’re after then drift on upstairs to the Duck and Waffle where you’ll get a proper treat. 

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Aqua Shard – Breakfast on top of the world (or London, at least)

October 28th, 2013

Everyone knows about the Shard, right?  Or at least, everyone in London knows about the Shard.  A big pile of Qatari money reaching from London Bridge station, all the way up to heaven – or something like that.  We’ve watched it going up and up for years, and finally it’s finished – so what now?

Well, breakfast, of course.  I think there’s a restaurant somewhere up near the top, but on this occasion we settled for just a few floors up at “Aqua Shard”.  With a name like that, I think we were prepared for something pretty tasteless and perfunctory – but the reality was really rather different.  Not only was the decor verging on what might be called tasteful, but the food was, not to put too fine a point on it, breathtakingly good.  Really.

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Whether it’s fried, poached or scrambled, you can count on your eggs being impeccable.  Bacon and sausage to die for, and delightful sourdough toast.

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Smoked salmon scrambled eggs were similarly sumptuous

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I’m afraid I can’t even remember what this dish was .. but I do remember that every dish was savoured fully by all and pronounced to be excellent.

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And of course, there’s the view.  At 8am, it is wonderfully uninterrupted by other people – in the vast space that Aqua Shard have to themselves up there, we were almost alone until 8:30 or so when a few suits started to drift in.  With sweeping views up and down the river and across the expanse of London, it’s worth a visit just to stand and gawp – and at less than the price of a ‘flight’ on the London Eye, and with much less of a wait, you also get a splendid breakfast, that can easily rival the top places we have visited so far.  For ways to start a day, you won’t do much better than this.

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Very satis-factory

September 29th, 2013

It’s not quite apparent what to expect when you open the front door of the Factory House, but there’s a clue in the quirky array of quasi-industrial decor scattered around the upstairs lobby, from the clocking in machine to the obligatory ‘olde worlde’ furniture and books squeezed into the small space atop the open spiral staircase descending into the underbelly of the establishment.

Once there, it’s a fairly familiar set-up that will not leave anyone feeling out of place who has visited any of the various trendy basement-style eating joints that have sprung up over recent years (yes, Hawksmoor, Caravan and the like .. I am thinking of you!).  A selection of tables, booths and bar seating presents itself, all in a deep polished dark veneer wood.  Although I have been deserted by breakfasting comrades on this dim and dark morning, a cursory glance around the room lets me know that the Factory House is not generally unpatronised at 8am, and tables fill steadily as I sample the wares.

A full English is the only possibility given that there’s no-one else to explore the menu with, and Factory House delivers this with aplomb.   I’m always moderately disappointed with the “single sausage” school of thought, however I can usually overcome this provided the sausage is of sufficient quality and I am pleased to say that this bar is passed here.  I must give full credit for the two eggs fried and served up in perfect condition with just the right dash of seasoning.  In some moment of madness, I forget to request that the beans be omitted from my platter.  Given my prejudices on this front, it would be unfair of me to comment on these beyond to say that they were there and that I daresay that those who go in for such things would not find them unpalatable. 

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All other requisites were present and correct – an elegantly fried tomato, some succulent bacon, a slither of mushroom, a dob of bubble & squeak and a proud black pudding.  In all, there was certainly no skimping on the ingredient head-count and it was certainly a satisfactory breakfast.  Its only flaw really is the lack of any real standout feature or element, which is not something I usually look for in a breakfast unless it’s one that costs as much as the Factory House want.  Then, I’m afraid, I do rather expect it – because, charming though the ‘neo-industrial’ ambience may be, if I’m going to fork out £20 for the first meal of my day then I do want it to be a bit special. 

That said, the coffee really was excellent, and I’d be back for some of that without hesitation – but on this offering, there are enough places where your plate will be graced with better fare for the same price that I wouldn’t rush back for the food.