September Breakfast

September 8th, 2013

Breakfasting venue: The Factory House

Date of breakfasting: 8am, 11 September 2013

Location: No. numberswiki.com

10 Lime Street, Leadenhall Plae, London, EC3M 7AA

Nearest Tube is: Bank/Aldgate

Magnificent Mercer

September 6th, 2013

It can be hit and miss with some of the better City restaurants if you darken their doors at breakfast.  Some aren’t even open.  Some, as we found on our last sortie, will happily throw together a concoction of such stunning mediocrity that you wonder whether they even think of it as the same place before mi-day.  Not so The Mercer.  To start with, they have an selection of virgin cocktails to whet your appetite as soon as you are seated.  Not wishing to pass this opportunity by, we sampled the Marmalade lemonade, and were not disappointed.   A perfect morning pick-me-up, with zinging fresh lemon juice perfectly sweetened to palatability and a delicious sediment of candied orange peel sitting in the bottom and occasionally shooting up through your straw just to keep you on your toes. 

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The more conventional coffee-hounds were not disappointed either, as the brew here is admirable – and a satisfyingly comprehensive array of teas can be served up at a moment’s notice in proper style – complete with a very nice sort of Victorian looking tea-strainer device.

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But what of the breakfast?  Well here The Mercer is no sluggard either.  Allowing others this time to take the measure of the full English, I opted to sample one of the various other mouth-watering options on the menu – in this case, grilled calf’s liver with bubble and squeak and bacon.  The picture almost speaks for itself on this front.  Is it as good as it looks?  Every bit, and more so!  Perfectly cooked and with an exquisite take on the bubble and squeak concept, this was a standout for me.

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Of course, the Eggs Benedict here are not just Eggs Benedict either.    They can be delivered as “Eggs Mercer” – with lemon and rosemary cured salmon, and a dollop of caviar – for only a few pence more than than the standard Eggs Benedict.  I can only assume that there’s enough caviar hanging around ready for the lunch and dinner top-rollers to mean that that they can lure a few people into going for the eggs without making a significant dint on their supplies.  Whatever the reason, it’s an excellent opportunity to indulge some of your more expensive tastes without breaking the bank.

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Last but not least, the mighty full English breakfast is delivered with panache – and also with a cereal bowl sized portion of beans, but on this occasion I’m willing to overlook the offence because everything else is just so ridiculously good.  I’m not convinced by the introduction of green matter to the Full English round-up either, but I’m giving the benefit of the doubt that it’s there more for aesthetic effect than for any more dubious purpose.  The notion of “health” considerations surreptitiously making their way into the composition of the Full English is a truly mortifying thought, and brings back painful memories of the vile egg-white omelette that I unwittingly ordered in a poncy Washington hotel earlier this year.

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So there we have it – on all counts, The Mercer is a force to be reckoned with on the breakfast scene and I would certainly not be sad to sit down there again one morning, though I would point out that it is somewhat unbecoming to hide one’s sausage under a tomato.  Otherwise, no complaints!

August Breakfast

August 13th, 2013

Breakfasting venue: The Mercer

Date of breakfasting: 14 August 2013

Location: 34 Threadneedle Street, London

Nearest Tube is: Bank

Slightly stale

August 13th, 2013

The shiny exterior and glossy fittings at Bread Street Kitchen, along with the prominently displayed “Gordon Ramsay” brand, may lead you to think, as we did, that once inside you will be presented with a breakfast that would stand shoulder to shoulder with the best that the Square Mile has to offer.

Sadly, this expectation not quite met by the eating experience.  It’s not that anything is outstandingly wrong – but there’s simply nothing to make this stand out from the crowd of extraordinarily good breakfasts available in the area … or indeed from the even more numerous “quite good” offerings.

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Of course, there is much to be said for a good, simple breakfast menu dished up to decent standards.   Only when you pay the sort of price that Bread Street are wanting, along with the (fairly) obligatory service charge then it is within rights really to expect something to demonstrate why exactly it is you’re paying over the odds, other than just to admire the charming modernity of the furniture.

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A sausage placed unceremoniously between two bits of wholegrain toast is by no means something worth leaving your bed for, let alone forking out six quid plus service.  I’m afraid much more gastronomic bang for the buck is needed if Bread Street is going to convince anyone that they have opened for breakfast for any other reason than just to soak up some cash on strength of the Ramsay name plonked on top of a humdrum menu delivered without any frills.

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Verdict:  Nice – but not for this price.  Don’t bother.

July Breakfast

July 16th, 2013

Breakfasting venue: Bread Street Kitchen

Date of breakfasting: 17 July 2013

Location: 10 Bread Street, London, EC4M 9AB

Nearest Tube is: St. Paul’s / Mansion House

An Homage To India

July 9th, 2013

Let us imagine for a moment a particularly rotund pig, that in the excitement of its eager delving for the most delectable truffles, has become wedged among the roots of a large tree – somewhat like Pooh bear after his too many honeys incident.  Imagine now that the terrible forest fire that Bambi and friends mercifully escaped from were to envelop said tree, with the unfortunate porcine still encased.  You may now have a rough idea of how the exquisite flavour in the bacon that Dishoom casually dish up in their breakfasts might be achieved.   You can taste the wood-smoke in every bite, and it is absolutely and matchlessly divine. 

But I get ahead of myself here.  It’s hard to know where to start the praise though because, actually, nearly everything about Dishoom makes you want to drop your knife and fork and phone a friend to say “when can you get here?”.  It’s the feel, as soon as you step through the door, that you’ve actually left London and wandered somehow into a 19th Century first class carriage from Delhi to Calcutta.  It’s the gaggle of gaudily painted bicycles adorning the path outside.  It’s the wry, understated humour sprinkled through the descriptions on the menu.  But most of all, it’s the thrilling flavours that permeate everything that gets put in front of you.

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Which brings us to the actual beginning – three steaming glasses of Chai tea.  I’ve been to India twice, and sampled quite a few Chai teas – as well as some of those sickly concoctions they serve under the same name in Starbucks and the like.  None of them are a patch on this stuff.  It’s sweet, but not overwhelmingly so – and the bite of the spice is measured to absolute perfection.  Do I really dare say perfection?  Well, yes I think I do.  As you savour it, the soothing hot milky sweetness easing a smile onto your face, just as your senses are simultaneously brought to attention by the sharp tang of the spices.  It’s a winning combination, and you finish the glass feeling both relaxed and sharpened up.

The only note that struck slightly amiss was a feeling that the omlette was perhaps a little dry – it’s a different way of doing omlette than you may be accustomed to, and the result may not be to all tastes. 

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If you want a quick and unusual morning filler, the naan roll offerings are certainly not to be sniffed at – the egg naan roll, which somehow manages to be both exactly what it says and yet still to exceed expectations, is not going to disappoint.  A beautifully fried egg, wrapped in a long strip of fluffy naan and sprinkled with a some carefully chosen fresh herbs and dished up with a little tub of outstanding tomato sauce that is so far removed from ketchup that it safely competes in a league of its own and thus ducks the inevitable comparisons that other contenders might face.

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The jewel in the crown of Dishoom breakfast though, must surely be the “Full Bombay”.  This comprises a good portion of the aforementioned amazing bacon – and when it says “fresh off the flames” on the menu, it’s not just flowery language.  It really is.  Alongside comes a perfectly cooked sausage, and additional marks are granted here for provision of Cumberland’s finest fare rather than some sorry tasteless excuse for a banger.  Add a healthy dollop of “Akuri” – which is basically spicy scrambled eggs, some delectable grilled on the vine tomatoes and a slice of sourdough toast … well, there’s not much that can touch this for a top class breakfast.  I should note that the Akuri, although definitely giving a kick, doesn’t blow your head off – you can safely dine here at breakfast, and head directly to a meeting with no fears of inflicting an unfortunate experience on whoever is sits opposite you.

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Mr T, having downed the egg naan roll in record time was of the opinion that he could not leave without also sampling the bacon naan roll, and this was indeed a wise assessment.   The piggy cousin to the egg naan roll comes with herby cream cheese to complement the much lauded rasher. As we polish the last morsels from our now spotlessly empty plates, we marvel at the fact that we are the only occupants other than a lone diner by the bar who looks suspiciously like a member of staff.   Why is this place not packed from wall to wall?

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The bill arrives, to distract us from these ruminations – which reminds me of one other thing that makes you want to go out and physically drag people in from the street to fill the tables.  It’s that breakfast here is almost criminally cheap.  Egg naan roll?  Less than three quid.  Stick that in your McMuffin and smoke it.  Even the Full Bombay is only £8.  You start to wonder whether someone forgot to add the VAT on or something.  In any case, it’s just one more reason to get yourself in here before the crowds arrive.  It can only be a matter of time.   In fact, why are you still reading this?  Get over there now!

June Breakfast

June 10th, 2013

Of course, my ears pricked up on the Tube as soon as I heard the words come out of his mouth.  “Have you ever tried breakfast there?  It’s amazing”.   My co-travellers continued their conversation, blissfully unaware of my eavesdropping, while I hastily made mental note to look up this venue when I got to open air.  And so it is that June breakfast will take place at Dishoom.  Let’s see whether they can give the Cinnamon Club a run for their money … from the menu, it looks like it they are in with a good chance.

Breakfasting venue: Dishoom

Date of breakfasting: 12 June 2013

Location: WC2 9FB

Nearest Tube is: Covent Garden/Leicester Square

113 – A Breakfast in Time

June 10th, 2013

If the mills of justice grind slowly, perhaps the kitchens of 113 Restaurant – nestled discreetly in the corner of the Law Society building – have taken the lead from their patrons.   Despite having booked for 8am, it was clear that the actual appearance of customers at such an hour was not a customary occurrence.  Arriving at five to eight, I made my way to the unoccupied reception.  After a minute or two, a smart but loose-cuffed and slightly anxious waiter emerged apologetically from a side-room, confirms the booking and leads me to a window table, hurriedly working cuff-links in as we go.  He then vanishes, to re-appear five minutes later in more composed state, and enquire whether a drink is wanted while I wait for co-breakfasters.   An affirmative reply results in the commendably speedy arrival of a large cup of very good coffee.  This is a good sign.

When all have arrived and settled, an order for two full English breakfasts and one London smoked salmon with poached eggs goes in.  Unfortunately, it is at this point that the really slow grinding begins.  Exhausting first the coffee, then the conversation all eyes eventually drift towards the kitchen and then to wristwatches.  It’s a pity because there is so much else going for this place, including – when it does arrive – the food.  The presentation is faultless, fried eggs garnished with perky sprigs of basil, and all the elements of an exemplary full english cooked just right.  Nice weighty cutlery and spotless white napkins impress on you that this is a serious eating establishment.  Hey, even the HP sauce and ketchup bottles have bespoke “113″ emblazoned caps – which adds a splendid touch of style, while at the same time not putting up any pretence that the ultimate breakfast condiments can be superseded by some fancy in-house concoction (it is almost universally true that efforts to this effect with fail miserably).

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Smoked salmon and poached eggs arrive with similar sublimity of appearance – the perfectly done white blobs perched beckoningly atop a delicately ravelled mound of salmon.  And not only that, the taste lives up to the look too.  Alas, when come to call for the bill we are struck by the curse of invisibility once again … despite there not being a single other soul to be served.   To end on a high note, when the bill does arrive it is really quite staggeringly modest compared to the quality of the fare and the sumptuousness of the surrounds.  You could easily expect to pay 50% more at places of equal culinary merit in the locale; but then you probably wouldn’t have to worry so much about whether you can make it to your desk in time for the start of the working day.  Ultimately, maybe you do get what you pay for one way or another.   For an establishment that clearly caters mainly to a profession who are renowned for measuring time in terms of currency, it is a more than a little surprising.  But I’d definitely come back here for a sound breakfast.  Or a quiet one.  But not for a quick one.

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May Breakfast

May 17th, 2013

This month we will be making ourselves the guests of the Law Society’s in house restaurant.  Passing over the rather unoriginal name (while I can admit some cache to naming a place, say “One Lombard”, by the time your address is numbered in the hundreds the rationale for adopting the numeral for your restaurant’s name is considerably hazier), it must be said that it looks very much up to scratch, and it’s menu is distinctly reasonably priced by the measure of such central London eateries. 

Breakfasting venue: 113 Restaurant

Date of breakfasting: 22 May 2013

Location: 113 Chancery Lane

Nearest Tube is: Temple/Chancery Lane

Waffling on

May 17th, 2013

The first thing you need to know about Duck and Waffle is how to find it.  It’s one of those places that seems to take pride in lack of any external sign of its presence.  You only come here if you’re already in the know.  Those equipped with insider knowledge of which unmarked side-door of Heron Tower to approach in order to find the dedicated lift that will launch you at dizzying speed past floor upon floor of glistening offices of the building atop which Duck and Waffle roosts, can saunter confidently up to the intercom with all the satisfaction that this sort of pseudo-exclusivity grants.  If, however, you have come across the place by casually browsing the web for somewhere to breakfast, you may find yourself circling the building with a puzzled look until you finally pick out the rather minimalist steel plaque that announces its presence.

Unnecessary irritations now put aside though, stepping into the glass sided box and rocketing up to the restaurant level I realise that I am finally fulfilling a dream held since the age of 8 when I first got Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator out of the library.  This is pretty much exactly what I imagined it to be like for Charlie, although [SPOILER ALERT!] thankfully we do actually stop without bursting out of the roof.   The view of the surrounds is everything that you would expect, and while it doesn’t quite rival Paramount for full 360 degree ogling potential, it is pretty spectacular – well, until the fog rolls in that is. 

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As the first to arrive, I am guided to the bar area that precedes the restaurant itself where, despite the 24 hour licensing, I manfully resist the temptation to begin the day with a cocktail and instead load up with my first coffee.  As the rest of the breakfasting contingent meander in, we are guided through to a spick and span eating area, with an open plan kitchen adjourning in which a veritable hubbub of activity promises the imminent delivery of an array of lip-smacking delicacies detailed on the board above.  I say imminent, because in contrast to many of the establishments of this calibre, the place is almost full and clearly has been for a good hour at least.  Casting an eye over our options, it becomes quite easy to see why. 

After some deliberation, and having confirmed that the Full English option will be being sampled, I plump for the eponymous duck with his accompanying waffle – which arrives topped with a perfectly fried duck egg and a jug of intriguing mustard seed maple syrup concoction.   This latter, contrary to all sensible expectation, turns out to work very well – though I can only imagine that it must have required a lengthy process of unpleasant experimentation with ill-proportioned mixes of the same ingredients to arrive at just the right balance of syrup sweetness and hot mustard tang.

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Two of our connoisseurs opt for the Duck egg en cocotte (with wild mushrooms, gruyere and truffle) and both pronounce this to be exceedingly good, and I must admit a slight pang of jealousy – for all that the Duck and waffle platter was done well, I can’t help feeling that it is actually somewhat unnatural breakfast fare (mainly the duck element, which somehow just doesn’t strike the right note for a morning meal – although I can perhaps see its merit if rounding off an all-nighter out on the town).

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No Breakfast Wednesday can be complete without at least one Full English on the table, and Duck and Waffle do not disappoint on this front – providing two options for those of hearty appetite.  Unfortunately, we cannot elaborate on what exactly the the “foie gras ‘all day breakfast’” comprises, as the only clarification on the menu below this title is in the form of a single word.  This word is ‘nutella’.  Nobody present being willing to investigate the concept of  ‘nutella foie gras’, it remains for now a tantalising mystery.  The full English itself however, is every bit as good as it looks, coming with two eggs done any way you wish, a satisfyingly solid hunk of sourdough toast, succulent sausage and generous heap of crispy bacon.  It must be said that what is described on the menu as “hash browns” looks rather more like bubble and squeak to me -  but nevertheless, given that the vital consideration of gustationary merit is well and truly met, quibbling over such distinctions seems petty.  My position on beans is well known, and I won’t give it undue precedence here – suffice to say that at least Duck and Waffle go to the effort of adding a ‘trotter braise’ to their offering in this department, which at least adds a veneer of breakfast respectability.  Even if they have nicked the concept wholesale from the Hawksmoor.  No shame in that though.

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Last but not least, our party also partook of the the steak ‘n’ eggs benedict, resplendent in its glistening golden glory.  You couldn’t ask for better presentation, this one looked simply irresistable with the sprinkling of cress granting a pleasing suggestion of healthiness without imposing the arduous futility of actually ingesting any substantial amount of vegetable matter.   A fine report was given of the braised ox cheek that is the centrepiece of this dish, but the generous drenching of hollandaise does, however make this a very rich experience and it is certainly conceivable that anything less than a robust stomach may be slightly overwhelmed by it.

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Did I say last?  That was just the food!  A moment’s due is required to cover the beverages also.  The coffee was of excellent quality, and other tastes were also catered to in style.  It’s never going to be my favoured morning tipple, but I have to confess that there’s not much to match the aesthetic satisfaction of good pot of fresh peppermint tea, and on this Duck and Waffle most certainly deliver.

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All round, a most satisfying experience – and with a pretty wide array of tempting dishes left untested (smoked finnan haddock, colombian eggs, duck egg in a brioche basket … and yes, the ‘nutella’ foie gras all day breakfast) the chance of a return visit are high.  And we’ll even know where the door is this time.