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 more info

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.

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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