A Tale of Two Breakfasts

A few breakfast musings based on recent breakfast experiences.

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Trying to think of breakfast-inspired titles.

The Kurt Vonnegut novel, « Breakfast of Champions ».

The Supertramp album, « Breakfast in America »

What about « Breakfast at Tiffanys » with the sublime Audrey Hepburn.

31st July 2013

Breakfast with Audrey Hepburn would have been a very pleasant affair, however the view more than compensates for her absence – sitting at a beach café, staring out across the Gulf of St Tropez. The sun reflecting in the gently rippling azure waters of the Mediterranean and not a millionaire’s yacht in sight. For mere mortals like myself, 9am is quite a civilised time of the morning to be having breakfast, for the rich and famous, still sleeping off the effects of a torrid Tropezienne soirée, this is a very ungodly hour. As usual, they will not emerge until early afternoon, when their yachts will leave the small port of St Tropez, ply lazily into the bay and then sit at anchor for the afternoon to be gazed upon by all the poor bloody tourists sitting sardine-like on the beach. Ostentatious displays of wealth and severe beach overcrowding are not the issues at this time of the morning though – not a yacht or a bather in sight, just a few early breakfast types like myself.

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Of all the places I have ever eaten a full English breakfast, this has to be the best, and the breakfast turns out to be almost as good as the view. I would normally be very sceptical about a full English breakfast composed and cooked by a Frenchman, however, for ten Euros, the chef has conjured up a pleasing take on this, the greatest English contribution to global gastronomy – upon this Mediterranean morning platter: two rashers of real bacon, a sausage, two fried eggs, fresh mushrooms, and a dollop of beans  (I like the idea of eating baked beans in this most exclusive of Mediterranean locations, it certainly has far more class than sipping a glass of champagne). On a side plate, I have two slices of toast, grilled to perfection, and a selection of jams. However I am not quite sure what to do with the small bowl of green salad that I have also been served. Also included in the price, an enormous mug of coffee and a real freshly squeezed orange juice.  On the downside (and even in this corner of paradise, there has to be one – my « ersatz » sausage leaves a lot to be desired – it is one of those plastic like frankfurter sausages used in hot dogs. As for the eggs, I would have preferred them scrambled. I am very happy with my two fried eggs though – they are at least real eggs. I know from previous unfortunate breakfast experiences that most scrambled egg served at breakfast is now of the powdered variety (even in some British hotels I am sad to say). I daresay this all comes from the egg scandals of the late eighties, when English Member of Parliament, Edwina Curry, revealed that many eggs contained salmonella. In the intervening years, many restaurants appear to have banished fresh eggs from their menus, much to the chagrin of many Brits abroad who do like their egg and chips.

This most perfect of settings demands that I nibble on my breakfast rather than wolf it down like a hungry navvy – small bites of bacon, chewed in a Kafka-like manner as I enjoy the view. I want this to last all day. Unfortunately though, the long road home from the beach beckons and my fellow road trippers, eager to depart, have long since devoured their Continental Breakfast. Yes, I do like my croissant and fresh baguette, but on holiday I always take the Full English – it’s a treat and besides, I never eat a traditional English breakfast at home, much to the consternation of my French work colleagues who imagine me sitting down to sausage, bacon and eggs every morning. Truth to tell, many French people are convinced that the Brits sit down to a massive fry-up every morning  – an image fondly and falsely nurtured by generations of English text books in French schools – the Smiths or the Browns or the Jones, all sitting down as one happy family at the breakfast table, to enjoy their sausage, bacon and egg, all washed down with lashings of tea. It’s as English as bowler hats, cricket, afternoon or the Queen herself.

So, I explain that the average Brit might have a cooked breakfast on the weekend or you might have a good greasy morning fry up to absorb all the booze from the night before, but of a morning, most Brits are as continental as they are on the Continent – a couple of slices of toast, perhaps a bowl of cereal and a cup of tea or coffee – and here is where another cliché bites the breakfast dust – yes folks, the Brits don’t just drink tea in the morning.

And so, to the tale of my second breakfast.

August 7th 2013

It might only be a week away, but this morning as I trundle a heavy bag around King’s Cross station in London, breakfast on the beach seems a world away. I’ve got a couple of hours to kill before I board the Eurostar, my recent hosts are not adepts of the breakfast culture – a piece of Swedish crisp bread (that’s what it said on the packet) and a cup of instant coffee are not going to keep me going until I reach deepest France some time around 7pm. I am in England, therefore, I demand an English breakfast. Trailing round King’s Cross though, there is a distinct and worrying lack of places offering a true English breakfast in all its greasy splendour. I want a plate heaving with traditional morning victuals, the station concourse though is all Patisseries, sandwich bars and coffee bars offering up continental concoctions, however, Costa Coffee do have a bacon roll on the menu –NO – there will never be a bacon roll better than those served in Scotland – I refuse to eat a sad looking bacon roll from a coffee bar with a Hispanic twist.

For Thor’s sake, this is King’s Cross station – London terminus for train loads « Vikings » – hungry Yorksiremen and ravenous Scots, stumbling bleary-eyed off the overnight sleeper, there should be breakfast places everywhere – what the Brits refer to as « Greasy spoon cafés »

Outside the station I ask a couple of building workers where to get a decent breakfast – if anyone knows – a burly bloke in overalls, work boots and a safety helmet should. I stop by a group of builders enjoying their morning smoke.

« Is it breakfast yer wanting? »  asks one bloke with a rhetorical southern Irish lilt.

He recommends the local MacDonald’s. His  « northern » mate informs me that « thee won’t find a greasy spoon round ‘ere. »

All week, I’ve walked past pubs and cafés offering up all day breakfasts, and now, in the centre of London, there is not a decent breakfast to be had. I might just have to seriously consider that bacon roll. And then, when I thought all was lost, across the road, down a small side street, I find an Italian Pizza restaurant that serves breakfast (though thankfully not on a pizza – Mind you, why not do a breakfast pizza?)

So, it’s not the Med. King’s Cross is one vast building site. « Apologies for any inconvenience » says one sign. Above, Azure blue Riviera skies are an ominous London grey and the air is thick with traffic fumes.

For £8.45 my breakfast is: one fried egg, one rasher of bacon, one miniscule but « real » sausage, a portion of tinned mushrooms, a portion of baked beans, a hash brown, one slice of toast (no butter or jam on offer) – all washed down with a piping hot « Café Latté » which I believe to be made from instant coffee, not the proper filter stuff. (Honestly, an Italian restaurant serving instant coffee).

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On closer inspection, the seemingly large portion of beans is only seemingly so, they have been thinly spread (perhaps even individually placed) across the plate so as to give an illusion of quantity. The bacon is tough, the small sausage has a « sawdust » consistency and I am very disappointed. My last morning in London, I wanted to leave dear old Blighty, bloated on breakfast and drowning in coffee. Worst of all, when I am only half way through my morning « feast », the waitress pops over to see if I am finished, finding much to her chagrin that I still have food on my plate. I deliberately eat slowly and read my newspaper in between mouthful of food and sips of coffee. She continually casts a wary waitress eye in my direction. HEY, I’m paying over eight quid for this. I want time to read my paper too, besides the place is almost empty, it’s not as if you need the tables.

In this tale of two breakfasts – I would say of my Mediterranean Platter – « ‘Tis a far  far better breakfast that I eat now, than ever I have ate before. »

A breakfast post does of course require a few personal breakfast thoughts.

John King

On the importance of breakfast

Whether at Tiffanys, in America or on the shore of the Med, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However fine or fitful your slumber, however bad your day to come, breakfast is the one thing that makes it worth getting out of bed. Even when I go to bed, I relish the thought that my first action the next morning will be to rise, « navigate » my way to the kitchen and just eat. Flick on the radio, brew up the coffee, peruse the morning paper and then just eat. It is an important moment, that time to replenish one’s self before facing get another arduous day. Moreover, no matter how bad your day turns out, if you have had a good breakfast, then not all your day has been bad.  I have a personal breakfast mantra:

However shitty this day may be,

This breakfast is a moment for me. 

To unshit your shit on a shitty day

A good breakfast helps you on your way.

Yes, as the condemned man, if I die this day, at least I have had breakfast.

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