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Great British Breakfasts?

Some say the full English breakfast is this country’s main, possibly only, culinary gift to the world. Where else can you start the day with a meal so stuffed with carbs it will keep you going well past lunch and, if taken everyday, all the way to A & E? Makes you proud it does.

From the highest to the lowest in the land, the full English is a great leveller. So as a part of an occasional series, occasional because I don’t like getting out of bed too early, we present a breakfast review for the dawn risers and tourists out there. I try different places to see what’s available and what works best. This list is added to regularly.

Spice Market

The great thing about hotel breakfasts, at least in large international hotels, is the multi-cultural choice. From sashimi to sausages, from mixed fruit to a mutton curry.

Spice Market is a standalone restaurant but it’s also where guests at the newly-opened W hotel in Leicester Square get to have their morning food. A ‘creation of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’, himself a bit of a mouthful, Spice Market breakfast has all the usual dishes in a spot ideal for business meetings, that is if you don’t mind sitting with your knees under your chin groping for your Blackberry. The seating is very ‘oriental’, which means low.

We viewed the breakfast buffet with good looking meats, cheeses, yoghurts, seasonal fruit and freshly baked pastries. We nodded approvingly at the Full English with all the trimmings, but we stopped short when we saw Cornish Crab and Egg Scramble, Sesame, Chillies and Lime. Oh god yes! I love a spicy breakfast, I still dream about a scorching Laksa I once ate at 8 a.m. in Singapore’s Botanical Gardens with the humidity at around 90% and the temperature already up in the 30’s. It was a brilliant breakfast.

Also on offer at Spice Market were Coconut Pancakes with Maple-Lavender Syrup and Pomelo but this caused a problem. We obviously had to try both, but I have no sweet tooth whatsoever and J had to be forcibly made to try it because he wanted the Crab too.

We bickered about this while swigging fresh orange juice and marvelling that so many people seemed to be awake and around Soho at 8:30. John Hegarty of BBH walked past the window and we bowed to the master. Whether he actually needed dark glasses at that time on a dull day was debatable, the man’s a god and can do what he likes.

Anyway, the crab and egg scramble took its time edging, presumably sideways, out of the kitchen but it was everything I hoped for and then some. It looked great with its ‘sail’ of prawn cracker (slightly oily) and it smelt like heaven. The eggs were creamy and the crab sweet as a nut, the toasted sesame seeds on top had released their flavour without being singed and the splashes of Chinese Shaoxing wine, Nam Pla (Asian fish sauce) and spikes of chilli were perfectly balanced. And the little explosions of sour from the fragments of fresh lime made everything refreshing and palate cleansing. Loved it lots.

J decided that he hadn’t done too badly with his coconut pancakes either; made with coconut milk, fresh grapefruit juice and Pomelo, a citrus fruit native to South East Asia, they were sweet without being sickly and he felt he was doing himself good because they seemed so healthy.

I’d not trade them for the crabby egg though. At £12.50 it’s not cheap, especially when you factor in some juice and coffee on top, but Spice Centre is a cool place to have breakfast with slick service and something different to start your day.

Spice Market, W Leicester Square, 10 Wardour St. London W1D 6QF www.spicemarketlondon.co.uk

The Breakfast Club EC1

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, baked beans have no place on the educated Englishman’s breakfast plate. Kidney beans though, well that’s another matter.

To be honest I’m a bit fed up with the ‘full English’, that artery-busting meal, that’s as close to a national dish as we get if you don’t count curry. I like it fine, without the blasted baked beans people insist on polluting it with, but it’s hard work to get any work done after eating one. It’s designed for people who will be using their muscles all day, not people idly tapping at keyboards for a living.

The Breakfast Club of course does a Full English but they also do Mexican breakfasts too, as well as American ones. Their new outpost now opened in Artillery Lane looks like the kind of American Diner immortalised in a score of films, you half expect a slovenly waitress chewing gum to roller skate up to your table to take your order.

It beats a café for ambience, the customers being a mix of Shoreditch beardies and city suits, and you certainly don’t get Huevos Rancheros in Greasy Jim’s. I like a bit of chilli in my breakfast, preferably fresh, and while the heat in my refried beans may come from a powder it’s still welcome.

Good fried eggs sit on top of a large ration of tortilla while two chorizos, their skins taught with porky goodness, are plonked next to salsa, sour cream and guacamole. If this is what the average Mexican eats for breakfast no wonder they sleep by the side of the road all day with their heads poking through a hole in a blanket. (Copyright:Jeremy Clarkson)

Of course I jest. It is a big bold and tasty brekky though and K, who has manfully taken on the Full English option, is happy with his too. ‘Superb sausage,’ he says waving his knife about for emphasis, ‘great bacon an’ all!’ He even likes the baked beans and polishes the lot off in no time.

Good value both meals and plenty of other choice with lots of American breakfast ideas such as pancakes, as well as more Mexican choices. There are also posh breakfast dishes like Eggs Benedict plus vegetarian options as well as, horror of horrors, fruit and muesli too if that what floats your hand-weaved boat.

Open early, The Breakfast Club is good for brunch as well as snacks with wraps, burritos and bagels on offer. In the evening, a secret door leads to a hidden cocktail bar which looks like it might be rather fun. Perhaps if you over indulge on the booze you can wake up to breakfast without leaving your seat.

A nice concept, smartly executed, the Breakfast Club is bound to get lots of new members. I wish they’d join me in blackballing the baked beans though.


West Cornwall Pasty Co

I am bit ambivalent about the West Cornwall Pasty Co’s pasties. I do like eating their product but I don’t like other people eating them, especially on my train home. As an anti social public transport activity it ranks alongside wearing a backpack or playing rap music out of a tinny mobile phone speaker.

Of course you wouldn’t necessarily think of the West Cornwall Pasty Co for your breakfast. Imagine a pasty stuffed with bacon, eggs, tomato and black pudding. That would be a fearsome beast to consume but somehow rather alluring, the ultimate hangover cure for sure.

In fact of course they are not offering such a pasty, although if they ever do I’ll be first in the queue. Instead they are now selling freshly baked treats that you can swiftly pick up and take in an insulated bag to your office desk.

We loaded up with a selection of them and, with the warmth seeping reassuringly into our arms, legged it back to the office where a gently dozing team woke abruptly and fell upon them greedily.

The bacon roll was well packed with bacon, bursting in fact. The best bacon roll I’ve had away from a film set. The Cumberland sausage roll was equally meaty and both had been perfectly cooked. Simple buns provided good grip.

These of course have been available for some time, but what was getting our noses twitching like Pete Doherty’s at sundown were the new savoury pastries.

The ‘Breakfast Turnover’ is made with flaky puff pastry, folded over a rasher of bacon and a pork sausage with tomato sauce and topped with grated Davidstow Cornish cheddar cheese. ‘Bwoody bwilliant!” said a designer indistinctly while spraying flaky crumbs over his iMac. The tangy cheese was a real winning addition.

And for the girls, sorry the Vegetarians, there is a Vegetarian Breakfast Turnover made with mushrooms, scrambled egg, Cornish cheese and topped with sliced tomatoes. It was actually very tasty too, although one of us missed the point. “It would be even nicer if it had some bacon in it,” he said before disappearing under a hail of sachet sauces.

Talking of pork products, the Breakfast Bite is a posh bacon roll, puff pastry folded over bacon. A bit more delicate than the roll but ideal for the lighter appetite and letting the bacon be the star.

The range of savoury breakfast pastries are now available up until 11 am in over 70 West Cornwall Pasty Cos across the UK and, for a limited time, at just £1.00 each which is a bargain and a half for sure.


Fish! Borough Market

A Fish! breakfast is not the same as a Fish supper; for one thing it can include sausages, bacon and black pudding. Mind you smoked haddock is on the menu as are kippers as well as smoked salmon bagels.

In fact breakfast at Fish! means being rather spoiled for choice. Now served at Borough Market branch from 8:30 to 10:30 Thursday to Saturday, the choice is impressive. There are even healthy options of muesli, yoghurt and all that stuff, if you feel so inclined

The Fish! in Borough Market, certainly has one of the best locations for breakfast. As the market starts to come to life ready for another day of selling overpriced items to middle-class mums and deluded foodies, you can watch from behind the restaurant’s big glass windows or sit outside on what has to be one of the better restaurant terraces in town. With the early sun shining and the traffic far away, you could almost be somewhere nice and foreign.

Except when the full English lands in front of you. This comes on a well-packed oval plate. Two fried eggs (or scrambled, or poached) a whopping meaty mushroom on fried bread and bubble and squeak, a sausage, black pudding, some bacon plus grilled tomatoes. It looks good, no extra grease and the two eggs are belisha beacon yellow. The bacon is smoked streaky and well cooked to a decent crispness and the sausage is as near pure pork as it gets. The black pudding is a bit dry, but otherwise top marks for the spread. And thank the Lard, no baked beans.

Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon are well done with perfectly spherical poached eggs that pop open to release a flood of golden yolk. Bagels, also with Fish!’s own smoked bacon and cream cheese, are well kosher, the bacon sandwiches look tempting for the gentiles, the granola looks horribly healthy. A toasted cheese and ham sandwich is rather spoilt by being soaked in maple syrup, not a very British thing to do to what is essentially a Croque Monsieur. It is available sans syrup though.

Smoked haddock was drying out, a victim of being left under the pass lights too long perhaps, but the bubble n squeak beneath delivered moisture back. It’s all served briskly and cleanly.

Not a hotel, not a café. Fish! brings you a breakfast in modern surroundings with plenty of choice and a peaceful location. Definitely one to recommend to tourists and City folk looking to plan for the day ahead from a civilised location.


Breakfast at Bonds

Odd choice this, a healthy breakfast? Well this is one of the City’s top spots for breakfast meetings and they have added two new menus – ‘Healthy’ and ‘Energy’ to the breakfast choices. Not really words I want to hear over breakfast myself, but I am not a dynamic City type after a bonus.

Apparently designed to provide all the vital components and vitamins for a nutritious start to the day, the two menus feature freshly baked low-fat blueberry muffins, whole wheat toast with peanut butter, high fibre and natural grain cereals topped off with strawberry-banana protein shakes.

Well I already had the shakes, thanks to a lot of Tequila the previous night, but this one helped ease the others. The freshly squeezed orange juice helped too, but I had problems getting the lid off the Yakult with my palsied fingers. Fresh fruit salad was a bit cold for my sensitive teeth, but I felt a lot better for eating it anyway and the high-fibre cereal was like a hair shirt- made me feel virtuous but also a bit itchy.The muffin was rather marvellous.

It’s a lovely room the sound muted by the furnishings, which is just what you want first thing in the morning. If you’re the sort of person who carries their gym gear to the office in a rucksack each morning thus inconveniencing everyone else on the tube and giving them a blow in the face every time you turn around, you’ll probably love it. Me, I still prefer their black pudding

Your choice of strawberry-banana protein shakes
Your choice of freshly squeezed orange,
pink grapefruit or apple juice
A selection of high fibre and natural grain cereals
Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and preserves
Tea or coffee

Your choice of freshly squeezed orange,
pink grapefruit or apple juice
Fresh fruit salad with berries
Yakult pro-biotic health drink
Freshly baked low-fat blueberry muffins
A selection of high fibre and natural grain cereals
with skimmed milk
Tea or coffee


Breakfast at Bonds is available from 6:30am to 10:30am Monday to Friday and from 7:30am to 11:00am at weekends. Set menus available from £17 per person.

Cinnamon Kitchen

There are some people not comfortable with the idea of chillis for breakfast, but I am not one of them. In those international hotels where they provide a breakfast for every race, creed and culture I am always first up to the section where they cook omelettes on a camping gas stove. And I always ask for some green chiliis to be added.

So Cinnamon Kitchen offering a choice of Indian or Anglo breakfast seems a good idea to me. This outpost of Cinnamon Club, under the control of Exec chef Vivek Singh, has already been mighty impressive with its lunch and dinners and under the clear roof that spans the gap between the old spice warehouses you are unfussed by sun or rain. It’s peaceful to be well away from London traffic too.

At the helm in the mornings is James Mossman, cooking as he tells us later, in infernal heat conditions. The tandoor ovens for lunch have been lit and already threaten to melt my camera when I lean in for a shot.

Out on the terrace we scorn the Anglo half of the menu: eggs to choice with Cumberland sausages or oak-smoked back bacon, vine tomato, grilled flat mushroom and toast all sound fine but unexciting. Anglo Indian is kedgeree, that Empire stalwart. That’s more like it so we share one to start; excellent chunks of smoked haddock (undyed of course) in tender rice and all delicately spiced. Breaking the poached egg into it creates a gorgeous mess, which we then fight over.

And look there’s a choice of omelettes, one of which is the green chilli so we have one of those too. This has some serious heat in it and a light dew breaks out on our foreheads soon after. The omelette is perfect, the egg barely pulled together so that it is both moist and firm in equal measure. As sweary Gordon often demonstrates, if chef can’t cook an omelette it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the menu.

The bangras butty – homemade spiced lamb sausage in a toasted whole meal bap with pickle- is what you might eat at a festival and that’s not a criticism. I like a spicy butty as the sun comes up, just as last night’s drink consumption threatens to do the same, and this is better quality meat than you’ll get most places and not a lot more expensive. The meat like all the restaurant’s meat is well- sourced, just as the eggs are blamelessly organic.

We didn’t try the Bombay/Mumbai scrambled eggs with paratha but you can’t have everything in this life and what with the sun and the chilli we were getting pretty hot by now.

A location that is cool and classy, and breakfast that can be fiery as you like seems perfect to me. It’s a great kick start to the day and an ideal place for that power meeting as the rest of the world hurries past fuelled only by cereal or toast or, God help us, measly muesli.


Island -Lancaster Gate

No man is an island, but this modern hotel restaurant is. With gorgeous big windows that let in the Spring sunshine, and look out onto Hyde Park, it really is the sort of place to have that relaxed breakfast meeting. There is a nicely naughty sense that you are escaping the grimy London bustle, the service is first class and the breakfast menu is smart and original.

Carrot and ginger juice gave us a healthy glow and made us feel virtuous going down well with a nice selection of toasted bread, all with the look and feel of artisan bakery provenance. A rather good and elegant yoghurt and blueberry with honey came very well presented in a tall cocktail glass to offset the inherent worthiness of the mix. The yoghurt was smooth and creamy and the blueberries popped nicely on the tongue. We also had a very smart looking skewer of grilled fruits which was vibrantly coloured, the charring marks attractive on the coloured skins.

The ‘Full English’ choice read well, featuring sausages and bacon from named pigs and sources, but when you see a Breakfast Burrito on the menu you have to try it don’t you? Well I do anyway. I half expected some appalling and inedible monstrosity so it was a nice surprise to find something really rather elegant and appetising land in front of me. Lightly filled with potato, spinach, peppers etcit had been neatly sliced and was accompanied by some mild salsa and yoghurt. Will it replace my normal breakfast? Unlikely, but it was really good and a pleasant change from the norm. We also had eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and although I didn’t try it, it certainly looked excellent with two perfectly poached and golden yolked eggs bedded onto smoked salmon and pillowy muffins plus a spray of roasted cherry tomatoes on the vine. I was told that it tasted as good as it looked too, which is always a plus.

For two courses with tea and toast, pastries and waiter service too, this is not cheap but with most other hotels only offering horrid buffet style breakfasts of cold meats and cold waiters for not much less it makes sense. And I do like the feel of fresh crisp linen on my lap in the morning.


Raouls. Maida Vale

Not an easy one to pronounce but an easy one to find. Follow the trail of well-dressed and gorgeous women making their way there, often accompanied by the sort of older man who looks craggy and handsome well into bus pass age. Not that they need a bus pass, not until they lose their driving licence and have to sell the Aston anyway. Inside Raoul’s the atmosphere is more Rome or Paris than anything else, and the walls are covered in superb black and white prints of the famous and infamous. It feels good to be there, like you’re somebody – somebody who doesn’t have to go to work, not unless they feel like it

Twenty years it’s been here and it’s an institution. Customers seem to be more like friends than paying punters and the breakfast menu is classic and assured. This is where I went for the eggs Benedict myself, after watching a parade of tasty smoothies go past. This was perfect, the eggs a remarkable yellow, apparently sourced from Italy, and the muffins very well toasted. Particularly good was the hollandaise sauce, which had the right degree of acidity from the lemon juice and white wine vinegar that makes this classic dish feel and taste much lighter than it would otherwise. I rather fancied Raoul’s Frittata – Chorizo, Spring Onions and Parmesan or Spinach, Spring Onions & Feta Cheese too. Anything with chorizo always gets my vote and so does Raouls.

And of course there is the nearby deli, a place to blow an MP’s worth of expenses on lovely things flown in at great cost from around the world.


Mortimer’s Grill– Goodge St

This used to be simply Mortimer’s, which I suppose always risked someone asking for something boiled, but rebranded as a Grill it does what it says on the tin and now offers breakfast weekdays 9 a.m. until 12 a.m. and from 10 until 5 p.m. on Saturdays . A big draw here is the outside terrace, which seems very popular with smokers, local advertising types and local advertising types who smoke.

What is undoubtedly odd is the massive hole opposite where the Middlesex Hospital used to be. It’s handy for Mortimer’s though, this Ground Zero of the recession. Light now pours across the road onto the terrace and those of a philosophical bent can consider the hubris of the people who created this giant hole and can now do absolutely nothing with it.

Mortimer’s Grill Full English comes in at a reasonable £7 -ish for two eggs, bacon, Cumberland sausage, wild mushrooms, grilled tomato, Stornoway black pudding and toast. The toast wasn’t up to all that much, being simple boring sliced stuff, but the breakfast itself was good. The mushrooms in particular, which were generous, inky black and artfully made into a big fat pile. The black pudding was crumbly, the sausages perky (and possibly a bit of Pinky too) and the bacon had no water. The enormous beef tomato though could have been replaced to advantage with something a lot smaller – it simply didn’t get cooked enough and while raw tomato won’t kill you, it belongs in salads. They also do a veggie breakfast and the Mortimer’s omelette, with either bacon and cheese or spinach and wild mushroom; eggs Royale, (with smoked salmon); and pancakes with maple syrup and crispy streaky bacon. What’s not to like? Nothing, apart from the toast really. A good place for a working breakfast that won’t break the bank.


The Goring – Victoria

In a world of hotels so similar, so anodyne, that you have no idea which country you’re in when you wake up and look around, the Goring flies the flag for unique tradition. Owned and run by the Goring family since 1910 it was, when built, the first hotel to have bathrooms en suite as well as central heating. Situated just behind Buckingham Palace it even has its own gardens, a unique luxury in central London. It’s not the place for the bland Euro businessman or woman but the discerning traveller and even if your budget doesn’t stretch to a Goring night, you can still treat yourself to a Goring breakfast in a dining room decorated by Linley and still radiating its original Edwardian charm, and still chilling the feet in the draught from its loose Edwardian windows.

I attempted to be healthy by eating a bowl of fruit compote; apricots and prunes, both very juicy and tasty but I’d have liked the stones out of the prunes, I nearly bust a tooth. Perhaps I should have had the Galia melon with Greek yoghurt, fruit and hazelnuts instead. Anyway with that sop to the PC eating brigade over with, time for the main event. Deep breath – two scrambled eggs, Blackbrook pork sausage, green back bacon, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, black pudding and lamb’s kidneys. You can have the eggs any way you like them and the bacon too, I like mine crispy and so it was. For some reason the toast had been brought during the compote stage and so had gone cold but it was replaced swiftly with a selection at just the right butter-melting temperature.

Nice to find kidneys offered here, not every place will serve them as Americans in particular seem to have a distaste for offal. It’s traditional though so full marks to the Goring. The scrambled eggs had the right texture, nice and loose, but the tomato wasn’t grilled enough for me, I like to see blackened skin and the tom seconds from collapse. Black pud was good; again I like it slightly charred, but a tasty sausage and bacon combo was worth the admission price alone. We spotted a famous, large and aristocratic member of the Conservative party breakfasting hugely as we wobbled out and you can see why. This is Great British, rather like him and a bargain at the price.


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