About a year ago I posted a blog titled “Start Your Day Right”, about some of Joanne’s and my favorite breakfast spots.
But on a recent trip to London, it occurred to me that nobody – and I mean NOBODY – does breakfast better than the English.
The tradition of hearty morning meals dates back a couple hundred years to the country houses of the English gentry and their notion of what constituted a proper Anglo-Saxon breakfast. It’s said that they liked to display their wealth to their peers by outdoing one another with robust pre-noon repasts. Another notion is that during World War II, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, even on campaigns, began his day with a huge breakfast platter that came to be known as “THE FULL MONTY.” Other terms for it include The Fry-Up, The Whole 9 Yards, The Whole Hog, and simply The English Breakfast.
Check out the image. Digging in to a piping Fry-Up is an experience that “can get you right…no matter what you did the night before.”
But there are rules……
Always SAUSAGE (bangers) and bacon – either “streaky” like you typically find in America, or “back bacon,” a favorite of the Canadians. Lower-calorie back bacon comes from the cured loin of the pig and is served to counter the fatty sausage. Sliced black pudding (oatmeal, pork fat and pig blood…YUM!), along with sautéed mushrooms and grilled tomatoes, is a must – as is Heinz Baked Beans (yes, right out of the can). Two eggs, fried or poached, will anchor the plate, and a grilled lamb chop or pork chop might also be included.
Now on to my London favorites, and some British adventure beyond bacon and eggs.
We love THE WOLSELEY on Piccadilly. The place is grand – black, gold and cream colored. It’s ALWAYS jam-packed, always surprising, and always good. Yes, they have the Full Monty, but also a perfect Eggs Benedict as well various other iterations of the dish. The fluffy Ricotta Hot Cakes, crowned with sweet cherries and crème fraiche? Well, you know. And for the adventurous, how about Spicy Indian Curried Kedgeree (Madras curry, basmati rice, onions, lentils and a poached egg)?
Or if you have a hankering for Haggis (and who can resist Scotland’s signature dish of heart, liver, onions, oatmeal, suet, spices and sheep’s lungs, all steamed in an animal’s stomach?), then this is for you – complete with two poached eggs (BTW, the USDA has banned haggis in the United States. It has something to do with sheep’s lungs. No kidding).
Next on our stop is the CONNAUGHT HOTEL in Mayfair, where celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten oversees the main dining room. I strongly suggest that you try the Connaught’s more precise version of the Full Monty. They don’t call it that. They simply call it the English Breakfast. Note how refined this version is (yet still, the beans come from a can).
Remember that you are in London…and that it’s time to step out of your “safe zone” from time to time. SMOKED HADDOCK and POACHED EGG for breakfast? Sure, why not? How about Kippers? Ever had ‘em? Oatmeal, yogurt, fresh figs and fresh fruit, with a shot of bee pollen? Trust me, it’s delicious. And beautiful.
The Connaught certainly inspired me to add TARTINES to SALUT’s lunch menu. Mushy peas and burrata on whole grain toast are a good start. Even better was the Avocado Toast Tartine with smoked salmon and poached eggs.
Although the Connaught serves it at breakfast, I think the Smoked Salmon with Blini (baby pancakes) and crème fraiche would also be a nice dinner appetizer.
The tiny jars of jam and jelly are cute – exactly the thing that my mother liked to slip into her purse. And will someone please tell me: Why is toast served cold in England?
For lighter fare, stop by PRUFROCK COFFEE in Clerkenwell for exotic and out-of-this world brewed beverages. While there, do NOT miss their House Porridge with nutmeg and fresh figs.
A little more exotic and unusual breakfast spot is the Asian-Indian restaurant DISHOOM (not to be confused with “dish room”) on St. Martin’s Lane in Shoreditch. I’d never had an Indian breakfast before then, and I’m not certain that one would find this nominally Indian offering anywhere on the sub-continent ….. but their Bacon-Naan house breakfast sandwich was a delight.
The best bacon in London? Head to the GINGER PIG in Marylebone and try their dry-cured version.
Housed 40 stories up in the Heron Tower is THE DUCK AND WAFFLE, a riff on the America southern classic Chicken & Waffles. It’s probably not for everybody, but several members of our Parasole culinary team gave it a shot when we were in London a couple of years ago. And of course their “go-to” breakfast dish is…Duck & Waffles, consisting of duck leg confit, a crispy waffle, and a big fat duck egg, smothered with mustard/maple syrup. And it all comes with a postcard-perfect panorama of London.
Clerkenwell makes another appearance here. This time it’s THE GRANGER & COMPANY. (I think they may have another location in King’s Cross.). I love their Pan-Fried Back Bacon and Fried Egg Sandwich on a toasted sesame bun. I know it’s not gourmet dining, but DAMN, IT’S GOOD! If you want something less heavy, this restaurant is also known for its light and fluffy Ricotta Pancakes with bananas, all covered with honey butter.
Also in the neighborhood: THE MODERN PANTRY, which has a charming patio in front, along with enticing breakfast offerings. I know, I know…but I love bacon, and was immediately drawn to their Bacon & Waffles. And don’t be bashful – give the poached eggs and fried haloumi cheese a go. If you’ve never been to Greece or Cyprus, fried haloumi might be unknown to you, so here’s your chance to try it.
Modern Pantry also serves an American-inspired dish that combines cornbread, fried egg, chorizo and green chili salsa to delicious effect. And don’t miss the croissants, which are baked on the premises. Two standouts are the melt-in-your-mouth Toasted Almond Croissant and the Pumpkin Croissants with Salty Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, a fall feature.
Finally, the snout-to-tail, “mother of ‘em all” breakfast served at Fergus Henderson’s St. John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields, where every part of the pig is served, even the squeal. Start with the best and biggest, homemade, thick-sliced sourdough bread stuffed with what must be a full pound of pan-fried back bacon. BTW, the toast is slathered with butter. Do not share. Keep it all for yourself.
Further up the piggy ladder you’ll find a plump fried duck egg sitting upon a thick slice of pig’s blood pudding. Getting excited now?
But hold on, folks. The hits just keep ‘a comin’.
DEVILED LAMB KIDNEYS ON SOURDOUGH TOAST, combined with English mustard dipping sauce. My adventurous 12-year-old grandson actually ate a full order of it, But you know what the French say: “With the right sauce, you can eat your father.”
And you thought Sheep’s lungs were a challenge.
And finally, I am so blessed: My whole family surprised me by showing up in London to celebrate my birthday.