While working diligently today, following an unsolicited cold shower from the heavens during my healthful and invigorating run, and an even less welcome one thanks to a conked-out boiler back home, I found myself straying from the matter in hand (looking over my crumble recipe for the pudding I’m cooking for the hapless winner of the Guardian’s Sunday lunch competition) and drawn into Tony Naylor’s excellent article on the subject of the perfect English breakfast.
This is the kind of thing I love to consider. I can argue for hours in defence of the tattie scone versus the fried slice (ugh), segueing into an impassioned tirade against the land-hungry properties of the baked bean, finishing up with a short encomium on the merits of Irish black pudding. Sadly very few of my friends will engage with me on this subject these days, largely because they’ve heard it all before. So here, recorded for all time, or until I change my mind, are my thoughts on the English breakfast.
- Fried egg. The lynchpin of the fry up; I can occasionally be tempted into poached or scrambled territory, but in my experience, these are less reliably well executed than the fried egg, so you’ve got to be sure of your venue before straying away from the normal. The white should be cooked through, but the yolk runny enough to provide lubrication for the rest of the breakfast. Breaking into the yolk should not be undertaken lightly, but with due gravitas and ceremony.
- Bacon. In an ideal world, this should be streaky, thick cut, and heavily smoked, cooked so the fat is golden and crisp, but not, as Tony observes, so desiccated as to double as a bookmark for the Weekend magazine.
- Sausage. Plump, well browned (see picture above for exemplary colouring, from the Market Cafe on Broadway Market), with the predominant flavour being that of pig, rather than herbs, or (God forbid), garlic. Sometimes, however, the sausage could be considered superfluous to requirements, if the breakfast also has an ample helping of decent:
- Black pudding. God, I love black pudding. Earthy, slightly sweet, and deliciously rich, my favourite, traitorously (or, looking at it another way, out of loyalty to my Irish quarter) comes from Clonakilty in Co Cork. Unlike the smoother English sort, it’s studded with – I think – barley, which crisps up beautifully when fried. White pudding is also welcome, but in that case, definitely scrap the sausage.
- Grilled tomato. The one above is excellent, cooked to jammy sweetness. This, unlike the baked bean, adds a token element of freshness to the plate, and has the inestimable benefit of NOT ENCROACHING ON THE EGG. Beany orange egg white makes me all shuddery.
- Tattie scone (aka potato farl). Fried bread is one of the few unhealthy things I haven’t managed to cultivate a taste for in recent years. I think this may be because it eternally reminds me of the first (and only) portion of French toast I consumed in Vermont at the age of 11, which stayed with me an hour or so before my dad was forced to pull over and let me out of the car to part company with it. Doughy, potatoey scones go much better with slabs of salty yellow butter in any case.
- English mustard. HP Sauce tastes like Branston Pickle without the bits, and ketchup is strictly reserved for burgers. The morning is a time of day that demands strong flavours – and dolloping enough violently coloured mustard on to every mouthful is enough to wake anyone up.
- Cup of tea. Actually, two. One to drink while you’re waiting (when, if feeling particularly poorly, one may also order an orange juice, or unlikely North London smoothie of spinach and manuka honey or similar – as long as this is disposed of before the star arrives. To combine the two is a betrayal of all the English breakfast stands for) and one to wash down all that fat. It should be stewed and harshly tannic, but otherwise bland enough not to nobble your palate for the treats enumerated above.
- Newspaper. Breakfast is not for talking, unless it’s annoying your companions by reading snippets out while they’re enjoying a rare moment of silence.
Good breakfasts I have enjoyed recently:
- The Market Cafe, Broadway Market (above)
- Pistachio & Pickle, Liverpool Road N1
- Hmmm. That might be it, actually. I haven’t been out for breakfast for ages. Best ever was probably Ballymaloe House, although frankly I was so stuffed from dinner that I had to leave most of it, and wept much of the way to Cork in consequence. Highly commended are Le Manoir, and Monachyle Mhor, although both of those also owe much to the setting.