I love fry ups. I really do. To me, the Full English is one of the greatest plates of food anyone is likely to eat to set them up for the day. Don’t get me wrong, there are other decent breakfast dishes on offer: a bowl of porridge on a cold morning before work, kippers (so long as they are cooked in someone else’s house!) and boiled eggs take quite a lot to beat them, but the daddy of breakfasts is the fry up.
And do you know what is really good about the fry up? It is really easy to do pretty well. So long as you have some decent ingredients to play with, then you are laughing. I have been made excellent fry ups by people who are really not very accomplished in the kitchen, but come a hungover Saturday morning, they can bosh out a plate of fried tastiness far beyond their ordinary skills with a pan.
Which is perhaps why a bad fry up is in my opinion one of the most heinous crimes which can be committed against food. It is easy. Get it right.
The White Hart, Cornwall Street, Waterloo
Which leads me on to a cold Saturday morning earlier this month. A friend and I headed to The White Hart for an early lunchtime fry up. We were promised a “Traditional Breakfast – Gloucester Old Spot sausage, smoked bacon, black pudding, two fried eggs, beans, bubble & squeak baked tomato, grilled mushroom & brown toast with butter” This sounded like it would hit the spot and so we ordered one a piece.
We got some drinks in and waited for our food to arrive. And waited. And waited. 45 minutes later, our toast arrived. The butter was melted with only an ever diminishing iceberg of solid butter floating in the pool of yellow liquid. It was like a butter based version of Frozen Planet where they show the thawing of the Arctic as summer approaches (minus all the penguins and polar bears).
Then, 5 minutes later the breakfasts arrived. It was a shambles. The eggs were solid and my breakfast companion accurately described the yolks as being like “hi-viz squash balls”. The bacon (streaky, which I would argue has no place in a fry up, but that is a matter of interpretation I suppose) and sausage were overdone. The beans had clearly been sitting around under hot lamps and had developed a skin which could have been made into a purse. It was, in short, an abomination.
Now, to give you a bit of background to this choice of venue, I was at Law School around the corner and have very fond memories of Friday afternoons spent wasting time after lectures doing our best to forget the knowledge recently acquired in tutorials. Halcyon days. Et in arcadia ego… ish. I even recall the food being decent if not spectacular at lunch.
As such I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and brought the matter to the staff’s attention. To be fair, the manager was very nice about it. He sent the food back up to the kitchen and said that they would re-cook our breakfasts. He apologised and even comped us a round of drinks which was more than he needed to do in the circumstances.
And then our breakfasts came back. The same ones. The breakfasts which we had sent away as being overcooked and having stood under the hot lamps and which, in order to ‘remedy this’ they had taken our plates upstairs, placed them under the hot lamps again and then dolloped some more beans over the leathery skin. Brilliant.
I could have wept. £7.25 absolutely wasted.
Don’t misunderstand me; The White Hart is a great place to go for a few beers, but for the love of all that is great about England, I urge you to steer clear of breakfast. Just have a pint of stout and some wasabi peas (delicious and nutritious).
Cafe Nell, Northfields Avenue, Ealing
Luckily however, there is a happy ending to this tale.
What a Full English should be - The Biggest Breakfast at Cafe Nell
Cafe Nell on the Northfields Avenue in Ealing offers what in my experience is consistently one of the best breakfasts in London.
The cafe itself embodies, as a breakfast buddy has put it, everything that is good about a caff and a cafe. It is always busy and has a nice mix in the clientele.
My favourite thing to order is Nell’s “Biggest Breakfast” which is biggest in the sense that it is the biggest set breakfast on offer but, whilst generous, it is not such an enormous plate of food that makes you want to roll home and get straight back into bed. A breakfast is supposed to be a catalyst to start your day, not something to start and finish it simultaneously! That said, the late and greatly lamented Belle & Herbs Cafe in Heaton, Newcastle is the one place where I have truly enjoyed being beaten by the vastness of a fry up.
For £5, the Biggest Breakfast offers: 2 pieces of back bacon, 2 juicy, meaty sausages (from the excellent Grasmere Farm, who drive up to the local farmers market each Saturday), 2 hot-lamp free fried eggs, mushrooms, tomato, hash brown, two rounds of toast and a mug of tea or filter coffee. (Note also the perfect Alan Partridge “sausage as a breakwater” technique to contain the beans!)
Every time I have ordered a breakfast at Nell’s it has been speedy in arriving at the table, perfectly cooked and pleasantly served. The result? I always leave full, happy and proud to be an Englishman. Quite frankly, I couldn’t ask for more from a breakfast.
Why is Nells so good? Simples. Decent ingredients, cooked well and served quickly. The White Hart should take note.