The London Review of Breakfasts

"Breakfast is my favourite meal to eat out. I love tomato juice." (Leo McGarry)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Hledan Market, Yangon, Myanmar

Hledan Market
Hledan Road
Yangon
Myanmar

by Daw Aung San Mue Sli

Hledan Market. A squat concrete Myanmar-modernism shell of a government building, coloured in peeling light-blue paint and crammed with smallholder stalls, the small and medium enterprises of development practitioners’ dreams. This is the Socialist-era Myanmar, where the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) controls market access and items are weighed using antiquated balances and viss weights.

The stalls spill out onto the neighbouring side alleys. Opposite the market, promising good times ahead, there is a Sein Gay Har shopping centre. This caters for the moderately well heeled, with a Moon Bakery on the first floor which sells plastic cakes and plastic pizza and has to be reached by navigating the jumbled racks of the women’s clothing section. This is the new Myanmar circa 2000, pre the banking boom and bust and after eight years of an open economy. 

And on the corner of Hledan junction itself, nestling under the new overpass of one of the worst junctions to try and pass through in a motor vehicle, where you can be stuck at the lights a good half hour, the Hledan Centre, a new shiny mega building that houses the offices of the European Union and is owned by a top crony named inter alia Tun Myint Naing and Steven Law (see Wikileaks for the full list of his names). 

Thus are represented three stages of Myanmar’s promised development. For the best breakfast, I vote the Socialist era. Down one of the side alleys that skirts the market, next to the stall selling sticky rice and sweets and opposite the yoghurt seller with his sweaty pots of yoghurt and slumped plastic bags of unpasteurised milk, two ladies cook and sell fresh sweet bein mohn, ‘wheel snack’, thus named because it is the shape of a wheel. It has a texture halfway between a pancake and a crumpet, is made (I think) with rice flour and a dash of liquid jaggery, is topped with shavings of coconut and peanut, and leaves a slight shine of oil on your fingers. 

The YCDC wants to move all the streetside snack sellers into designated multi-storey market buildings. They are unfairly copping the blame for the sudden (last two years') traffic. An explosion in the number of cars, a lack of viable public transport options, and a city-wide ban on bicycles and motorbikes are probably greater culprits. The proposed move represents a serious threat to breakfast in Hledan.

One of the ladies sliced up my bein mohn with scissors, into a plastic bag, and then I took it into the cool semi-darkness of the market building, and ate the chunks of mohn sitting on a plastic stool at the teastall, with a cup of strong thick sweet ‘po cha’ tea. 

Often when I go out for a teashop or street breakfast, one of my fellow breakfast eaters will pay for my meal. I was seated at this same teastall in Hledan once when a chatty lady explained to me that it was part of the Buddhist way of gaining merit, and I felt momentarily a bit used, but actually what better way of dispensing merit than eating breakfast and being treated to it. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Paperback

Out in the wild, directly below Red Notice
Initially published in bacon-pattern hardback, The Breakfast Bible is, from today, available in boiled-egg-portraying paperback.

To briefly recap, The Breakfast Bible takes a similarly serious approach to breakfast to The London Review of Breakfasts except, rather than the places that serve the foremost meal, it tackles overall principles and practice. By which I mean, it's a recipe book. Specifically, it's a one-stop source for all of the classic breakfast foods. How best to fry an egg? That's there. Need to make a bagel? With The Breakfast Bible, you will. Desperately seeking a recipe for granola? Cornbread? Channa Masala? Pastéis de nata? You got it.

And there are extras: good pop and rock songs to boil an egg to, breakfast-based astrology, an essay about class at the British breakfast table, and one about a hitherto under-examined dream of Freud's.

It's by me, with many contributions from others, the core cabal being Emily Berry, Richard Godwin, Henry Jeffreys and Peter Meanwell. It's published by Bloomsbury. You can buy it in bookshops. You can buy it online. Perhaps you have bought it already. You can buy it again.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Aqua Shard, Southwark

Aqua Shard
Level 31
The Shard
31 St. Thomas Street
SE1 9RY
020 3011 1256
www.aquashard.co.uk

by Truman Compote

As a long-time follower of the joyously acerbic writing of Ian Martin, his comments on the Shard meant that I arrived for breakfast at the building bearing some prejudice against it: “The architectural press made a great fuss about how sterile and disconnected it is at ground level. My God, have you seen it inside? Seriously. It felt like being in some giant static advert for Everest double glazing.”

It’s become a cliché to take the Shard as a symbol for a lot of what has gone wrong in London in the past decade or so: the loss of social and affordable housing; corrupt or misguided local governance; the replacement of the public sphere by the private.

Indeed, I haven’t even finished locking my bike to the lamppost outside the many revolving doors before I am told by two men in hi-vis jackets that they aren’t at all keen on having me clutter up their pavement (despite my willingness to pay my way inside the building they guard). I politely remonstrate with them, at least asking them (as well as their more senior, suit-clad colleague) to acknowledge the small disgrace of shiny, showy London buildings attempting to claim nearby pavements as private property.

Indoors and onwards, past the brigade of black-clad, clipboard-bearing, bag-X-raying staff, then up, up in the dedicated automatic lift to the 31st floor.

Even the name of the restaurant – Aqua Shard could be a Mayfair spa for the wives of oligarchs – betrays much about the feel of the place. This is a room hermetically sealed (by vertiginous necessity), designed in an anonymously corporate and masculine style. I can imagine it finding particular favour with Formula 1 drivers, rootless tax exiles and the senior executives of FTSE 100 companies – anyone, really, likely to be on nodding terms with the style from their travels in Monaco, Dubai, Hong Kong and the like.

There’s instrumental music lasciviously wafting out of invisible speakers, Balearic lounge stuff, and it’s perhaps just a bit too Playboy Mansion for the breakfast hour.

A waiter arrives with two glass jugs, one containing orange juice, the other pink grapefruit – I choose the latter. I like that it tastes recently squeezed is only slightly, rather than overly, chilled. Good coffee follows.

Between three of us we order the full English, containing a completist two eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, ham hock cannellini beans, hash brown, tomato, black pudding AND sourdough toast; the smoked salmon scrambled egg; and the lobster eggs Benedict. Everything is absolutely present and correct: the bacon has been cooked expertly; all eggs are perfectly poached or fried; and the corn pancake, filled with creme fraiche, which accompanies the smoked salmon dish, has a nourishing, filling heft. Perhaps the English muffin could have been shown the toaster for thirty seconds longer, but that would be nitpicking.

Now, of course, the pricing doesn’t bear even the remotest resemblance to a thoroughgoing English caff, with the full English, for instance, coming in at £17.50. But you don’t ensconce yourself hundreds of feet above the streets and the river two days before Christmas to scan the menu with a cost-saving eye: you are here to have a singular and distinctive treat.

We are sated. The dishes are removed. We ask for the drinks menu, before each choosing a breakfast cocktail. And there we sit, for an hour more, absorbing the play of the waxing and waning patches of sunlight, each half a mile wide, on St Paul’s.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Wheatsheaf Inn, Northleach

The Wheatsheaf Inn
West End
Northleach
Gloucestershire
GL54 3EZ
+44 (0) 1451 860 244
cotswoldswheatsheaf.com

by Peter Pain Perdu

Here is what I like: being in the country, feeling decadent, falling asleep in front of a fire and waking up with a velvety doggie muzzle against my palm. Here is what I love: all the aforementioned things but with breakfast. And this is why I love weekends at The Wheatsheaf.

The spread includes seasonal fruit — which in December was pears, clementines, and stewed berries, local honey, and yoghurt and cheese from Neal’s Yard. There were also pastries, or if you wanted something healthier, delicious bread so full of seeds any German doctor would approve. All this was mere window dressing though when compared with the majestic ham glistening at the end of the buffet. Last spring, a leg of jamon serrano flirted with all who gazed upon it. This time it was a marmalade-glazed ham perfectly seasoned with cloves.

Though I'm usually very abstemious, even on holiday, there's something about the Wheatsheaf that makes me thirsty. Perhaps it's the cozy open fires. Anyway, as I sat hungover, sipping my coffee, and looking over the menu, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. “I don’t remember the table being quite so wobbly last night.” “That’s because we were absolutely trollied.” At least I wasn't the only one.  Luckily for all of us feeling rough as badgers, there was an apothecary jar full of remedies as well as a selection of various hairs of various dogs. Full bottles of prosecco and orange juice, pitchers of Bloody Mary mix and vodka. Did I mention you could just help yourself? You could and the full bottles didn’t stop at the booze. There were full bottles of ketchup, hot sauce, and HP on every table just like at a greasy spoon. This is so much better than the many restaurants that dole out pokey portions of condiments as if patrons are greedy children not to be  trusted.

As an American, I felt it my duty to order pancakes and bacon. The smoked streaky was nice and crisp and perfectly salted. The pancakes were light and fluffy. They were also very eggy. So eggy, their outsides had a delicate crust like the golden exterior of an omelette.

On day two, I ordered the French toast which was fantastic. The multigrain bread they used had been expertly dipped into a very cinnamony egg mixture, though only on one side. Whether this was intentional or not, I am not sure but it gave my French toast the effect of having a sweet shaggy beard.

I cajoled my companion, Blake Pudding, into ordering the full English. His sausage tasted as if it had been cooked hours ago and sin of all sins—the whites on his fried eggs were under done. As I was reading Edouard de Pomiane, I had to agree.  “Eggs sur le plat need the greatest care, since the white must be completely cooked and the yolk should be hot, while remaining fluid.” This full English left him wishing he'd just ordered the same perfectly poached eggs with ham he'd enjoyed the previous morning.

The dining room itself is a thing to behold. My favorite paintings are a set of four patrician gentlemen, all of whom resemble the monocled Monopoly man.  The juxtaposition of these Jeeves & Wooster extras with German pop artist Sebastian Kruger’s portrait of Kate Moss keep the room from feeling too serious. The décor is one part P.G. Wodehouse, one part rock and roll, and the result is that everyone is comfortable here. Long-legged Sloaney ponies in red trousers talking about summer in Fulham in daddy’s new Jag, San Franciscans in Gore-Tex discussing why Democrats need more young female senators whilst waiting with champagne packed picnics for a guide to lead them on the Cotswold’s Walk, Guardian readers, Telegraph readers, Grazia and Cotswold Life readers, people who don't enjoy reading at all, and last but not least, the long-suffering locals with obedient dogs who love the pub so much they’ll never stop coming.  Thank god, as nothing quiets the roar of the butterfly quite so much as stroking the ears of a silky spaniel.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Breakfasts of Mauritius: Sunset Cafe, Chez Ally, Black River Coffee

Sunset Cafe
Sunset Boulevard
Royal Road
Grand Baie
Mauritius
(+230) 263 9602

Chez Ally
Jardin de la Compagnie
Port Louis
Mauritius

Black River Coffee
Jules Koenig St
Nelson Mandela Square
Port Louis
Mauritius
(+230) 213 6846

by T. N. Toost

You’ve travelled for twelve hours from London, overnight, to Mauritius, three time zones away, spending £1,000 or so, only to get in a taxi and pay £30 to be driven for an hour to the opposite side of the island from the airport. You’re staying in a walled-in resort with beaches that are inaccessible to the locals, with a herd of other tourists who act as if they are allergic to the sun, and to physical activity, and to doing anything other than drinking Phoenix lager and eating fish and chips while yelling at their overweight children about not going too far into water for fear that they will be pulled under by a rip current and taken miles out and drown, ignoring the fact that their own native diet has rendered them each so plump and buoyant that the entire 1943 German Fleet would struggle to sink them. You watch them, braying and throwing litter past their distended stomachs onto the otherwise pristine white sand, complaining about how things in this damn country just don’t work, and you feel bad about judging them because to the locals you must appear so similar, but you want to distance yourself as much as possible from them whilst still maintaining somewhat cordial relations, since, you are constantly reminded, they are members of your extended family, and you have two weeks left of their shit.  

You, however, are more adventurous. And you’re hungry for breakfast. You could do worse than go to the Sunset Cafe in Grand Baie, where you can get an English breakfast – not full, but close – with fresh eggs, bacon, sausage, a tomato and toast, for about £8. An espresso – or four, as I had – costs an extra £6, but you don’t have to tip in Mauritius, and you can eat the whole thing while looking over that grand, grand bay, with its teal water and clean, bobbing boats, and then you can walk around the corner to charter a catamaran to bring you to some other, smaller island.

Or.

You could take a Triolet express bus to Port Louis for about 80p, which will take 45 minutes. If you sat behind the driver, you would smell years of accumulated oil and grease coming out of the seat, and your body would vibrate with the ancient Chinese engine, making you wonder why the girls all sit in the back. The driver would swerve around moving cars, speed up, slow down, stop dramatically, almost hit bikers and pedestrians and brick walls, then finally deposit you in the back of the Port Louis bus center next to an intricately decorated Hindu temple that wouldn't be out of place in the subcontinent. You might then walk up and down narrow one-way streets past vendors selling CDs and handkerchiefs and name brand shirts, across the central mall, around and through old colonial buildings, and find yourself opposite the Natural History Museum under ancient banyan trees, their aerial roots dripping like candle wax. You might walk through the park and into the dark marketplace, through clothes hanging like curtains from the ceiling, to the far side of the building, where you would find Chez Ally. Two women would be cooking in the back, and two or three men would be standing in the front, taking orders, spooning together dhal puris, making change and small talk and handing over food. For 60p you’d get two dhals and two samosas; if you’re still hungry, you can get back in the queue that is constantly being replenished with hungry Mauritians.  

Freshly fooded, you might then walk to the Port Louis Theater – it’s only five minutes away, behind the government buildings. It has been shuttered for years, but if you’re lucky, the caretaker would see you and invite you to take a tour. Founded in 1822, it’s an old, beat up colonial building; standing on the stage, you might imagine an audience of powdered concubines and their officers, who received their first commissions from Napoleon himself. The piano on the stage would still be in tune, even if the seats are no longer bolted to the ground. Exit the theater and, to your left, you’ll see a small chalkboard proclaiming prices for Black River Coffee. You could enter and see an impossibly beautiful woman working on an Apple MacBook Air, occasionally going outside to smoke, drinking coffee, greeting customers, and talking in low tones to the men preparing fish behind the counter.  Imagine ordering an espresso; the beans are all from South Africa, imported especially by her. I know, I know, in Mauritius they grow and drink tea. However, this is the first cafe on the island promoting what she calls “coffee culture,” which she might mention briefly. Ask her about it, because you don’t know what else to talk to her about, and she’s so beautiful and speaks with such a lilted accent and smouldering passion that you don’t want her to stop. Leave, for an appointment with your tailor, Mahmoud Affejee, feeling as if you made an impression, as if she’ll remember you later. 

Go to Mahmoud and get fitted. Pick the fabric, tell them what you want, and negotiate the price, because everything is negotiable on this island. Set up a time for the second fitting, when they mark you up with chalk and you’ll feel like you’re in a Dunhill advertisement, except in a tropical, windowless storefront instead of some London parlor.  

Walk up the street and get tea and sweets. The locals would notice you trying to decide what you want and will help you choose, which makes you feel strangely rushed, as if you’re not supposed to feel like that on the island. Then, buy an individual cigarette from the man behind the counter, and smoke them inside, feeling rebellious. Step back out and buy some straw bags on the street, or clothes, or fabric; buy cowbone rings, pineapples, another samosa, or fresh-mixed fizzy drinks. Then try to find your bus home – the pickup point changes hourly, it seems – and ride back the same way you came. Enter the private beach compound once more, and realize that if you tell everyone where you have been and what you have seen, they will all bleat inanities about your sanity and ask if you were mugged, or raped, or murdered, because you can’t trust these people, they’re not like you, it’s just not civilized, and for the rest of your trip you should stay behind your stone walls and pretend you’re better than everyone else.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Five Yoghurt Trends For 2015

by Joyce Carol Oats

‘I sell yoghurt containers,’ he said.

‘I LOVE YOGHURT,’ I cried.

The man looked surprised, perhaps a little hopeful. A few days past the dawn of 2015 and fate had placed us next to each other in an early-morning British Airways transfer queue at Heathrow Airport. What do you do? he’d asked me, and I’d told him, and he didn’t know what that was. But then when I asked him out of politeness what he did, and he told me, I was full of gladness, for yoghurt is my very favorite food.

For breakfast, of course, but given the opportunity, I eat it at every single meal. Provided, that is, that the yoghurt has not been made by Americans, in which case it all too often has its fat replaced by -- just thinking of them makes me want to gag -- thickeners.

‘I hate American yoghurt!’ I said to my new friend, ‘It contains... thickeners.’

‘Yes’, said the man, with the gravitas of a man who’s in yoghurt.

‘How do you get into yoghurt?’ I said, ‘Were you just really interested in dairy culture?’

‘Gotta make a living,’ said the man, and then he proceeded to deliver five key insights about 2015 In Yoghurt:

1. The Greek yoghurt market is saturated. As if with spilt milk. Fuck you, Chobani.
2. Yoghurt containers are going to change. There are going to be some new kinds of yoghurt containers, said the man. Will this make it more difficult for us to recognise yoghurt?
3. Indian-flavored yoghurts are also on the horizon. ‘You know,’ said the man, ‘Like, curry.’ But will it contain thickeners?
4. A new kind of Australian yoghurt will soon enter the market. ‘It’s by the guys who make soy milk,’ said the man. I love those guys!
5. Savory yoghurt is going to be a thing. ‘I think they extract the sugar from, like, carrots and broccoli,’ said the man. ‘Actually, the beet flavor is good.’ Look out for the beet flavor.

We got to the front of the line and I let the yoghurt container salesman go ahead of me: because of my gratitude for these yoghurt insights, and because he was also about to miss his flight. I waved him a jaunty farewell as I, too, approached the counter.

‘I need to pick up my boarding pass,’ I said to the counter attendant, ‘for BA 1506.’

‘Oh,’ she said, ‘That’s a codeshare with American, so you’ll have to pick it up over there. You were in the wrong line.’

‘Or perhaps,’ I said, with an enigmatic smile, ‘perhaps I was in exactly the right one.’

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cereal Killer Cafe, Shoreditch

Cereal Killer Cafe
139 Brick Lane
Shoreditch
E1 6SB
07590 436 055
www.cerealkillercafe.co.uk

by Haulin' Oats

I'm stood on Brick Lane, East London. It's 6.45 on a Wednesday morning. It's 2014. And I'm lost in thought.

Was it always like this? There was always posturing. Style everything, substance just for abuse. But wasn't there also creativity, spirit - original, fresh energy? Something more than the mechanical application of formulas for being and doing?

I notice that everyone else has gone in. It's opened. I walk in the door and a thousand fizzing characters, human, animal and indeterminate, gleefully enthusing me to imbibe sugar from their box-source stare down at me. I walk past two girls with undercuts planning yoga, festivals and polo for next summer, and then I see them. The twins. Grey hair, beards, sparky eyes and grins. They're discussing childhood TV.

'But you know The Magic Roundabout was all about drugs?'

'Ah it was GENIUS. They had to be on so many drugs to write amazing stuff like that...'

They notice me.

'Ah! You're the reviewer?!' says one. I nod.

'The reviewer!!' they exclaim in unison, 'we hope you like our cereals'.

'Well I've tried a lot of them already,' I reply. 'You'll answer my questions?'

'Questions? We've been known to answer questions,' says one.

'By all means!' cries the other. 'I'm a veritable question answering expert! I used to play Bamboozle on Teletext every day. Do you remember Bamber Boozler? What a genius! I love Bamber Boozler!'

'Yeah, he was a geeeenius,' says the other.

'What's your favourite cereal?' I ask.

'Marshmallow flavoured Rice Krispies.'

'Vanilla Chex - with strawberry milk! Strawberries and creeeeeeeeeam! Mmmmmmmmm!!!'

'Which celebs, other than Nathan Barley, do you think will come to your cafe?'

'Oh we think lots! All of them!' Pronounces one.

'Ones even more famous than Nathan Butler,' says the other.

A wave of nausea suddenly hits me. I'm staring at my notes and the room feels like it's breathing. Then the rest just pours out.

'Is your cafe ironic? Do you really like ADHD kids' food? Or just jokingly like it? Is there really anything to celebrate here beyond a profound efficiency in the delivery of deadly consumption habit forming food to minors? Or is that the point? Is this an indictment by celebration and submission? Hence Cereal 'Killer' Cafe?'

The one that played Bamboozle every day is perfectly still, looking at me with thunderous eyes. His beard is prickling, rising on end. The other is wiping his hands down his face, turned slightly away, skittering between a high pitched titter and a sort of wet, bubbly whimper.

A pause, a no-man's land. All meaning, the great cultural edifice of our psyches melts away.

His fist flies, I duck, but at the same time plant my hands on the the counter and roll across it, smashing into them amid wet grenades of cereal inspired cake. Bamboozle tries to pull the till down on my head but I'm rolling away. Springing up I head butt him in the neck, sending him flying into the wall of cereals. I spin around bringing up my elbow as I do and sharply crack his twin in the temple. He melts unnaturally into the mass of cereal. Three twitches and still. Bamboozle is charging at me swinging a Tony the Tiger skateboard that he's ripped from the wall. But I'm ready and I plough forward taking the blow in my midriff, my weight crashing onto him and he falls backwards. We land with me straddling him. I've got one hand on his neck, squeezing, the other grabbing handfuls from the multicoloured sea of cereal surrounding us, stuffing it in his mouth.

'It's more than a fucking crap ironic joke. You are the fear and the meaninglessness and submission to The Man, you are his insidious veil of baubles. You are the destruction of truth and beauty. You are the sick infantilisation of our culture. You are adult humans running around in fucking Teletubby costumes slathered in wacky goo goo baby sentimentality. You are the irony stitched Buffalo Bill cloak of kiddy culture skins, masking reality, obscuring the cage we're in. Your cafe is seventh tenths horrifying, and two tenths a really good idea I wish I'd had, and one tenth... one tenth...'

Bamboozle is still.

There's a lot of cereal in his beard.

As I rise up the two girls have overcome their shock and start running for the door. 'Mummy's - Sloane Square,' one shouts. I walk across the Cereal Killer Cafe covered in Lucky Charms, Chocohoops and blood. I step out onto Brick Lane, East London.



I start. I'm stood on Brick Lane. It's 7.15 on a Wednesday morning. It's 2014. I've been lost in thought. Deeply daydreaming.

I walk in to the Cereal Killer Cafe, a place that serves a huge selection of breakfast cereals - over 60 from all around the world. It's £2.50 for a small bowl and £3.20 for a large, with milk on the side included. They have thirty different types of milk. And they have toppings too, such as Mini Oreos, at 20p extra. This all translates into the neat concept of cereal cocktail creations, for example:

Double Rainbow: Trix, Fruity Pebbles and freeze dried marshmallows served with strawberry milk.

Bowloccino: Nesquick and Cocoa Pebbles served with espresso milk and a flake.

Chocopotomus: Coco pops and Krave served with chocolate milk and a Kinder Happy Hippo.

The Cereal Killer Cafe has most definitely captured folks' imagination, kicking up a good old multi-flavoured stir. Buzzfeed love it and have done a list or two on it, Vice have assessed its pop cultural significance and compared visiting it on DMT to visiting it on aspirin (probably), Time Out like it but also allow that you can hate it - because that's cool too. The owners have received marriage proposals and death threats and there's been a mighty furore about one of them cutting an interview short after being asked whether charging £3.20 for a bowl of cereal can be justified in one of the poorest boroughs in the UK, an interview question so preposterous that you'd be horrified to witness it in some kind of deranged daydream, never mind from Channel 4 in so called reality.

I walk past a Tony the Tiger skateboard on the wall and a portrait of TV cereal killer Dexter constructed out of various shades of toasted Cheerios. I'm in a theme cafe. It's like something you'd find in Japan. Or Shoreditch.

I decide to go for the Bowloccino. I enjoy the first two spoonfuls. A lot. But the sugar overwhelms me. It's sickly and samey, a two dimensional dish. Maybe in just the right situation and mood I'd relish the whole bowl, and this maybe would have occurred much more frequently when I was a younger man.

Cereal is a food almost entirely created by entrepreneurs and marketeers, which is why being able to see all the design and paraphernalia is an important part of the visit. A mini, niche, museum-cafe, a fun experience and a fine addition to the hipster theme park that surrounds it (which, as we wind our way towards Spike Jonze's vision of the not so far future presented in Her, may extend indefinitely).

However, as for eating there...Well, if you like a lot of sugar, delivered with blunt happy flavours, or you're in that kind of mood, then, grrrrreat. But on the whole I'd say it's just like with kids' TV shows: you should never go back. You remember them as magical, but try watching them now and you discover that they're mostly terrible. Their poverty was swept away by the transformational imaginative energy of youth. And, unfortunately, I just don't have the energy for fruity pebbles with marshmallows and strawberry milk any more.

The bearded twins seem like nice guys. They wave me goodbye with warm smiles. I pause for a quick final look at the Tony the Tiger skateboard on the wall and step out onto Brick Lane, East London.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A history of Soho in five cafes

by Malcolm Eggs

Amid all the talk of Soho's slow drift into becoming just another homogenised part of central London, here's a piece I wrote in 2012 for Esquire magazine.

Maison Bertaux (est. 1871)
This salon du thé was founded by refugees escaping the bloody aftermath of the Paris Commune and now stands as the most enchanting remnant of a time when Soho was also the ‘French quarter’. Amazingly, the business has only changed hands twice in the last 140 years. The current owner, Michelle, started working here as a ‘Saturday girl’ in 1971. Her establishment deploys replica roses, French café music, pink netting and paperback novels to create an atmosphere that makes you want to get into handwritten correspondences with women of unclear motives. Breakfast is coffee with buttery croissants and pastries made, as they have been since forever, fresh on the premises.

The Star Cafe (est.1934)
The ‘Star Special’, served all day, is two eggs, bacon, sausage and tomatoes. It comes with a round of hot buttered toast and is delicious, especially the eggs, which have been basted in hot oil so as to slightly seal the yolks. This dish hasn’t changed much since the cafe was founded, although the owner Mario notes that the menu has gradually lost the likes of bread and dripping, to be replaced with things like eggs Florentine. His father, Pop, bought the business for £320, at a time when the building also hosted the mysterious Baudha Manoli Yaghurt Company.
Note: Mario Forte sadly passed away in the spring of 2014 and The Star is now run by his daughter Julia.

Bar Italia (est. 1949)
At breakfast-time Bar Italia is authentically Italian or in other words completely indifferent to the idea of eating. If you must have food, there are a few pastries on the bar, but the main event is coffee, preferably espresso, flowing from a clanking Gaggia machine and then drunk either perched inside on a high stool, or around one of the crowded stainless steel tables on the street outside. The onetime subject of a Pulp song, Bar Italia has a large plasma TV for sporting events: fitting given that this is the building from which John Logie Baird transmitted the world’s first recognisable television images.

Bar Bruno (est. 1978)
In a strip of shops containing Pret a Manger, Carphone Warehouse and a brash arcade called Las Vegas, Bar Bruno is a comforting sight – one of those classic London hybrids of trattoria, sandwich bar and greasy spoon. The original Bruno sold up just over a decade ago, and the site of his cafe began its life as a food establishment in around 1960 when an entrepreneurial couple found they could do a roaring trade selling tea, coffee and biscuits from a small space next to where you’ll now find the crisp rack. Today, good, hearty, greasy breakfasts and strong cups of tea are dished out to an endless stream of regulars.

Balans Café (est 1987) and Balans (est 1993)
There are a lot of chain restaurants in Soho, but the key difference with Balans is that it started here. Founded when the Soho clubbing scene was at its peak, Balans was designed to fit in with the resulting clock-indifferent lifestyles. Among other things (‘chill-out room chic’ furniture and soundtrack) this meant serving breakfast in the middle of the night, after the clubs shut but before the first train home. If you want excellent cinnamon French toast or a breakfast burrito at 3am, this is still where you come.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Old Coffee Pot, New Orleans, USA

Old Coffee Pot
714 Rue St. Peter
New Orleans
Louisiana
+1 504 524 3500

by Louie Slinger

Given the New Orleans habit of carousing, it's no surprise to anyone, I guess, that there's a tradition of great breakfasts that are served until sometime in the afternoon. The Old Coffee Pot, right in the middle of the French Quarter, has been feeding folks, both hungover and otherwise, since 1894. A nice old townhouse with both inside dining and tables on its patio and covered driveway, it draws locals as well as tourists. It was a local who took me there the first time, in fact.

The menu offered lots of New Orleans specialties. Louisiana is rice country: calas, rice cakes rather like rissoles that were once sold from baskets by street criers, show up, paired with syrup. They're dense with a crunchy outside, just the thing to absorb any alcohol lingering in one's gut.

New Orleans likes to play with the eggs Benedict formula. There were four variations here, including eggs Sardou, which poses creamed spinach and an artichoke heart under the eggs instead of ham, and eggs Conti, which begins with a tender split American biscuit, piles on sauteed chicken livers and spring onions all in a winy sauce laced with a suspicion of garlic. Rich? Well, just. On this trip I succumbed to the Rockefeller omelette, which was full of oysters, creamed spinach and cheese, and probably packed enough flavor to raise some of the bodies buried behind St. Louis Cathedral, over a the next block.

Ladies who've worked there for years kept things humming, as they always do. In early December, late one quiet morning, five customers held hands and said grace before beginning their meal. (Not all visitors are sinners; occasionally there are church conventions in town.) When their meal was finished, they paid their check and the waitress wished them a merry Christmas, and added, "Remember, Jesus is the reason for the season." And then she planted her feet, squared her shoulders and let fly with a spontaneous, stunning gospel rendition of 'Silent Night'.

Never forget - this is a city where anything can happen. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mani's, Hampstead

Mani’s
12 Perrins Court
Hampstead
NW3 1QS
020 7435 0777

by John LeCafe

Mani’s had been somewhat of a tradition for me a few years ago. I worked in an office close by where meat was banned by the vegan boss. Pork Fridays, as I and a colleague termed them, were our way of protesting against this.

On the morning I returned, the weather was beautiful. It was one of those clear, crisp, cloudless days that seemingly only autumn can produce. As the cafe is set down a lovely cobbled street with no passing cars, I decided to sit outside. It had provided blankets on the backs of the chairs, but given both the weather and the speed with which I had walked up the hill, these proved unnecessary.

They had two kinds of fry-up. One was a bit pricey and the other even pricier. Tea was not included either. Still, this was Hampstead. When the waitress came, I surprised myself by going for the expensive option and surprised myself even more by going for wholemeal bread. I must have been swayed by the location and ambience.

The staff were friendly, polite and incredibly quick. They offered me choices about everything that seemed pertinent (sauce, bread and type of tea) and smiled warmly whenever they passed. The tea arrived within moments, toast shortly after and the rest of the breakfast was not far behind. The toast was made from thick and hearty bread, and the breakfast featured a higher class of sausage and perfectly cooked eggs. But something seemed to be lacking.

I was struggling to put my finger on it. Here was a trip down memory lane on a glorious autumnal day and an excellent breakfast, but soon I realised it was the other customers who were affecting my experience.

One couple a few tables down from me were sat quietly enjoying coffee while at their feet a small dog scuttled about. The dog had a pink jacket and a hairstyle which is normally popular with young girls and, I believe, is called a pineapple. However, this was simply amusing and not affecting my meal.

It was the estate agents sat a few tables in the other direction who were coming close to ruining it. They spoke loudly and boringly to each other of million pound deals and commission cheques. Often they took calls from clients who they would talk to as if interested while indicating to their colleague what a bore they were: smiling, laughing and joking on the phone as they made derogatory hand signs to their dining companion. Finally, once their phones had stopped and their talk of money ceased, they moved on to discuss shooting in unnecessary detail or to just staring at any woman who walked past.

This is a wonderful café with fantastic staff and a top-notch fry up, but I will take a closer look at who else is there before sitting down next time.

Listed on BlogShares