Charles Campion, food writer and critic, takes on today’s fine food issues

“Breaking fast”

Next time you find yourself in a hotel breakfast room, take a look around at the other guests. This sensible folk will have got up early to tuck into double fried everything. Once upon a time everyone would have been breakfasting like this. A combination of the decline in manual labour reducing our need for fuel and constant battering from the health lobby has put a dent in the world of breakfast and now the “Seagull’s breakfast” rules supreme, (for nonmariners the components are “a look around and a drink of water”). What a pity that serious breakfasting is reserved for a treat, or those occasions when breakfast is already included in the hotel’s B&B tariff. Big breakfast is beleaguered

In 1902 Miss M. L. Allen wrote a charming little book entitled Breakfast Dishes which was aimed at housekeepers and cooks. The listings in the book treat breakfast on a day by day basis and provide five dishes for each day. They ate well in 1902. Breakfast items for 4th January are set out: savoury omelette; kedgeree; potted pheasant; cold ham; scones; orange marmalade. Other days featured dishes like stewed jack pike; curried macaroni; sausages boiled with chestnuts. Somewhere along the centuries breakfast has changed from a table laden with often quite sophisticated dishes, to a plate laden with a pile of fried stuff.

One of the unexpected consequences of the increasing number of chefs setting up shop in hotel restaurants is that they often should cover the hotel’s breakfasts as well as their restaurant’s lunch and dinner. Having the infrastructure in place and limiting the overhead makes these deals attractive, breakfast is the pay back. Theo Randall has been the “Name” restaurant at the Hotel InterContinental (off London’s Park Lane) for a decade and is remarkable as the restaurant offers top notch Italian dishes from a kitchen headed by an Englishman. He also has a way with breakfasts. As well as tables covered in baked goods, there are juices and a series of offers that come under the heading of “Theo’s Full Breakfast”. All the dishes have an Italian spin but just about fit neatly within breakfast. How about “Frittata – St Ewe Cornish free range eggs with zucchini, caprino fresco and marjoram”? Or “Rösti di patate – potato rösti with poached eggs, crisp pancetta and salsa pizzaiola”? Just when everything sounds a bit posh and rather Italian you come across the “Colazione all’Inglese”! Let’s hear i for the full English in Italian disguise. “Roast organic pork sausage, field mushrooms, potato rösti, crisp bacon, and your choice of poached, fried or scrambled eggs”.

Isn’t it time we all saw a decent breakfast as an opportunity – the kind of satisfying, robust meal that prepares people for a busy day ahead? Cooked breakfast will still be a treat, and we are unlikely to dash up some potted pheasant, but it can be a whole lot more than a bowl of suspect muesli looking rather like horse food. Let’s tempt serious breakfast out of its last stronghold in the hotel dining room and indulge ourselves at the start of the day.

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