Breakfasts - Early doors winner

By Richard Fox

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Breakfast Full breakfast

Richard Fox looks at how serving breakfast can boost trade. Let's face it, we don't have much of a food culture in this country compared to our...

Richard Fox looks at how serving breakfast can boost trade.

Let's face it, we don't have much of a food culture in this country compared to our European neighbours. I realise that the likes of Gordon Ramsay have demonstrated to us what culinary excellence actually is, and the omnipresent Jamie Oliver has given us a good sound bite of pukka British foodyism. But, at the end of the day, if all the chefs, TV cooks, food writers and industry commentators joined forces, we could still barely scratch the surface of a coodorientated lifestyle against the centuries of cooking and eating so ingrained across every social strata of Continental society.

Yet somehow, on those lazy Sunday mornings, we transcend our national culitional nary apathy. We take to the outdoor tables, weather permitting, and fill the cafés. We spread out our papers, sip our mugs of coffee, glasses of freshly-squeezed orange juice, and order breakfast - our one, true national dish. Unfortunately, this last bastion of British food culture is used and abused in a way that would warrant incarceration if applied to say, a bouillabaisse in France, or a paella in Spain. To draw a football analogy (it always helps), our national side has come through the qualifying stages of the tournament and we've made the trip to the great international stage.

For a moment we stand side-by-side with our international neighbours, with mutual respect, as anthems are played - equals with those haughty roman noses, Gallic showmen and Castillian artisans. And then the match commences and we experience the inevitable ignominy of defeat. We've been exposed as impostors on that world stage. We are crushed and humiliated… the food's arrived. Okay, this may be a bit harsh, but you get my point. What's more, you may think that a Sunday morning plate of bacon and eggs is no great shakes, next to a languid evening under the olive groves tucking into Risotto alla Milanese, washed down with a few bottles of Chianti.

But you'd be wrong, because the English breakfast, if cooked to perfection with the right quality of ingredients, stands up to any great national dish - just ask Simon and Sharron Colgan at the Blues Bar in Harrogate (more on them later). And as publicans, with even the most basic of kitchen facilities at your disposal, you are perfectly placed to take advantage of this concept. Harness a few simple cooking procedures and you can gain the same kind of reputation for breakfast as the great Cesare Cardini gained for his eponymous salad. Quality ingredients, however, are fundamental. Eggs should come from the poultry equivalent of Champneys - a chicken Utopia of open space, freedom and top tucker.

Non-intensively reared Berkshire or Saddleback pigs should be the source of bacon - grilled on one side only, giving a golden crispy edge, but still retaining its succulence within. Fat, fresh herb sausages, grilled or roasted, not fried; seasoned tomatoes grilled to al dente and lightly sautéed field mushrooms are other key members of the team. OK, you may pay a few pence more, but just stand and watch your reputation soar and the money roll in. If you're fortunate enough to be close to one of the ever-increasing farmers' markets, you'll find this produce, quite literally, on your doorstep. Buying produce in this way also gives you a great opportunity for a bit of face-to-face PR. These places are a positive hotbed of free, gossipbased advertising.

Another great thing about the breakfast/ brunch concept is that you can create a menu of several dishes to satisfy every palate with just a few basic staples. Take scrambled egg, for example. Serve it on a muffin, toast or flat field mushroom; serve with smoked salmon, Parma ham or bacon; mix in chopped chives, cheese or bacon bits. Start combining other elements such as grilled tomato, black pudding and potato rosti and you've got more chance of a lottery win than finding someone else doing the same combo. And then of course, there's the coffee. Fifteen years ago - when you were more likely to see an alien spaceship land in your beer garden than an espresso machine on the bar top - I installed one, launched a full breakfast menu and built the reputation of my bar on the back of it.

We'd be full an hour before opening time - and so would the till. And guess what? Everyone stayed when the clock struck 12. Fifteen years on, and now in the far more capable hands of Simon and Sharron Colgan, the breakfast tradition is still thriving. Simon estimates that he serves in excess of 500 coffees a week (shame you can't get the same profit margins on beer), and breakfast is by far their biggest-selling food group. They've kept the Dutch breakfast on the menu that I introduced all those years ago (ham and melted cheese on toast topped with fried or poached egg), but have moved onwards and upwards, and now include an Egyptian breakfast of fava beans, topped with fried egg and felafel.

Go into the Blues Bar on a Saturday or Sunday morning and you're transported to the Bohemian playground of Monmatre or Marseille, where tinker, tailor, soldier and spy sit side by side, unified by the excellence of food, service and atmosphere. Breakfast folks - it's food for thought.

Top cooking tips1.​ Par-cook poached eggs with a little vinegar and immediately plunge into iced water. To serve, simply put into very hot water for a couple of minutes to re-heat. 2.​ Grill bacon on one side only until the edge goes golden brown. 3.​ Season halved tomatoes with sea salt and black pepper, spread over a little Dijon mustard and grill. Re-heat in the oven for service. 4.​ Put eggs into warm, not smoking-hot, oil for frying to avoid brown crispy edges, and an unevenly cooked yolk. 5.​ Always season scrambled eggs with salt and pepper before cooking. To prevent over-cooking, add a little double cream just as they're ready. 6.​ Fry mushrooms in very hot clarified butter to achieve a nice golden brown colour and then turn down the heat to finish cooking. 7.​ Cook open-cup field mushrooms in the oven, wrapped loosely in foil with some butter, thyme, sea salt and black pepper.

Breakfast menu

Full English​ - Bacon, eggs, sausage, tomato, black pudding, hash browns.

Dutch breakfast​ - Toast topped with grilled ham, melted cheese and your choice of eggs.

Potato rosti topped with scrambled egg and grilled bacon.Scrambled egg with chives and smoked salmon.

Eggs benedict​ - Poached egg on toasted muffin with ham and hollandaise sauce.

Smoked haddock​ - Served on spinach, topped with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce.

Blues Bar Egyptian special​ - Fava beans topped with fried egg and felafel with tahini dressing.

Case studyThe Village Pub, Barnsley, Gloucestershire​ Head Chef Michael Carr has attracted earlymorning plaudits with his version of the English breakfast at the Gloucestershire gastro pub. "I use a local farm butchers in Cirencester to provide the bacon and sausages," he explains. "Most of our customers are on a break from city life and they really appreciate the difference in the taste and freshness of the local produce." The Village Pub also serves a continental breakfast, although the £5 English breakfast remains a best seller. "Seventy per cent of diners choose a cooked breakfast and it has been a real winner," says Carr.

What's on offer?

JDWetherspoon:​ Wetherspoon's breakfast menu has proved a profitable addition to the company's food operation, according to head of catering, Phil Sermon. The menu includes scrambled eggs on toast (£1.69) and a breakfast bloomer filled with sausage, bacon and a fried egg. However the traditional breakfast (£2.99) remains the customers' favourite early-morning snack. Sermon comments: "We believe that the quality and price of our breakfasts are competitive with other caterers' offers."


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