After many hours of rumbustious craic and much gazing into the bottom of the leaden rummer from which I glug red wine with greedy enthusiasm, I awoke in desperate need of reinforcement from that most English of British habits. Breakfast.
The Belgian and I seldom stray into fried morning meals. As the journey to middle-age unfolds an underlying grief for the svelte 30 inch waists we once sported, permits no such indulgence. Perhaps a single ascetic boiled egg on high and holy days.
So what a thrill to struggle through the haze of alcohol toxins to take up morning residence at The Ambassador Cafe in Exmouth Market. With the express intention of throwing waistlines to the wind and gorging on a delicious fried breakfast. Except it wasn’t.
A Bloody Mary ought to be a shock to the system. Something to surprise the palate and shake off surfeit. Like getting an unexpected dressing down from an ageing maiden aunt. All the chill sharpness and pique of horseradish, tabasco vodka and lemon, tempered by the pot pourri of worcestershire sauce and celery salt and topped with the sombre, self-assured experience of sherry and rich tomato. A Lady Bracknell of drinks. Except this one was like a date with a librarian. All sour smirks and overwashed winciette knickers.
And the food which followed continued to spawn unbridled disappointment. Making me wish, once again, that I had stayed at home. Even having expressly asked the disinterested waitress for everything to be well ‘bruléed’ I was delivered of a flaccid, watery platter. Pusillanimous eggs, unfathomably meatless sausage, uncooked tomatoes and Portobello mushroom as soggy as a Scotsman’s bonnet. Every right and proper element of this most noble repast, wastefully disregarded.
A fried breakfast needs to pack a punch. Sufficient to see off bilious reflux and rising nausea. It should be a flavoursome, enriching ballast. A mix of soul food and blood strengthening fuel. Enough to see you through the newspapers, a Fred Astaire movie and induce afternoon slumber.
Any of you following this blog long enough know that I find tomatoes – the kind we get here – an unnecessary addition to any dish. But for Bloody Marys and breakfast, I would never eat one outside Italy. However, they are vital in a fry up. Sizzling in a slew of extra virgin oil and garlic, reduced to messy red, slightly burned sludge they infuse the whole with an aromatic and well …breakfasty colour.
Equally, one contends, what is the point of a wet, dark, chewy mushroom looking up from the plate like a cow pancake? Fry the buggery out of them, so that there is no water slopping around and suddenly they add an earthy, fungus tinge. Even better, use slices of truffle or finely chopped porcini to marshal that big, nosey flavour to your eggs.
It’s said that cooking bacon is the most universally tempting smell in Western cuisine. Even for vegetarians and religous zealots. Serving it up like a flabby napkin of leather with a rind of snot doesn’t quite reach that accolade. Nor do pudgy, undercooked, sausages do it for me. Enough said.
So for breakfast worth a hero’s return, here goes. Take your best (cooking should always be like going on a date), deepest and widest pan and cover the base in a puddle of the finest olive oil you can find. Chuck in a knob of butter for nutty good measure. Slice in a clove of garlic, chopped sage, salt and fresh broken peppercorns. When it’s all browning, add halved baby plum tomatoes – or just some variety with a chance of flavour. Press them down with the back of a spoon so that the juices escape into the oil. While they sizzle, soak slices of bread (I usePoilane sour dough but ciabatta is good too) in the rusty oil and allow to brown on both sides. Add the mushrooms now if you want. Get all the water out of them – they should be like toffee.
Meanwhile grill top-end – Crombies or Ginger Pig – sausages and bacon. Ensure the fat is well-done. Overcook them if necessary. When you are ready to serve it all make some space in the pan and drop in your eggs – the oil needs to be hot enough for the whites to ‘seize’ on the spot and not spread out everywhere. At this point you could cast some wafers of truffle or chopped porcini. If you like them sunnyside down, flip the eggs over. Otherwise pop them on to the crisp bread nestling in the tomatoey goo and mushrooms. Rank your meats alongside and you’ll feel as proud as a general trooping the colour.
Life will be as new.