Wednesday, 16 June 2010

How food snobbery can ruin a full English

One of my favourite treats is having a meal out, and every few months I treat myself to a cooked breakfast. Today I had an hour to spare while one of the daughters was in an exam, and it's wasn't worth driving all the way home, so I popped into The Pantry coffee shop in Swindon's Old Town, were the breakfast illustrated comes in at under a fiver, which isn't bad.

While eating breakfast it struck me that there are a number of ways that food snobbery in some establishments (often posh hotels) ruins this great British tradition. They are as follows:
  1. No beans - baked beans are an essential component of the full English, but often omitted in smart establishments becuase beans are what common oiks eat. They provide essential contrast and help to cut through the excessive meat content that is otherwise at the heart of the breakfast.
  2. No potatoes - I'm afraid The Pantry, as you can see, let me down here. Potatoes make or break the full English. I can understand why posh venues don't want to include hash browns (though there is nothing wrong with these if all else fails), but there is no reason for not providing the real thing, which is fried potatoes. Polly Tea Rooms in Marlborough is excellent at these, though they fall down on the baked bean test.
  3. Too high fallutin' sausages -  possibly my most controversial suggestion, I believe that some sausages are too good for the full English. Let me stress straight away that the tasteless and textureless mush tubes served up in (say) Asda aren't good enough. But if you go for a massively flavourful Cumberland sausage, say, it can overwhelm everything else, and the essence of the full English is being able to mix, say, sausage and potato or sausage and beans and appreciate all the tastes coming together. The right level to pitch it, I'd suggest, is the quality of sausages most supermarkets sell as their premium (Buy the Best/Extra Special/etc.) range.
  4. No sauce - it looks from the picture as if The Pantry let me down on this too, but I just hadn't put it on yet. Most venues will provide brown/tomato sauce, but it can feel very intimidating having to ask for it in a posh venue. For me, breakfast without brown sauce is a limited experience. I also recommend sauce be served either in sachets or bottles. The posh venue will tend to serve it in a ramikin or similar with a spoon. The trouble with this is you don't know what's got into it, or how long it has been standing open to the atmosphere, flies etc. They have no problem putting a bottle of wine on the table - the same should go for sauce. (It also shows if they've gone for a good brand or generic).
The full English (or Irish, Welsh or Scottish) is, without doubt, one of the triumphs of British catering. Long may it remain so, without being watered down by foodie sensibilities.


  1. I agree with you on the beans. A full english just isn't the same for me without beans and yes on the sausages too. Leave the gourmet sausage for later please.

  2. I'm a fried bread man myself - I don't need the potatoes at all, but without fried bread it's not a (full english) breakfast.

  3. Thanks, Katie.

    It's a personal opinion, of course, John - but for me, fried bread is on a par with mushrooms, black pudding and a tomato - a nice-to-have. Potatoes, on the other hand, are essential. I suspect it's my Irish ancestry coming through.

    (Oh, and thanks to Sarah for reminding me about toast. You do need to have toast on the side.)

  4. And does a full english require a mug of tea? Or is coffee and orange juice acceptable? I guess a cappuccino would be a step too far!

  5. The drink is not an inherent part of the breakfast, so tea or coffee (and yes, even cappuccino) is fine. (As is orange juice, provided it is alongside a hot drink.)

    But I would draw the line at anything herbal. Or alcoholic.

  6. You clearly missed out on some fine times in the seventies for your appreciation of a "Full English".

    One of my clients near Smithfield Market in London insisted on starting the day with a Full English in the local pub (open in the early morning for the market tradesmen) washed down with two pints of Guinness. Needless to say, being a good client services manager, I used to meet him there punctually at 8 o'clock each morning and carry out my first meeting of the day in order to top up the previous night's hangover. Then it would be onto lunch in some similar establishment with fine wines followed by a quick snifter in the pub on the way home. Work was dealt with as a necessary but unwelcome intrusion into our socialising habits.

    I don't think it's like that nowadays - which probably explains why it's so hard to get a decent breakfast, wherever you go in the country.

  7. Absolutely agree with you on the sausages. A breakfast is not the right context for a herby sausage. It has to be good quality though: the top-of-the-range supermarket sausages I find to be often worse than the frozen Walls variety. The perfect kind for me is your average butcher's pork sausage, or even a good quality Lorne. But then that would make it Scottish, and as such it would have to include a slice of haggis, probably the best egg accompaniment.