The London Review of Breakfasts

"Dedalus, come down, like a good mosey. Breakfast is ready. Haines is apologising for waking us last night. It's all right." (Buck Mulligan)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wetherspoons, Leeds

Wetherspoons
North Concourse
Leeds City Station
Leeds
West Yorkshire
LS1 4DT
0113 247 1676
www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk/home/pubs/wetherspoons-leeds

by Michel Houellebrecq

What, or maybe more precisely who, in the name of God is a ‘Wetherspoon’? Sure, the website blathers on with some cheerily happy-clappy explanation, but I’m not convinced. If he (sorry) is a bloke, rather than a piece of undecidable cutlery, then I’d like to imagine he’s a pretty decent, salt-of-the-earth kind of (Northern) bloke, fresh back from a day’s honest graft to get in a couple o’t’ales for t’lads. It’s more likely, however, that he’s currently reclining on an inflatable lilo, sipping umbrella’d Pina Coladas as a fleet of nymphets (sorry, again) pamper his tootsies and buff his W-monogrammed belt-buckle.

Whoever he is, if the Leeds examples of his offerings are anything to go by, he’s onto a winner and his brand has turned things around, casting off images of sticky-carpeted hovels filled exclusively with the disturbed, the aggressive and the lonely. I was on a fleeting visit to Yorkshire and, whereas five years ago I would’ve pretended I’d gone to the infinitely classier (or slightly less shameful) All-Bar-One instead, I’m proud to publicly state that the only licensed hospitality I received during my time in the UK’s third-biggest city was from J.D. Wetherspoon Esq. Yes, you heard correctly.

I’d been impressed by the Thursday nite vibe of the Beckett’s Bank Branch. We’d wandered in there half by mistake: we were tired and hotelling in the vicinity, your Honour. I had to do a double take. This wasn’t the Wetherspoons of old. Where were the broken chairs? The shattered glass? The muscly dogs? The eight-man brawls? They’d been replaced by families, cross-cultural groups drinking coffee and having intelligent-looking debates, craft beer, real ales and fancy ciders. No-one was being beaten up, especially not me. We were so impressed, in fact, that we made a date for an early breakfast the following morning at the Station branch (this one didn’t open early enough); the newly-launched menu looked promising.

I wouldn’t normally dream of eating, or drinking (or maybe even breathing) in most British train stations, but if you put the depressing thought of the guy on the fruit machines gambling hard at 7.30am on a Friday out of mind, it was a joy. Cheap, decent, tasty, well-cooked, I might even dare ‘hearty’ fodder: what’s not to like? £4.60 for a ginormous ‘large’ cooked breakfast, £3.90 for a much more sensible ‘traditional’ version of the same. Everything you’d want was present and correct; sausages had substance, toast had poppy seeds (POPPY SEEDS!) and it was just the right side of greasy. Yeah, so the mushrooms might’ve been slightly on the soggy side, and they insisted on giving us each half a grilled tomato (who the hell actually eats them?), but I’m splitting hairs. They even have a selection of porridge and fresh fruit with ‘Greek-style’ honey. All the calories are clearly displayed for the post-5/2 generation. Coffee was good (hot, strong) and you get free refills until deep in the afternoon. Under £11 for breakfast for two. It’s a bleedin’ public service. Criticising this would be like slagging off a sunny day, although, rest assured, I’ve been known to do that. Whether Herr Wetherspoon is an honest sod, or a smily spiv, it matters not. His gaff is worth a (re)visit.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

ChwarChra Hotel, Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan

ChwarChra Hotel
Sheikh Abdulsalam Barzani Street
Erbil
+964 66 2231508
www.chwarchrahotel.com

by Thom Yolke

Unless you happen to live in a cave with a dodgy router, it’s more or less impossible to avoid the torrent of unsettling news coming from Iraq at present. The black flags of the Islamic State have unfurled across the country, plunging the whole region into ever greater uncertainty. And yet, it was only in May of this year, just before ISIS (as they were then known) began literally bulldozing the borders, that I found myself having breakfast in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Erbil, the capital city of the Kurdish territory, was, until recently, a relatively safe and even prosperous place, due largely to the steady flow of oil money that has seen shiny new hotels continue to sprout up on an almost weekly basis. These hotels, I quickly discovered, cater largely to those who want to preserve a semblance of Western continuity. Their lobbies chime with muzak versions of British or American power ballads, and their menus offer Western staples to reassure the far-from-home oil men. I would be staying in a different sort of hotel altogether.

My hotel had the look of a place that had witnessed another era, and survived it. A whitish, boxy building which had begun to flake at the edges, the entrance was adorned with a flickering neon sign, and lined with an eclectic menagerie of taxidermy. Beady eyed goats and lion cubs appeared locked into eternal staring contests. There was a distinctly bohemian atmosphere among the labyrinth of sofas that lined the lobby, as though you could expect to hear two local poets having a heated argument about form while becoming increasingly enveloped in a cloud of shish-a smoke.

On my first morning, I ventured over to the buffet and at first was underwhelmed, but on reflection I realised that’s because I didn’t really know what I was looking at. Some of the options looked familiar enough, sliced pineapple and dates, yoghurt and honey. It was only when I was encouraged with a gesture from the waiter to try a thick creamy substance that I initially passed over, that my eyes were opened. The waiter, not speaking English, nodded that I should combine it with a fine, dark looking jam which I noticed had a golden iridescence to it as I spooned a generous splodge over the fluffy cream. The waiter signalled his approval with a thumbs up and a wink as I sat down. The first mouthful confirmed that it was fresh fig jam, a Biblical fruit rendered into sin. The strong flavour of the jam was complemented by the cleansing neutrality of the cream, which after further enquiries I discovered to be Buffalo curd, also popular in neighbouring Iran and Turkey. Less rubbery than its cousin mozzarella it possesses a paradoxical lightness of flavour with a decadently whipped texture. It occurred to me that this combination was probably an ancient delicacy, enjoyed by the Sumerians or Babylonians who could afford such delights. Being a novice and aware that there were no set limits on quantities at the buffet, I may have slightly overdone the portions. Four helpings later, like any hedonistic Babylonian, I could barely move from my chair, and the sympathetic nodding of the waiter as he collected my bowl told me he was no stranger to this sensation either.

It took me most of the day to recover from the overwhelming richness of the dish, but it didn’t stop me going back for a single helping the following morning, or the next.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Riverside Cafe, Clapton

Riverside Cafe
Riverside Cottage
Spring Hill
near Springfield Marina and Lea Rowing Club
Clapton
E5 9BL
020 8806 4448

by Marge E. Reen

‘Lisa and Stacy welcome you,’ said the sign outside, but we didn’t feel very welcome when we went in and the two girls on the counter ignored us for five minutes before one sulkily asked what we’d like.

‘A breakfast,’ said Mr Reen.

‘Breakfasts finish at 12 o’clock. It says it on the sign.’

This must have been on the other side of the sign.

‘I’ll have a ham and cheese omelette,’ I said, which is as near to breakfast as you can get. 

‘I’ll just have a white Americano,’ said Mr Reen. ‘I’m not giving them any more of my money if I can’t have a breakfast,’ he muttered as we made our way outside to find a seat.

Despite the blazing morning and the abundance of potential outdoor seating space overlooking the river, there were only about four benches so we had to share one with a father and his young daughter, who had been waiting for their food for a while and feared they had been forgotten. (It turned out they had.) They were remarkably sanguine while Mr Reen and I grumbled about how the Riverside Cafe wasn’t like it used to be, although, even then, under its previous management, it was pretty chaotic. At least they served breakfasts all day though. 

On the plus side it’s heartening that this lovely spot on the banks of the River Lea hasn’t yet been snapped up by a load of hipsters wanting to charge you nine point five for a tiny portion of organic scrambled eggs on sourdough. The Riverside Cafe is a greasy spoon and prices are agreeably low.

My omelette arrived before our neighbours’ food and it was, I have to admit, very good. Generously proportioned with plenty of chips on the side, coleslaw and a fresh, if rather small, salad. Only five point five too. Mr Reen’s Americano was, in his words, ‘foul’. He suspected it was made from Lidl’s coffee. He watched me eat and then made me go up to Spark Cafe in Springfield Park (reviewed favourably elsewhere on this site), where I watched him eat a proper breakfast. He gave me a small bite of his sausage.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Big Jones, Chicago, USA

Big Jones
5347 N Clark St., Chicago
773-275-5725
www.bigjoneschicago.com

by T. N. Toost

I found myself, on 5 July, breakfasting with a former Tokyo dominatrix, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion/stand-up comedian, and a prostitute.

I could have predicted breakfast with Natsuki and John; she has been my best friend since college, and it was natural that I’d want to meet her amazing new boyfriend. Having breakfast with an honest-to-God prostitute was something I never would have predicted. But the previous day, the Fourth of July, we’d all gone over to pick Nora up at her apartment – or, rather, one of her apartments, because she did business out of one and lived in the other. She called it the “HOstel.” She asked if we wanted to come up to see it, and, in reality, I didn’t, but I did anyway to be polite, and, in reality, I kind of did want to see it.

Prostitution is something that I intellectually believe should be decriminalized. People should be able to sell their services and their bodies in any way they wish, provided they don’t harm others and are not being exploited. Plus, to a certain extent, we all sell sex in some way; as Brendan Behan once quipped, the difference between sex for money and sex for free is that sex for money usually costs less.

At the same time, I had a visceral negative reaction to being in a functioning brothel that I never would have anticipated. Standing in the living room of her work space, next to a strap-on dildo and variously sized paddles and two massive deer heads hanging on the wall, listening to a detailed account of how long it took to paint the 20-foot walls, and how the massage table only cost $150, and how they had to have a pile of new sponges for washing toys, and how they had elaborate plans to soundproof the rooms from the family living below them – standing there, I realized that my arms were tightly crossed in front of my body, and my mouth was drawn grimly against my teeth, and that I was very, very uncomfortable. I forced myself to uncross my arms and relax my face, and I listened, without comment, to a story about the fight she was having with her landlord to get a separate buzzer for her room so that her clients could be independently buzzed in and wouldn’t be seen by the clients of her partner.

Writing this, one week later, it strikes me that she is actually running her business pretty professionally – the only thing that gives it any salaciousness is the fact that society is so hung up on sex. She has to think about how to report her income, and securing business, and competition, and advertising, and government overreach, and land use issues, and overhead. She has databases to check whether potential clients are deadbeats, and online forums to discuss new business developments. When she goes out of town on business, she calls it being “on tour,” and she has to find places to work, new clients, and negotiate fees ahead of time to cover her travel expenses. And she thinks of little details, like filling her fridge with coconut water and cans of San Pellegrino. She didn’t say this, but I think she had San Pellegrino because of the foil cap on the cans that you peel back in order to sip it. It makes people like me feel less worried about drinking it; the foil acts as a condom, keeping germs from getting on the can and thus to my lips. I sipped it, delicately, as she told us that one of the persistent hazards of her work was sharting.

Prostitutes also pay close attention to their health. As she sat across the table from me that beautiful, clear Chicago morning, she was sweaty, after having biked 15 miles along the shores of Lake Michigan. When the food arrived, she had a huge plate of buckwheat pancakes topped with raspberries; they were gluten free, and she paired it with a Sazerac. I had “Eugene’s Breakfast in Mobile, circa 1930,” a dish inspired by a jazz musician who decided to become a chef. The catfish was delicious, the breading was light brown and flaky, the plantains and beans and rice were all seasoned perfectly. I washed it down with strong, black coffee.

And then there was the question of etiquette that might only come up when dining with a prostitute. I had no problem passing along a piece of catfish and plantains to her, but then she reciprocated. When she cut off a piece of pancake, placed a raspberry on top, and passed it onto my plate with her fork, I paused. She saw five clients a day, at times, and I thought of the dildo on the wall, and remembered how she had licked powdered sugar off of her fork as if it were a lollipop. That was the same fork that had speared the raspberry and the pancake and then had dropped both pieces of food onto my plate, on the edge, so it wouldn’t mix with my food. I swallowed hard for a second, considering how I might decline.

But I didn’t. She was my friend before she was a prostitute.

And her pancakes were, admittedly, delicious.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Terrace Cafeteria at the House of Commons, Westminster

The Terrace Cafeteria
House of Commons
Westminster
SW1A 0AA
(MPs, certain staff and their guests only)

by Marge E. Reen

Parliament is prorogued—ie on a break between one session and the next—and the MPs are, according to the press, ‘on holiday’ but actually they’re more likely to be in their constituencies worrying what to do about UKIP. It’s a May morning just after the local council elections and I take advantage of the calm by having a leisurely breakfast in my workplace. The Terrace Cafeteria is where I come most days for lunch but, as I don’t want to end up like Sir Nicholas Soames, I don’t usually breakfast here as well.

The Terrace is comfortingly old-fashioned with a Pugin-tiled serving area and a wood-panelled, green-carpeted dining room which overlooks the Thames. According to a friend who went to one, it’s like being in a boarding school refectory, and on this unseasonably rainy morning, I feel especially cosseted from the outside world. Modernisms have crept in—to my dismay they now have an electronic screen, which announces the menus of the day, but, for the most part, it’s as unchanging as Michael Fabricant’s hairdo.

At 10 am the Terrace is busy with burly builders, fat policemen and thin researchers. The canteen staff are, as ever, friendly and professional. Breakfast items sweat gently under a heat lamp on the serving counter. I take one rasher of bacon, one sausage, one hash brown and one spoon each of scrambled eggs, tinned tomatoes and mushrooms along with one small cup of filter coffee. All this comes to £3.60. An absolute bargain. It tastes good too. The scrambled eggs are creamy, the sausage herby and plump, the bacon entirely decent and the hash brown a slightly naff guilty pleasure. I do like the fact the tomatoes are tinned as fresh tomatoes can be so hard and tasteless. The mushrooms are a particular delight: unctuous with dark, savoury juices. After all this I feel ready to stride the corridors of power and look David Cameron straight in the eye should I bump into him, which of course I don’t.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Op-Egg: Why I Hate Going Out for Breakfast

by Fyodor Toastoevsky

Before moving to London from a sleepy West Midlands town I’d never given breakfast 'out' much thought; it was only when time or location necessitated it that I’d reluctantly take my eggs à la God-knows-whom, and it was precisely because it was necessitated that the food’s quality had never really mattered.

The difference between a greasy spoon breakfast and a breakfast at home is enormous; I have time for the former, as I am unlikely to prepare myself a white bap stuffed with bacon and dripping with grease and brown sauce. Therefore, when, on occasion, I have found myself eating a greasy-spoon breakfast, I have treated it as a different beast and thoroughly enjoyed it for what it is.

Here, in a city offering a chance for real community, though, I have found myself, for the first time, seeing people actively going out of their way to eat breakfast away from home despite having easy access to their kitchens, ample time and good ingredients. Somewhat naively, I  initially took this to mean that breakfasts ‘out’ in the capital were a cut above the rest.

I will beat around no bushes here; I am a scholar of homemade breakfasts. I am an expert in eggs, an artist in accompaniments and a maestro of the multitasking required to produce a fine breakfast. I was not born with these expertise; I worked on them weekly, with dedication and love, for even from a young age I could see the value inherent in them. Given that these are, with just a little patience, skills quite within our mortal grasps, it seems ridiculous that we should go through life without honing them, and absurd that we should spend the veritable bags of money requested by twee cafes to consume a love-starved and unsatisfying breakfast.

I do understand spending money on dining; if nothing else it’s probably the best way of experiencing cuisine you may not at home. Breakfast out, however, is beyond my comprehension. Its creation is neither a complicated nor an expensive procedure; yet when we eat it out we often spend a sickening amount just to have it as we wish. I mean, damn it, I shouldn't have to pay extra for coffee (or again for a second cup, should I wish it) and certainly I shouldn't have to do so for the basic privilege of bacon, as a fellow contributor once had to at Stoke Newington's Blue Legume. For a comparative drop in the bucket, I can feed a table of friends a lazy weekend feast the likes of which cash will not buy in the outside world.

Finances aside, it is a joy to prepare one’s own breakfast. There is no rush, there is no inexplicable wait, there is no want for space, and most importantly of all, the food is good and plentiful, every time. There is also, damn it, as much coffee as we like.

"But!" I hear you clamouring, "the washing up! The time! The effort of it all!" - well, to quote Theodore Roosevelt: "Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…", and let's be honest with ourselves; investing a little time in achieving the perfect start to your weekend is surely a sacrifice of far more worth than casting a fistful of money at a small plate of lukewarm non-breakfast and a cup of coffee you have to savour.

I implore you to remember the home-cooked breakfast, each of which is your own work of art, never quite the same twice. Don’t risk your valuable time and money on the whims of stony-faced cafe staff and nameless breakfast chefs.

Take control of your breakfasts and you take control of your weekends; take control of your weekends and you take control of your life.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Erba Brusca, Milan

Erba Brusca
Alzaia Naviglio Pavese, 286, 20142
Milan
Italy
www.erbabrusca.it

by Maggie Arto

The phenomenon of brunch has arrived in Italy, though I guess, fairly recently. The late-middle-aged gent on the adjacent table, enjoying a chilled red with his wife, leans over to our plate of pancakes and enquires which item on the menu they are. Pancakes di farino di riso con semi di papavero e bacon, I say, with the thought that if the word pancake has not been widely adopted into the Anglo-Italian vocabulary, they must not be particularly prevalent. But good pancakes they are: rice flour with poppy seeds; light, wide rounds; slightly sweetened, with thin, almost caramelised bacon atop.

Erba Brusca is situated alongside one of Milan's canals, on the outskirts of town. The city was once weaved with these mercantile waterways, which Leonardo da Vinci worked on in the 15th century, but most were covered over by the 1930s, leaving only certain strips open to the air. Wandering along the banks towards our reservation, wed spotted a pair of dancing cyan dragonflies, and so were already feeling peachy as we sat down on the early summers terrace and our mimosas arrived. The owners have spent time in New York – as you might imagine what with the pancakes and the typical drink types – but in New York they don't always make mimosas with freshly squeezed blood orange; nor do they consider a hamburger, or roast beef, an item for brunch (or do they?). 

Indeed, the other brunch plates are more of a lunch affair, though executed with a freshness that is welcome for the first meal of the day. I have cured trout in pink slices, horseradish cream and fat redcurrants, with mustardy leaves picked from the garden. Here, we could be in Sweden. My companion chooses a panzanella of fried stale bread, cubed cucumber, basil and plentiful ripe tomatoes, dotted with buffalo milk mozzarella that tastes like the pastures of Lombardia itself. This mix of salty carb and proteins is befitting of brunch – and say what you like about Italians, but you can't fault their tomatoes. There is an egg dish - fried with salsiccie and asparagus - that called itself Eggs Benedict, but we don't order it. It looks more like a Spanish huevos revueltos; another breakfast item so lost in translation it ended up close to lunch. There are a couple of baked goods, including a plum cake made with ricotta (plum cake, in Anglo-Italian equals moist madeira-like cake, nothing to do with plums), which people are treating like dessert. Perhaps the only thing that truly distinguishes brunch from other meals in Italy, I think to myself, is its occurrence on a Sunday – that, or the absence of pizza and pasta from the menu.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Global Breakfast Radio

Global Breakfast Radio is a month old today. You may have spotted it when I discreetly added a link to the sidebar, but if for some reason that passed you by, it's here.

What the hell am I talking about? Global Breakfast Radio is an internet radio station made out of other radio stations, always broadcasting from wherever it's breakfast-time right now. It's a collaboration between me and the sound artist Daniel Jones, and maybe isn't really that much about breakfast at all.

Press play on the website and you'll constantly follow the sunrise, dropping in on one radio station after another for ten minutes at a time before randomly moving on to the next. You might hear college radio from Canterbury, news discussion from Lagos, rock & roll radio from Anchorage, crackly Spanish music from Montevideo, and so on, all the way around the planet.

Since Global Breakfast Radio launched we've been surprised by how many places people are listening from. It's done really well in the UK and US but is also pretty big in Japan and Russia. Listeners from 135 countries have tuned in, including in the US Virgin Islands, Myanmar, Togo, and Zimbabwe. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the sunrise images in the background, and the local weather data pulled from networked weather stations across the globe. For the former we had to filter over 10,000 creative commons-licensed sunrise images sourced from Flickr. It was interesting and gruelling: some people will tag anything with the word ‘sunrise’.

For more in-depth writing about the project, I recommend this brilliant piece at the Guardian TV & Radio blog, and these interviews at Wired UK and The Line of Best Fit.

And if you like your background material meta then there's some breakfast radio on the subject of breakfast radio that went out a couple of weeks ago on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday morning show, Broadcasting House.

Seb Emina
4 June 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Café Margaux, New York, USA

Café Margaux
Marlton Hotel
5 West 8th Street
New York
NY 10011
USA
marltonhotel.com/#dining

by Séggolène Royal

New Yorkers are a demanding lot.

I say this with affection, because as a native New Yorker they are my lot. It’s a loud, dirty place with tiny living spaces and the potential for atrocious weather that still retains much of the grit Giuliani and Bloomberg tried so hard to scrub off. Given this, New Yorkers feel that they are entitled to receive whatever they want, whenever they want, to make up for the fact that they are tethered to the “island that is their lives’ predicament,” as Maeve Brennan once put it. Nowhere is this entitlement more in effect than in a restaurant.

I feel bad for wait staff in New York. Not only are they probably the next Sir John Barrymore and Vanessa Redgrave waiting on me, but they have to wait on all those demanding New Yorkers, who demand to know if there is gluten, dairy, raw eggs, nuts, or whatever the latest bad thing is in what they want to order. And they want this on the side and they want to hold that and so on and so forth. They’ll tip you well for it, though. Visiting from Paris I remember with a jolt when I get the bill that my meal or drinks costs 20-30% more than I thought it would because of the generous apologetic tip at the end. And if you’ve been an easy table, if you haven’t asked for the sun (hold the moon) on your plate, you’re still a scheister if you don’t pony up.

As a native New Yorker I occasionally like to take this privilege for a ride. This morning at Café Margaux at the Marlton Hotel in Greenwich Village, I ordered oatmeal with almonds, cranberries, and pomegranate seeds. But I was concerned that the oatmeal wouldn’t be sweet enough - I usually like it with maple syrup. Hey, it’s New York, I thought. I can have maple syrup if I want it. So I asked the waiter if I could have a little on the side. He hesitated, but was duty-bound to give it to me, and said he would look for some in the kitchen.

When he brought the oatmeal, it came with what looked like honey on the side. “Is that honey on the side?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “Oh ok, then I don’t need the maple syrup,” I said, as he was about to pour me my coffee. “Oh!” he said, and stopped pouring the coffee. “No I did want more coffee please yes please,” I said, to get him pouring again, and he said “Yes, I just have to go tell the kitchen right away that you don’t need the maple syrup,” and fled. When he came back he finished pouring the coffee.

I dressed my oatmeal in honey and it was delicious, though the kitchen had been a bit stingy about the pomegranate seeds. Halfway through the meal, a little dish of maple syrup arrived, borne by a busboy, by which point I didn’t need it, but I poured a little in just to be nice.

Meanwhile there was the coffee. It was delicious, but the milk they brought with it was skim milk. Even though that’s what I grew up on, having been raised by New Yorkers, I have since gone off its tasteless watery whiteness. But I felt I had made enough of a fuss over the maple syrup, and so I accepted the skim milk as meekly as an out-of-towner.

Malcolm enjoyed his salmon but complained that his scrambled eggs were overdone. “That is standard scrambled,” I told him. “An American would react with horror and salmonella fear if they were served runny. But they’re entitled to their overdone eggs; it’s our responsibility to remember to ask for them the way we like them.”

There are some things, however, that a New Yorker should not be able to order. The menu included scrambled eggs with chicken, and this is one of them.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pret a Manger, Euston

Pret a Manger
P1
Euston Piazza
Euston station
NW1 2DY
020 7932 5432
www.pret.com

by Haulin' Oats

What is it about the service in Pret a Manger? From where comes the unforced, invigorating, positive energy? The busier it gets, the happier they seem to get. There’s a spirited ‘all hands on deck’ atmosphere. I swear I can hear the white sails ripple and snap as this honest crew, this band of merry brothers and sisters navigate, undaunted and thrillingly alive, the storms of hungry office workers.

All of which is ironic because the guy who serves me is a real c**t.

No eye contact, not a flicker of evidence that he's interacting with a fellow human being. This is rude, it’s belligerent, it’s bad service – but it doesn't earn him the c-word moniker. It’s this that promotes him; the girl behind me is tall, blonde and pretty. He’s smiling at her, animated, he’s all small talk and charm. He shoves a coffee loosely in my direction without a glance. What a c**t.

He's a Pret exception. They exist. Of course they do.

As I sit down at my table that thing happens which we will never know or understand. I throw my coffee all over the floor.

One of the crew is there quickly. She’s trying to make me feel as if the spill is absolutely nothing to do with me. ‘It happens ten times a day, or more! I blame the cups. There’s something wrong with the cups...’

A former or off duty brother/shipmate walks in (you can tell by the warm camaraderie of their greeting). They talk about her being pregnant. Then she's down on the floor, pregnant and vital clearing up my coffee. She brings me a replacement, offers to fetch sugar. The spirit of Pret Service fills the sails once more.

And now a sentence that would utterly horrify my teenage-self: what I wouldn't give to get the inside track on Pret’s hiring processes.

The little granola in a pot is pretty good. The granola has crunch and cluster (though there’s too little of it in proportion to the rest). The yoghurt is tangy and crisp. The compote has a good fruity zing. Overall the portion is small for breakfast, but then you’re paying a little less than a full blown regular cafe granola.

The indie idiot in me, the part that can't help but slightly go off a band if they get hugely successful, feels a little concerned about this gush of positivity for such a large chain. But you know what? Pret revolutionised grabbing a quick lunch for urban dwellers, and their service is a modern wonder, so well done them.

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