The Great British Breakfast
Or not. At its best a morning repast in the UK can be something sublime. At its worse, well, it’s a disgrace quite frankly. I’ve stayed in B&B’s up and down the UK and generally have some great experiences. My preference is to stay in a B&B rather than a hotel as you generally get better service, ‘vfm’, and the personal touch that is lacking in many larger establishments. Travelling in Scotland over the last 30 years I’ve had some fab breakfasts – and some dreadful ones.
Let’s do a bit of myth busting: no 1. The price you pay is no indication of the quality of the breakfast you will receive. I’ve stayed in some fairly pricey places and had mediocre meals. The converse is also true. No 2. Just because someone is serving ‘local produce’ does not mean that they can cook it! I’ve had some lovely fresh local food with exceptional provenance which was ruined by careless cooking. You know the sort of thing – bouncy eggs, burnt sausages, dried out beans.
If you’re paying to stay somewhere overnight and having a breakfast, then the establishment should be judged on the quality of that meal. It’s 50% of the equation after all, yet standard tourist board ratings take no account of this. You get points for facilities and matching furniture, but if you serve bouncy battery eggs, it doesn’t seem to have an impact. The fact that somewhere has a hairdryer and Wi-Fi seems to carry more importance than whether they provide a decent breakfast. Frankly if I’m staying away from home I’m interested in starting the day off with something I can actually eat.
I’ve stayed in two establishments recently, out of necessity; one was a fabulous house with a large bedroom with a balcony and many luxury features. The host was friendly and helpful, but none of these things mitigated the fact that she couldn’t cook and was using poor ingredients. If you’re running a B&B shouldn’t you at least be able to cook an egg? The bread was a cheap frozen supermarket loss-leader and so dry that I couldn’t eat it. As a semi-vegetarian I am frequently disappointed with the breakfast offerings at most accommodation and usually rely on an egg or bread to get me through, so when that fails to be edible I do get somewhat antsy.
How hard can it be to provide a creative vegetarian option? Mushroom pancakes, stuffed mushrooms, cheesy tomatoes, would a daring huevos rancheros be too much to ask? Clearly it is. How about a nice loaf of homemade soda bread or some Scotch pancakes? I could cope with that. If there is a vegetarian option – and generally there isn’t – it consists of Quorn Sausages or their equivalent. Now I know I’m fussy. Some people love these sausage substitutes. Not me. I don’t eat sausages or bacon and don’t need something that has the flavour or texture of them on my plate in the morning as it’s likely to make me boke. Make a Glamorgan sausage and freeze them or I’ll give you the recipe for my chestnut sausages, which cook from frozen. These options are cheap and easy and there really is no excuse not to do something for those of us who represent between 7 and 10% of the population.
There are glimmers of light. A recent stay in a small B&B before getting the ferry to the Western Isles delivered up a well-cooked breakfast using local ingredients, including her own hens’ eggs. OK, there were no veggie options, but the eggs were good and the bread was a nice seedy grainy offering. I’m not asking for the world here, just a bit of thought and a bit of care about what you’re doing.
A friend of mine opened her own B&B earlier this year and has made a point of serving vegetarian and vegan options. She kindly indulged me by asking for my recipes for various things, and by all accounts the veggie options are proving very popular. It can be done. It takes a bit of thought, a bit of effort, but if this is your business, your source of income, wouldn’t you want to do it well? It can actually be a selling point, especially when there are so few places serving decent vegetarian breakfasts.
The most recent breakfast faux pas was not a B&B but a local establishment specialising in local produce and offering a Sunday breakfast until lunchtime. My partner and I thought we’d treat ourselves whilst on an errand. It turned out not to be too much of a treat. Bacon so hard and melded together it was inedible, over-cooked eggs and microwaved black pudding. All in all, not a success. Needless to say we won’t be going back there.
The only experience I’ve had which was worse was in a B&B in the Lakes which offered ‘speciality breakfasts’. I’m still not sure what the ‘speciality’ was, possibly how terrible the breakfasts were. The breakfast room was locked and guests were only allowed in at the appointed hour. The ‘speciality’ changed every day. One the first day it was oatcakes and on the second day it was boiled eggs. Hard. Without toast. There were no options; you got what you were given. I was so outraged I actually complained to the tourist board. As the business was being sold on they felt disinclined to do anything. Maybe the owners were disillusioned with the B&B business. I was certainly disillusioned with my Cumbrian breakfast.
I’ve not ‘named and shamed’ here, but I confess I am sorely tempted.
I suppose there should be some balance. I’ve had some great breakfast in some great places: a lady in Shetland that makes her own yoghurt and muesli, a couple of guys on Skye who make their own bread and jam, and serve generous well-cooked portions of local salmon, eggs, sausages and bacon. It can be done. It should be done.
Breakfast can be a fantastic meal, so here’s a plea to all the B&B owners in the UK to put the ‘Great’ back into the British breakfast. Please.
Bracarina House is run by the lovely Heather and Robert Forbes. They pride themselves on the quality of their home and serve delicious vegan and veggie breakfast.
Vatersay House is run by amazing hosts Brian and Andy. The breakfasts, which include many homemade elements, are fantastic.