Breakfasts of Champions - Part One
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
Responsible adults have always told me that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I've never been a believer unless I'm eating mushrooms on toast and can use it as an excuse to tell the great "Breakfast of Champignons" joke. Lunch is far more interesting. Dinner is even better, a time for wine and conversation to flow (at least, it was in the olden days... remember those?), shared plates and individual dishes, another bottle of wine, and the opportunity to flop down in bed and sleep it all off. Ideally I prefer to have multiple small meals throughout the day, especially when travelling, so I can guzzle as much as possible. But breakfast? Give me a big mug of Yorkshire Gold and that's all I need to set me up for the day.
But there are times when breakfast becomes an event, something to savour, the essence of the travel experience. It might be on holiday or at work, something as simple as a counter-top croissant and coffee, a hastily slurped bowl of street noodles, or something far more lavish.
Here is a completely subjective list of five of my favourite recent breakfasts, all of which are connected to a wonderful travel memory that transports me back in time. There are plenty more where these came from, so stayed tuned for part two.
Freddo Cappuccino, Anemomilos Boutique Hotel, Folegandros, Greece
I first went to Greece three years ago (about 23 years too late - what took me so long?), and it was there, on the magical island of Folegandros, that I had my first Greek Freddo Cappuccino. A good coffee to jumpstart the brain is exactly the morning pick-me-up you need in the Greek islands where it's impossible to eat dinner before midnight. Enter the Freddo Cappuccino, a strong, eye-opening espresso on ice, topped with a layer of milk frothed into tiny bubbles to create a creamy foam that's so light it practically levitates. It's like the Guinness of the coffee world. There's a slight rivalry between the grittier Frappé and the fancier Freddo Cappuccino, the former being a blend of Nescafé, water, sugar and milk invented in the 1950s at the Thessaloniki International Fair. As the story goes, a Nescafé employee named Dimitris Vakondios took a shaker he was using to demonstrate a new children's chocolate drink to make his own instant coffee during his break. He couldn't find any hot water so used cold instead and the Frappé was born, changing the Greek coffee culture forever. I'd choose the silky smooth Freddo Cappuccino over the Frappé any day though, especially when it's paired with endless Cycladic blue views.
Turkish Breakfast, Neckodan Pop-up, Galata Rihtim Kofteçisi, Istanbul, Turkey
Sometimes the good thing about breakfast isn't the location (in this case on the side of a street, but not that charming a street), but the variety of dishes you're served. I wake up at the crack of dawn to walk around the cities I'm visiting, and by around 10am I'm usually ready for lunch, which for the rest of the world is still breakfast. I stumbled upon this place completely by accident, saw lots of happy-looking locals sitting at tables loaded with beautiful Turkish breakfast items, and decided to try my luck. Fresh bread, cheeses, olives, honey with kaymak, sun-dried tomato paste, scrambled eggs with sesame, rose jam, yoghurt with dried mulberries and sultanas, gözleme pancakes, mountain herb tea... you could forgive them for creating this selection purely for its Instagrammability, but the flavours were delightful, the service friendly, and it was the perfect substitute for lunch. It's a pop-up, so hopefully it will still be popping up on our next trip to Istanbul.
Chocolate con Churros, Chocolatería San Ginés, Madrid, Spain
When you've been serving chocolate and churros 24 hours a day since 1894, you should know a thing or two about how to perfect the combination. Luckily for us, Chocolatería San Ginés does just that. The doughy, oily crunchiness of the churros paired with the rich, unctuous smoothness of the chocolate is enough to make you decide to live in Madrid for ever. I almost did. As an early bird I had the mirrored dining room mostly to myself, other than a couple of newspaper-reading Madrileños who were heading to very early morning jobs, but later in the day it can get busy with locals and tourists alike. And a tip so you don't look like a turista - you will need to order and pay at the counter before you're allowed to take a seat. But when you do take that seat and savour your first bite, you might have to go back to the counter to order a second round. They're that good.
Pork Chop Bun, Salty Lemon 7-Up and Silk Stocking Tea, Lan Fong Yuen, Hong Kong
Once upon a time, when I used to eat meat and used to live in Hong Kong, this was a favourite breakfast of mine. It's as basic as it gets, but oh so good (and has particularly miraculous powers when it comes to curing a hangover). Lan Fong Yuen is a cha chaan teng, a local fast-food cafe that's been in operation since 1952 serving cheap eats including pseudo-Western items such as Beef Tongue in a Crispy Bun with Butter and Condensed Milk. It's located in a narrow street on the way to the wet market, and can be identified by the metal hut where the famous silk stocking tea is made. Lan Fong Yuen is the originator of this much-loved Hong Kong beverage, a combination of black tea, evaporated milk and sugar filtered through a net that looks like a tan-coloured stocking. The pork chop bun is a breakfast staple, a slab of sizzling hot pork wedged between the two halves of a very basic hamburger bun. But for me, the most refreshing part of the meal, and a must during the HK summer when the humidity is so high that the city itself starts to sweat, is the Salty Lemon 7-Up, a can of 7-Up on ice with a sweet, sour and salty preserved lemon that you squish with a long spoon to get all the goodness out.
French Toast at Le Cinq, Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, France
In France, French Toast isn't really a breakfast thing. It's called pain perdu ("lost bread", referring to the fact that it was originally made from stale bread that would otherwise be thrown away, or "lost") and is eaten as dessert. But fortunately for us, at Michelin three-starred restaurant Le Cinq in Paris they have had the good sense to put it on the breakfast menu, and we should thank the Bread Gods that they did. I had the good fortune to breakfast here on multiple occasions when I was at the Four Seasons hotel for work. And here's why we should be grateful. This French Toast is transcendental. It's transformative. Frankly, it's mind-blowing. Yes, it's the most expensive French Toast you'll ever have in your life, but it tastes as if it has been bathed in the world's best milk, Cleopatra-style, soaking up the rich creaminess until it almost becomes liquid itself. And the outside, so crispy to the fork tines, with the same satisfying crunch you get when you break the surface of a crème brûlée with the back of a spoon. With just a slight dusting of icing sugar, a splash of warm syrup, and some tart berries to offset the sweetness, this is a true breakfast of champions. I've always suspected that it would go very well with a glass of champagne, and I'm kicking myself now for never having indulged.