Breakfasts of Champions - Part Two
Continuing my quest to be convinced that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, we're going to investigate a few more Breakfasts of Champions from around the world. We'll start in the utterly charming and completely underrated Georgian capital, take a trip back in time to Soviet Russia, enjoy a snowy start to the day on skis in the Austrian Alps, pay a visit to Yugoslavian Communist leader Tito's Tea Room on the shores of Lake Bled, and do what no one in LA does, take a walk to a retro diner in Hollywood.
Café Stamba, Tbilisi, Georgia
Tbilisi is one of my favourite travel discoveries of recent times, a city in which I could happily spend years wandering its winding streets, sipping excellent Georgian wine on sunny terraces, treasure-hunting in its quirky antique markets, and gawping at its brutalist architecture. I dream of going back as soon as the borders open up to stay at one of my favourite hotels in the world, Stamba (deserving of its own blog post, coming soon), and home to the lovely Café Stamba, where we find our first Breakfast of Champions for this post. Full of Wes Andersonesque colours and leafy green plants, the Café is a delight, but sitting outside in the sun at one of its long tables gives you a feeling of promise and anticipation for the day ahead. There are plenty of temptations on the menu, but stick with the cottage cheese syrniki pancakes with berries. I say this as I don't want you to eat too much - they are light and fluffy, but will fill that breakfast-sized hole in your belly. Once lunchtime rolls around you're going to be thankful to have a fairly empty stomach that you can stuff with khachapuri, pkhali, ajapsandali, nigvziani badrijiani and khinkhali. It doesn't matter if you don't know what any of these things are - just order them and you won't regret it. But for now, we'll enjoy our syrniki in the sun with a good cup of coffee as we pore over our map to decide what to do today in this magical city.
Pysechnaya, St Petersburg, Russia
Back in the Soviet times, pyshki, or doughnuts, were a rare treat. Simple rings of dough with just a light dusting of icing sugar and none of those Western imperialist fillings like custard or jam. In the heart of St Petersburg's upscale shopping district is Pysechnaya, open since the 1950s and a throwback to those heady days of the USSR. I expected a touch of kitsch, Communist chic posters on the walls, a nod and a wink that says yes, it's strange to celebrate the brutal past, but isn't it so ironic? But no, this is an irony-free zone, focusing on the serious business of dishing up straight-from-the-oil doughnuts and coffee or tea liberally sloshed into your cup out of a large metal vat. The service may not necessarily come with a smile and the napkins to wipe the grease off your fingers are torn up pieces of rough brown paper, but Pysechnaya is always full of St Petersburgers bringing nostalgia for the city's Soviet past into their 21st century lives.
Blaickner's Sonnalm, Zell am See, Austria
High in the Austrian Alps, in the province of Salzburgerland, sits the lovely Blaickner's Sonnalm, which in true Sound of Music style delivers a few of my favourite things - fluffy piles of snow, hot chocolate with whipped cream, and freshly baked pretzels (it also offers cold beers and käsespätzle, but since we're focusing on breakfast we'll stick to the former offerings for now - we can always come back in a couple of hours for a second round). It's up on the Schmittenhöhe mountain at the bottom of the Sonnkogel piste, a fun red run named for its sunny aspect with a few steep sections where you can build up some good speed before swooshing straight in for breakfast. It's my first treat after a morning's skiing when my legs are starting to burn, and there's nothing better than flopping down into a deckchair in the sun, taking off your helmet and gloves, and warming up with a hot chocolate and a pretzel. It gets crowded at lunchtime, but if like me you're the type who likes to ski the first runs of the day, by the time you take your first break, you'll still have your pick of the best seats.
Tito's Tea Room, Lake Bled, Slovenia
On the shores of beautiful Lake Bled lies a fascinating tea room housed in what was once the Communist Leader of Yugoslavia's summer house. Tito's Tea Room, more formally known as Café Belvedere, takes a bit of hunting down, but when you do find it, it's the perfect place for a spot of breakfast surrounded by unmatched lake views and a healthy dose of Communist history. First of all, you need to order a slice of kremšnita, the famous Lake Bled cream cake, a perfect square of firm vanilla custard topped with a good solid layer of cream, crowned with a sheet of crispy buttery pastry and a generous heap of icing sugar. It's like the handsome European cousin of the vanilla slices you find in English supermarkets, taller, richer, and somehow more exotic. If you can tear your eyes away from the mountains and Bled Island with its fairytale church, you'll find plenty more to look at inside the tea room. This was where Josip Broz Tito hosted his own tea and cocktail parties for heads of state and celebrities. Today you can still see the original furnishings as well as socialist realist mosaics featuring agricultural and industrial workers alongside scenes from nature. And don't let anyone ever tell you that a large slice of cake isn't the cornerstone of a nutritious breakfast. Just like Tito, you can have your kremšnita and eat it.
The 101 Coffee Shop, Los Angeles, USA
I've long dreamt of doing a West Coast USA road trip, staying only at 1950s-style motels and eating only at retro diners. Every time I enter an honest-to-goodness American diner I feel like I'm a child again. We did our fair share of American road trips in the school holidays when I was growing up, and those stacks of blueberry pancakes, unbelievably crispy bacon, hash browns, big slabs of pie and bottomless coffee seemed so exotic to the little English girl. Earlier this year, on a pitstop in LA on the way home from Mexico, I had a couple of hours to spare in the early morning and made my way to the 101 Coffee Shop in Hollywood. Starring in Swingers and Entourage (neither of which I've seen), the coffee shop was renovated in 2001 so is not strictly an original, but the design is as retro as it gets, the menu features good old diner specials (this being LA, you can have your sausages vegan), and the coffee is still bottomless. Like all the best diners, it's open early until very late (7am to 3am), and it gave me just the retro fix I needed.