The Breakfast Club- Fork & Wine

I’ve alluded previously to my good fortune as regards eating establishments within spitting distance of my humble abode in Brightlingsea so I won’t go on about that again other than to say here’s another one!

Although breakfast has always been a popular date activity for the Mr and myself, however out outings have been curbed since such recent relationship milestones as The Mortgage and The Spare Room Remodelling. We have truly rescinded our Only-On-Special-Occasions- Breakfast-Club retirement for Fork and Wine.

When we first moved to town there was a lot of chatter about a bistro opening on the high street with a confusing and over priced small-plates based menu that frankly put me right off visiting. It was a short lived venture, the gloomy white washed ashes of which gave life to Fork and Wine which seems to be doing much better trade with a hearty, grill based repertoire that requires no translation for those of us who just fancy a normal sized steak followed by some kind of brownie, thanks very much. Plus regular specials, seasonal fish offerings and a remarkable wine list, it all looks pretty good. The internal decor is also quite striking if slightly scattered through several aesthetic themes that might have one reminiscing about a stroll through the Ikea showrooms. Not in a bad way.

I am yet to sample the apparent delights of a dinner at F&W but we were suckered in from a well placed Facebook plug shouting about their early weekend opening hours, great value full English and opening month special of FREE COFFEE WITH ALL BREAKFASTS! Woo hoo! We both commented that the advertised prices couldn’t stay in place for too long and we had better get over there before they ran out of Columbian dark roast.

The full on Full English at Fork & Wine

The breakfast menu is pretty bloody fab, and still holding stupidly good value breaking no more than £8 a head for a hot plate and bottomless coffee or tea. Yes, £8. If you’re being excessive. My last receipt there for an early morning date night came in at £12.95. For both of us. Does anywhere local beat that?
But at those kind of prices the food must be rubbish, no? Well, no. It’s really good, freshly cooked and generously plated to the extent that the Mr will go until dinner without eating again after their full English. This almost never happens.

The menu boasts the expected items- a proper full English at around six quid, an all veggie, scrambled eggs for the kids and avocado toast for the trendy twats, maple-pancake stacks for those of us who aspire to American glucose tolerance levels. You can even have icecream if you want to. It’s a great little menu, with just enough options for a fair choice without putting a struggle on the kitchen to produce everything freshly cooked and prettily turned out.
Service there is not without the odd surprise, however.
Such as an ever present garnish of rocket or greens where one might not expect them, stealth herbs and spices and pesto dressings and filo wrapped deep fried quorn sausages in the All Veggie. Traditionalists might struggle with these little flourishes, I personally think they are fantastic (particularly those filo wrapped nuggets of  crispy TVP wonderfulness).  It is always reassuring to see from your plate that you are eating from a kitchen where someone really appreciates ingredients and knows how to stack up easy, compatible flavours without being utterly boring about it. There are some proper chefs in that kitchen. My only remark against this might be that they are not the fastest chefs in the world BUT hey, it’s the weekend, it’s breakfast out, there is every reason to enjoy every second of a relaxed service with another coffee (I mentioned the free refills, right?). Take the time to think of ways to work off all that buttermilk and crispy bacon with the rest of your day.

A perfectly poached egg atop smashed avocado and foccacia toast, Fork & Wine

After several visits, I have to give these guys a solid 10 out of 10 on their morning set up, it is an excellent place to stop for breakfast. The Mr is fully behind their gut-busting full English-with-green bits and recommends anything that comes with their home-fried potatoes. I am thrilled to be one of the food-trend-bores and steer you towards their triumphantly seasoned avocaodo toast, served smashed with tomatoes and perfectly poached eggs.  I also suggest you dine with someone who orders something with the home fried potatoes so you can nick some of them too.

 

 

Click here for  venue info but their breakfast menu isn’t on here yet. http://www.forkandwine.co.uk/

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The Breakfast Club- Galvin Hop

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Location- Spitalfields
Cost- well under £5 for pastries/£10 for hot breakfast plus coffee.
Highlight- a perfectly poached egg
Lowlight- not really
Overall- 9/10

You may remember Cafe a Vin, a pleasantly pokey bar and brasserie at the back of the Galvin brothers’ triumph that is La Chapelle in Spitalfields. You may not remember any such thing if you aren’t a city of London type, and that’s ok.
The days of Cafe a Vin came to an end last year to make way for the posh-beer-trendy, shimmery copper pipe boasting ‘Galvin Hop’- a pub. A very nice pub, serving proper and unpasteurised beers with a suitably meat-and-fried-stuff menu accompaniment which is less far removed from the usual Galvin signature than you might think. It is city casual and reasonably priced with a blokey slant and mild sprinkling of Americanisms around the edges- not least of all in the concept of serving breakfast (and later in the day hotdogs) from a To-Go window.

20160512_202109.jpgWe took breakfast at Hop to warm up for a day watching the London Marathon in April. It was cold and it was early and it was a blessing that their coffee was excellent, as we arrived unfashionably too early to meet the rest of our party. Also excellent is the warmth of their front of house team but this is what I have now come to expect from projects ala Galvin-fresh and well executed food and drink with shining but unobtrusive service. Yes the menus and themes differ across their growing locations but the core is the same: Simple Quality.
The breakfast menu at Hop is brief but ample at the same time, ideal for their core target customer nipping past on the way to the office. It is also beyond acceptable if you are in the area and feel like sitting in from 9ish on a weekend to break your fast slowly with the papers. You can expect builder and hangover friendly classics in their maplecured bacon roll (get a fried egg on that too, trust me) and also foodier options involving poached eggs and spinach, smoked salmon or crushed avocado.
I’m going to take a moment here to offer my intense thanks for those poached eggs with their warm flowing yolks, spilling forth in rich loveliness. So many, many places that offer breakfast totally toss up a poached egg, by which I mostly mean overcook it. A solid egg yolk is something of a sadness in almost all manifestations but none moreso than when poached. These were utterly perfect.

I don’t really feel a need to go on, or indeed to have much more to say on this. To rattle off further praise seems both obvious and unnecessary- if you’ve had the Galvin pleasure before you know what to expect. If you haven’t then I’ll wager that a visit to Hop at any time won’t dissapoint you. It’s a good breakfast at what is a very reasonable price given the geography. Give them a go.

The Breakfast Club- Harvester

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The Restaurant: Harvester

Locations: Nationwide

Specimen Venue: Colchester

Menu: ‘Continental’ Buffet, unlimited hot items cooked to order

Price: £2.99 (99p kids) all you can eat continental, £4.99 (£1.99 kids) to include hot items, bottomless coffee additional £2.25, other sundries available at further cost.

Highlight: Good range on cold items

Lowlight: see below!

General Score: 5/10 *

You know when you discover something, and it’s great and you love it and you tell everyone about it and as soon as you do it turns to crap and everyone thinks you’re a bit of a mental for being an advocate of it? Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Harvester Breakfast: Discovered by the boy some time ago when on his way to a solo Toby outing- the bright lights and silly low price tempted him off the long road to Copford to drop in on the Harvester instead. He would not shut up about it and I was taken there under force at the next available opportunity.

And it was great. Quiet, clean enough and incredibly good value for an extensive cereal spread and all you can go fry up. First off, I will lodge here my objection to the use of ‘continental’ to describe a cereal buffet. This is not a continental buffet, it is yoghurt, cereal, fruit and various bread based items. No meat or cheese, no continental. To my mind anyway. So it’s not continental, but it is good with a mix of your family favourite cereals (including coco pops hurrah!) tinned and fresh fruit, greek yoghurt and a sweet sticky berry compote mix which is to die for. Possibly literally so given the recent recommendations on reducing one’s sugar intake. Standard issue toaster machine of hell with sliced bread and crumpets also present. It was marvellous in the old days, as was my fry up. Again, a seriously extensive list of items as many as you want of all usual suspects plus black pudding and a several variants on the fried potato. Steak or chips available to add at extra cost. Have as many rounds of as much as you want, cooked to order. This is a good idea to me vs the hot buffet, as it reigns in the more self loathing modest diner as I personally feel a bit funny ordering a second plate from a waitress but wouldn’t think twice about nipping up to help myself to extra sausages from a hot cart. Favourable on my stretch marks and also a money saver for the establishment as even though it is all you can eat, you tend to eat less.

It was great, piping hot and well done and wow, that bill isn’t hurty at all so why not go all out and have the bottomless coffee too. Said coffee was never that great, but it took some time before it became truly awful.

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Dear Harvester, this is not a poached egg. This is the stuff of nightmares. No, I had not already taken a bite.

The sad fact of the matter is that people found out about it, and came in their droves, and the restaurant just can’t cope. In fact they make no effort to. I’m no chef but I’ve worked in kitchens and I don’t know how on earth half the stuff they serve these days gets across the pass. In recent visits we’ve endured black sausages (no, they shouldn’t have been), so over scrambled eggs that they were actually powdering again, poached eggs I slipped in my handbag to bring home for pan scouring use and cold black pudding. It hadn’t been cooked and gone cold- it had gone straight from fridge to plate. Their mushrooms are inevitably fried in margarine with all the dirt left in. Worst of all these days you have to wait half an hour or more for it. I have no issue waiting my turn in a busy restaurant, but not for this shit, and it breaks my heart because when the Harvester Breakfast first came to Colchester it was a thing of glory indeed. They can’t serve the demand, the scant staff are visibly stressed, the cold items don’t get topped up and their coffee is frequently reminiscent of a big whiff of burning tyres. A kitchen should be prepared for and even thrive on high demand periods, even if you are on the lower end of the budget scale. If I could give them one tip as a previously frequent customer- take a lesson from another breakfast establishment soon to be added to these digital tomes and turn people away. If you can’t cope, say no, sorry, no tables. Because when you over seat, you give everyone a little slice of rubbish that they wont forget. If I can’t get a table somewhere I like, I moan like a drain about it. Then I book, and I go back again. I’m not going back to my local Harvester for breakfast, ever.

So why a five out of ten? Because it’s a chain, not a single site and we have had some very nice outings over the course of various budget hotel trips in the last year or so, I could particularly recommend breaking your fast at Harvester at the Bridgend retail park. Marvellous.

Update 12/11/15- prices have changed and all you can eat on hot food no longer available

The Breakfast Club: Toby Carvery

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The Restaurant: Toby Carvery

Locations: Nationwide*

Specimen Venue: Colchester

Menu: Hot buffet*

Price: £3.99 all you can eat, bottomless coffee additional £1.99, other additional sundries at cost depending on location*

Highlight: Sausage and mushrooms*

Lowlight: not great for restrictive diets

General Score: 8/10 *

*fairly serious variations between restaurants on price, inclusions and quality

Although it wasn’t the first one we had out, our first visit to Toby for a breakfast was certainly the habit former which bought us to the point where I have enough experience to blog about restaurant breakfasting. I have to say I’m not a massive fan of the self proclaimed ‘Home of the Roast’- for those who are unfamiliar Toby are a chain of carvery style restaurants with wallet friendly prices and often unfortunately cooked vegetables. My opinion is slightly tainted by genetics (or being raised in a family with extreme roast potato prejudice), and I must admit that a Toby dinner will certainly do in a pinch. By ‘pinch’ I mean usually when we’re a day late with the big shop and don’t want to go to Sainsbury’s on an empty tummy but there is only old butter and half a lime in the fridge.

My standard plate at Toby. I'm drooling now.

My standard plate at Toby. I’m drooling now.

But enough on the roast, we’re talking about breakfast, and a Toby breakfast is a special thing indeed. In Colchester. My friends a Toby brekkie is highly location sensitive, as I shall explain shortly. But in my neck of the woods you pay on entry, pick up your mug on the way through (seriously who doesn’t have coffee?) and choose your own table in a large and generally warm and comfy dining area. Fill up your coffee, hit the buffet bar.
Toby get a point for having warmed plates that don’t burn your hands, and another one for being the only place I have ever been where the first item on the run is Yorkshire puddings and breakfast gravy. I have to say I have never indulged, but plenty do. On to your more expected bacon, sausage (bloody good sausage at that), fried egg, scrambled egg, hash browns, grilled and plum tomatoes, beans, mushrooms. An extra point for managing to turn out mass produced scrambled egg which isn’t like at home but doesn’t resemble a hot block of polystyrene either.The second Toby Exclusive once you’re over your breakfast yorkie is Toby Hash- a devilishly moreish pot of potatoes, bacon, cheese and onions. Dieters, go home! Sideline of bread and crumpets available with one of those horrid little mini grill contraptions and yes, you can go up as much as you want and take as much as you want, as many times as you want. A Toby breakfast day is a no-more-food-til-dinner day without fail.
On the whole, at our Colchester branch, it’s very good. The sausages are brilliant, the mushrooms pass my rigorous quality control and if it’s a good hash day, it’s amazing. The real top tip here is to go when it’s relatively busy as the pots are all topped up pretty quickly and you are less likely to end up with sad, rubberifying egg that’s been sat in its own oil for the last half hour. The best method I have found is to arrive about 0845 on a weekend to get your first sitting in before the masses descend- herein the added bonus of there being a really big queue by the time you have finished your first plate which helps discourage an unnecessary second trip to the sausage pot.

For the sake of balance- Toby isn’t for everyone. It’s not very veggie friendly though I believe you can get quorn items on request but as with all buffets the spoons are mixed about and the herbivores don’t like that. It’s not one for dieters either though Atkins types can fill their boots. Toby is also full of kids family friendly and incredibly informal- you’re not there for a refined or relaxing experience.

Done.

Actually I’m not done.

Flashback to some friends visiting from Cardiff some months ago and our breakfast date with them. Flashback to a throwaway comment of ‘Oh good, they do mushrooms here, you have to pay at home’. I wish that I had paid more attention to this comment, but I was hungry at the time.

Flash not quite so far back to a return visit to the above friends, where I purposely booked a low cost hotel chain that had a conveniently located Toby, next door, for breakfast. For the win, I oh so incorrectly assumed.
If Toby Whitchurch had been the first Toby of my life, it would have been the last, it may even have put me off breakfast forever. Awful. Same prices as home with a much more restrictive selection, by which I mean fried eggs, hard bacon, sausage, three grilled tomatoes for the entire place and a week old hash that was welded to the bottom of the pan. All severely over salted and not a single item topped up while we were there. Worsened by the fact that it was the first ever Toby visit for the Mothership and she really never will go back.
The death toll on on a Welsh Toby is that you have to order your mushrooms separately for a couple of quid surplus to your ‘all you can eat’ £3.99. Mushrooms are the corner stone of my treat breakfast, I love them and we don’t tend to have them at home as they boy doesn’t eat them. I want my mushrooms. Of course I’m going to pay extra for mushrooms. They came in a paltry amount,  in a sad little bowl swimming in oil and more salt. Not lovely and juicy and roasted like at home. And not included in the price. This was the ultimate betrayal and before you tell me not to judge the land by one site, this is apparently, just what it’s like in Wales as my Cardiff friends are also Toby aficionados and one is an ex Toby employee. I will not do Toby ever, ever again on the wrong other side of the Severn Bridge.

So in summary if you aren’t too posh, and you aren’t on a diet, and you’re not in Cardiff, go check out a Toby breakfast, you wont get a much better breakfast for two at less than twelve quid.

The Breakfast Club

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image procured from hedgy.com

Hello friends, and a happy new year to you and yours. I write these words on one of the rare occasions that I have snubbed a weekend treat out with Himself in favour of another half hour in bed but I am going to tell you about one of my favourite food related outings- and that is the breakfast out. Breakfast is after all the most important meal of the day and according to fitness guru and general legend Dolph Lundgren the one meal where you can afford to eat whatever the hell you want, be it oatmeal or icecream. Check out the shape he’s in, dude knows what he’s talking about.
I digress.
Yes, we go out for breakfast a lot and not just to avoid washing up or pretend we are in Sex in the City, there are multiple selling points. To begin with: the boy has a ferocious appetite and is ready to wolf down a metric ton of cereal within minutes of leaving bed whereas I tend to require a coffee and half an hour of grumbling and staring before I can start on the calorie intake for the day. A great compromise then if he can have his appetiser bowl of porridge at home then the time taken to get dressed and drive across town is the perfect interlude for me to wake up and him to settle his insatiable guts in time for Second Breakfast. Everyone is happy.

Essential breakfast fayre. The only thing better than coffee? Bottomless coffee.

Essential breakfast fayre. The only thing better than coffee? Bottomless coffee.

You can’t really argue value wise if you’re going to attend any one of most of the venues I will go on to chat about later in this section, there’s very low likelihood that you could replicate that pile of grub at home for less than a fiver a head (or less for younglings)- especially if you live with a breakfast behemoth as I do.
But the finest point, and if I’m honest the most genuine justification I have for travelling out for a massive fry up at least 3 times a month is that it’s nice, it’s a treat and we talk to eachother. Weekend mornings at home can be bizarrely unsociable in my experience. During the week we have our routines and brief interactions but we generally say a heartfelt good morning around the shower rush and me constantly bashing the ‘sleep’ button on the alarm clock. But come the weekend the early hours are so frequently lost to grumbles and grunts around social media and Saturday Kitchen. Plus, ever since his gluten revolution and my abhorrence of porridge that isn’t laden with jam we rarely want the same thing on our first plate of the day. So we go out, we can both have whatever we want and what with being at a table for two without a telly, we have a chat.
We catchup over the crumpets and debate the highs and lows of the week as we fill up on bottomless coffees and wonder if it’s ok to pocket a couple of the little individual marmite pots.*  We gossip and judge and giggle guiltily as we sneak back up for just one more tiny bit from the buffet bar. We  are disproportionately grateful at the insistence of the other to fill our coffee up. We plot our weekend or program the satnav and we enjoy our breakfast and our company. This might sound like nonsense or the need for a relationship counsellor but really it is no different from an evening date, which I’m sure most people wouldn’t question for a second. It’s also a damn sight cheaper than your average evening dinner date and leaves you with the whole day to work down from the eight mugs of coffee you have managed to squeeze in on top of all that fry up. And somewhat ironically, spending this time together is a glorious strike for independence. No sharing, no guilty need to give the big boy the odd sausage from the pack, no begrudging agreement to a bowl of gruel in order to cling to the social interaction of having a meal together. And then of course, after all this time shared, thoughts exchanges and drinks poured we can happily bugger off to spend the bulk of the day grumbling around social media, watching Saturday Kitchen on catch up and, equally importantly, sorting out dinner.

I’ll get into the reviewing later, from budget to luxury, from Cardiff to Colchester, Hilton to Harvester, you get the idea, but for now the boy has returned from his solo jaunt and it is high time I had something to eat and he made me a coffee.

Happy Weekend.

*this is never ok, but you will still do it.