So, what's in a name? Not much, it seems, if you haven't got one. Went for breakfast the other day at the mysteriously unnamed Riverside Cafe (or should it just be 1 Queen Street?).
It's one of those breakfasts that's so good you don't want to finish it. The flavours are full of, well, flavour and it tastes just like breakfast should taste and you get toast with it. The eggs are a delicate counterpoint to the boldness of the hash browns, who look as though they want to own the plate. Beans, mushrooms and tomatoes watch quietly and supportively from the sidelines.
If you like to linger over your breakfast, reading the paper or possibly musing over life's many mysteries and how the Toon will get on next season then this is not the place to do so. They do takeaways as well as cafe food, so there's a constant stream of people and a general hubbub: babies (with parents), corporate suits, builders and students (there was one lad in the corner working on his Chemistry thesis. I might have given him a hand if I'd had a bit more time, although it looked like he might have got beyond labelling the bunsen burner, which is my speciality).
Outside at this time of year, kittiwakes are building nests everywhere so if you happen to be wearing a hat with a brim (perhaps a homburg?) then don't stand still for too long or you'll find yourself housing a noisy and smelly family of six:
Let's imagine: you've come into Durham on the bus, from somewhere like Sacriston or Pity Me, and you're fancying a canny breakfast at a Mexican themed cafe right beside the bus station. In this kind of situation then Salsa y Sabor is definitely the place for you:
Notice what they've done to create that brilliant 'y'? Nothing less than an exotic and hallucinogenic combination of hot chillis, sombreros and maracas - thus using every Mexican stereotype in the book...Ay, caramba!
Came here recently on a typical Spring day (i.e. one minute the sun was shining and the next minute it was hoying it down with snow). One of my daughters and her partner came with me. It has to be said they weren't all that keen so I think they were humouring the old man. Anyway, we had three canny breakfasts - two veggies and one meaty.
By the way, don't you think there's something about a table full of breakfast that makes you feel hungry just looking at it:
It has to be said we were a bit unnerved by the medicinal look of the condiment containers. The last time I saw bottles like these I was in casualty:
Anyway, it was a canny breakfast and during it I invented a new product, which I'm hoping to sell to that nice Lord Sugar. It allows you to keep your teapot hot while creating a weirdly warm sensation for your bonce when you eventually have to go out in to the snow. I'm not sure this photo does justice to the truly innovative concept that is the 'hatcosy' (working title - all rights reserved) but you probably get the general idea:
Every breakfast tells a story: this is one of cross-cultural culinary confusion and cold sausages.
Veliko Tarnovo is a canny town, about 15km from our house in Hotnitsa, with lots of restaurants and cafes. Came here the other day, with my mate Barry. He'd remembered that this place did breakfast so we decided to give it a try. It started well with some appropriately named teabags:
We avoided 'Crazy Max' who looked too much like fun and we decided not to take the 'Soldier's Breakfast' as these military types get a bit touchy about their food. We chose the 'English Breakfast' and when it came I passed the sausage and bacon over to Barry.
Unfortunately everything was cold - even the fried eggs - so we asked the manager if we could have it heated up. He said he would sort it out. A few minutes later a microwaved version arrived with freshly cooked eggs and it was all definitely a bit warmer. When we investigated further, the beans were kidney beans which had, by now, been nuked within an inch of their lives but following a judicious application of tomato ketchup began to resemble DIY baked beans. On reflection, the whole plateful must have seemed like a weirdly random selection of ingredients to the Bulgarian cook who perhaps couldn't decide which bits should be hot or cold.
It had snowed overnight, so we had a chilly view of Mother Bulgaria opposite the cafe:
What's the moral of this breakfast story? Fairly obvious really - don't go to a Bulgarian pizza place for an English breakfast but, if you get a chance, come and visit this fascinating country for plenty of other reasons.
Nice name for a canny cafe. Went there with the family recently and then on a walk round Bloomsbury. Previously visited by the truly wonderful eggbaconchipsand beans in 2006... where have those years gone? To misquote that well-known poet whose offices were on the corner of this very square: I have measured out my life with egg cups.
There were a few soft southerners sitting outside in their coats but it was a bit too warm for us Geordies so we went inside. I took a photo of the square for atmospheric purposes and, this being London, it includes some bloke on his mobile phone - probably a banker calling his accountant to see if he could offset the cost of his breakfast:
Mostly associated with literary and arty types, I'm not aware of any strong breakfast connections amongst the Bloomsbury Group, although members may have included Roger Fry-up and Lytton Streakey while there's always Virginia Woolf's experimental work 'Mrs Dalloway nips out for Breakfast'.
You get all kinds of food in the cafe and there's an Italian theme running through a lot of the meals, including pasta and pizza. They do a decent selection of all day breakfasts, which you choose from their set list or you can make up your own by selecting from various ingredients. I did a bit of both, by choosing egg and chips then adding beans and mushrooms.
Encouraging to see their standard breakfast includes chips, and very canny chips they are as well, seeming to revel in their very dry, crispy chipness.
A new year and a new town (or an old new town). Found myself in Harlow the other day and in need of breakfast. I managed to combine a very canny breakfast with a look around their Sculpture Trail.
Harlow has loads of little cafes so I was a bit spoilt for choice. In the end, I chose the Market Cafe as it was pretty full and they offered an all-day veggie breakfast on their randomly colourful menu.
Lots of price reductions, which is just as well since my northern pound doesn't go far in the south. They use the same approach as Al's Place Cafe where you order your breakfast by the number of the set. I had Set 10 - tea and 2 slices of toast included, so it was canny value.
It was a very canny breakfast, although I might have liked another fried egg but then some people are never satisfied. The veggie sausages are those slightly weird ones that look like tightly compressed tubes of sick, with bits of diced carrot and so on. But they tasted canny as did the hash browns.
The place was definitely festooned (lovely word I don't often get the chance to use) with post-Christmas decorations. I was going to take a photo but I was getting some funny looks from the chefs - there were four of them and they were all big lads so I decided against it. I think they might have thought I was some kind of health and safety type. As if...
The sculpture trail is worth a shot if you've got time on your hands. I picked up a leaflet from the newspaper office and managed to see about ten of them, including these two: Henry Moore's lovely family group and Elizabeth Frink's enigmatic boar, just in front of the Town Hall:
Like Brideshead and Highway 61, the Grainger Market is always worth revisiting. Just down from Sarah's Tuck-In, I find myself in Olivers, whose lack of an apostrophe makes me assume a multiplicity of Olivers involved in this enterprise (Cromwell, Goldsmith, Stone?).
Christmas looms ever closer, so plenty of santa hats on staff and customers alike; mercifully no evidence of Slade but lots of festive decorations. You get to sit al fresco (market style) at Olivers, which is good for aimless gazing around but a bit nippy, which may account for the preponderance of santa hats...if it gets much colder, it might be worth investing in your own beard.
Breakfast was the usual veggie version and was perfectly canny. A bit small - on an oval plate about the size of a side dish. A cunning ploy, I suspect, to make you believe the breakfast is bigger than it really is. It's possible that one of the many Olivers (Hardy?) is concerned about recent rises in obesity or it could just be portion control taken a bit far. It looks as though the eggs are hiding something but it's nothing more than some innocent beans and mushrooms:
You get a pot of hot water with your tea pot, which is good. Like most cafe teapots, it drips all over the table and when you use a serviette to mop it up you discover that said napkin is made of a kind of paper designed to repel all liquid. Why?
Just in case you're wondering about their opening times:
This is probably the last breakfast before the festivities, so a very Canny Christmas to everyone with the hope of more canny breakfasts in 2012.
Ashington is a foreign country: they do things differently there. I was there recently and this came to mind. Not sure why - partly because the bus takes so long (it meanders through most villages in Northumberland, often doubling back as though it's just remembered it left the gas on) and partly because everyone seems to know everyone else.
Anyway, I easily found Mario's Cafe on the main street.
It looks as though the cafe now belongs to Alf as he's advertising his own breakfasts in time honoured fashion on a blackboard:
I don't know what happened to Mario. It's possible he teamed up with his brother and made it big in the computer gaming business. Alf is definitely in charge now and when I asked for a veggie version of the 'big one' he took out his pen and pad while we discussed what he could offer. His wife made a couple of suggestions as well, which was good because Alf got stuck on a loop of beans and tomatoes. Here's the outcome of our deliberations:
When he brought it out, Alf said he'd decided to add a few chips at the last minute, which was a very canny idea as a few chips improve any meal. On reflection, I think they might have been an example of his 'amuse bouche' but I don't know what I'm talking about. At any rate, they amused my bouche as did the mug of hot tea.
Festive footnote: Christmas is looming so the bus home was full of bairns in santa hats. One lad kept singing a scatological version of Jingle Bells. After about 20 minutes his mam said 'If ye divvent shurrup Ah'll put that hat in the bin and ye'll spend Christmas in bed.' The rest of the bus silently concurred.
Has Ruskin's pathetic fallacy as much relevance to breakfast as to a spendthrift crocus? If it's chucking it down with rain then I feel a bit grotty and the breakfast which follows may be more or less canny as a result of my inherent grottiness. All this is by way of saying that I found this breakfast a bit short on canniness but I blame the weather and the atmosphere.
It started well when I spotted this lad outside Central Station with his advertising board.
Just round the corner I found the TownHouse. Completely empty apart from a woman behind the counter and a bloke hovering beside the hot plates. I ordered the veggie breakfast and went to sit beside the window. I became increasingly aware of a silent tension in the place and began to get the strong feeling that I'd just walked in on a simmering row. Now I like a bit of Hopperesqueness but this was all feeling a bit grim.
When my breakfast arrived, it looked like I'd ordered a kind of breakfast soup on a plate, which makes me think perhaps the bloke's mind wasn't on the job in hand:
I like the way the eggs look as though they're sailing across the plate on an ocean of beans and tomatoes. The toast seems to be acting as a kind of breakwater while the mushrooms are obviously wondering whether they can swim.
What can you do, except eat it - which I did. And it was as canny as you might expect. What if the sun had been shining? What if they hadn't just had a blazing row? We'll never know.
If you're in the Toon, why not give the Townhouse a shot and see if Ruskin was right about your breakfast as well?
Canny Breakfasts goes on holiday... on a recent visit to London I was introduced to the splendours of Al's Place Cafe by one of my daughters. Even though it's well beyond the boundaries of the north east, we had such a canny breakfast that it deserves an honorary mention.
This is not just Al's Cafe but Al's Place Cafe. We can only speculate as to why Al might have chosen this name. A strong sense of ownership? A moment of psychogeographical playfulness? A misunderstanding between Al and the signwriter? Whatever the reason, it's a delight, as is the enormous picture of a fried egg.
You can also get ideas for meals other than breakfast. In fact, it looks like you could do worse than eat every meal in Al's...just look at those magnificent chips and the abundancy of cheese on that jacket potato:
Another brilliant aspect of Al's is that you order your breakfast, according to a set menu, through a hatch, behind which Al can be glimpsed. Not a good photo but hopefully you get the general idea:
I chose Set 6, the vegetarian breakfast, which includes a mug of tea, a white slice and vege burger:
A perfectly designed meal, in which the oval plate seems to offer additional realms of generosity.
My daughter chose Set 4:
A parabola of beans and bacon cradles the sausage, hash browns and egg apparently in reverse homage to the hammer and sickle.
At one time, Al must have decided to replace the telly with a bowl of plastic flowers...a wise move from which we could all learn:
So, if you accidentally stray from the north east at any time, you could do a lot worse than have a very canny breakfast at Al's. Afterwards, you could even stay on for your dinner.