By Rose Shepherd
A staple of the Edwardian breakfast table, kippers fell out of fashion in the Seventies, but they are enjoying a renaissance, to the delight of connoisseurs among our readers, who write to tell us when they have enjoyed a fine specimen of the butterflied smoked herring. A kipper on the menu is a sign that a hotelier takes breakfast seriously, going beyond the basic cereals and fry-up.
If we were to give an award to the Guide-listed hotel with the most imaginative breakfast menu, it would go to Rayanne House, a ten-bedroom B&B in Holywood, County Down, overlooking Belfast Lough. Choices here include chilled creamed porridge with fresh raspberry purée, followed by boiled organic eggs with parmesan breadsticks wrapped in Parma ham, dusted with sea salt and dried seaweed. Their grilled County Down kippers come with tomatoes and sautéed mushrooms, though for our money they’d be best enjoyed simply with the fresh-baked soda bread, butter, black pepper, a squeeze of lemon – and a cup of tea, of course.
Another contender, and this year’s winner of our César award for Best Hotel in East Anglia, Michelin-starred restaurant-with-rooms Morston Hall, in North Norfolk, serves a more traditional feast. The full English includes boudin noir and kidneys. Salmon and haddock are smoked on the premises, while kippers are smoked by their trusted fishmonger in nearby Holt. From Morston Hall, you could walk the Norfolk Coast Path to Blakeney, where The Blakeney Hotel stands on the quay, with views of estuary and salt marsh. Here, breakfast kippers are sourced from neighbouring Cley-next-the-Sea at the quaint brick-and-flint Cley Smokehouse.
For a more novel experience you might stay at Cley Windmill B&B, a five-storey, early-19th-century tower mill, set amid reed beds by the River Glaven, where Cley kippers are also on the menu, along with smoked salmon, undyed haddock and kedgeree.
Almost 300 miles up the east coast, in the fishing village of Craster in Northumberland, L. Robson & Sons has been owned and run by the Robsons since 1906, and was founded by the Craster family in 1856. On a working day, here, 4,500 herrings are split, soaked in brine, and smoked over whitewood shavings and oak sawdust for 16 hours before being exported around the world. You can enjoy them served with caper, parsley and lemon butter at boutique hotel Beadnell Towers in Beadnell, Northumberland. Or try The Cookie Jar in Alnwick, where the ‘world-renowned’ Craster kippers are grilled.
Loch Fyne, Scotland’s longest sea loch, off the Firth of Clyde on the west coast of Argyll and Bute, has become a byword for fresh and smoked fish and seafood. You can find their kippers on the breakfast table at the whitewashed Creggans Inn, on the eastern loch shore, and at the Oliphant family’s Coll Hotel, Arinagour, on the Inner Hebridean island of Coll.
Readers staying at Georgian Scarista House, Scarista, in the Western Isles, praise the ‘generous’ breakfast, which includes kippers from the Stornoway Smokehouse on the Isle of Lewis, the old centre of the herring industry and Europe’s foremost herring port in the latter 1800s. It is, says Visit Scotland, the last of the island’s traditional kippering houses, one of the few remaining on Scotland’s West Coast, with one of the last brick kilns.
Another venerable survivor, Moore’s Smokehouse, at Peel, Isle of Man, was established in 1882. The island has a long tradition of fishing and kippering. Manx kippers and home-baked bread are on the breakfast menu at Dolffanog Fawr, an 18th-century farmhouse B&B in Tywyn, Gwynned, with views to Cader Idris and Tal-y-llyn lake.
If anyone can claim to be a fish aficionado, it is TV chef Rick Stein, proprietor of The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, where there is always fish on the breakfast menu, including kedgeree, and kippers poached or grilled, from the award-winning Cornish fishmonger Wing of St Mawes. Fortune’s smokehouse in Whitby, Yorkshire, has featured among Stein’s ‘Food Heroes’ series. The business still occupies the premises where William Fortune set up shop in 1872, and has passed through five generations. They smoke their herrings over oak, beech and softwood, for up to 18 hours to achieve their distinctive flavour. At Edwardian Fairhaven Country Guest House in the North Yorkshire village of Goathland, they can be enjoyed with a poached egg and moorland views.