Save the kipper

By Adam Raphael


Breakfasts are under-staffed and under-rated but they are arguably the most important meal of the day . That is why the Guide has created a special web page: HOTELS WITH GREAT BREAKFASTS. The title is misleading because some of the best breakfasts are in B&Bs. And some of the worst are in restaurant with rooms where the chef, probably exhausted by his efforts at dinner, is too tired to care about what happens in the morning.

What makes a great breakfast? Tastes vary. I like fresh orange juice, perfectly cooked scrambled eggs from local hens, interesting toast, home-made jams and a large pot of Colombian coffee. But variety is the spice of life. Sadly, kippers and kedgeree are falling off hotel menus and being replaced by pancakes and waffles. Buffet breakfasts are ok if there is a good selection of fresh fruit, muesli, cereals, meats, etc, but a Continental is not my idea of bliss.

I am even less keen on buffets which leave eggs to congeal on a hot plate and have packets of butter and jam entombed in plastic cartons. Why do so many otherwise good places do this? Well, I suppose packaging means that there is no mess and portion control is easy. No doubt Health and Safety also approve. But stuff that—it’s time to revert to the old-fashioned virtues of home-made marmalade and unsalted butter in open dishes.

The breakfast that stands out in my memory was at Underleigh House, a farmhouse B&B in the Peak District National Park. It has been a favourite of Guide readers for many years and won a César award this year. Philip and Vivienne Taylor, the owners, are amazing hosts. Everything is home made from the toasted muesli and granola to the delicious compotes, bread and porridge made overnight in the oven. There are two types of marmalade, and unusual jams such fresh apricot laced with Amarillo. For main courses you can have avocado toast with lime dressing or a more traditional full Peak District breakfast with sausages and black pudding from the local farmer down the road who has Old Spot pigs. Everything, but everything, is local except the mushrooms and tomatoes.

A great breakfast takes not just exceptional culinary skills but time, effort, above all love. It is more of a performance than any other meal, and not straightforward as there are so many fiddly ingredients. But shrewd hotel and B&B owners know that it is the thing above all that their guests will remember on leaving.

Breakfast is more than food. A light, sunny room, a quiet spot to read the paper and definitely no muzak let alone Radio 4. are essential. Though it is now years ago, I cannot forget the breakfast when I totally lost it. My wife and I were staying at a Relais and Chateau hotel on Little Palm Island just off the Florida Keys. Jet lagged, we came down to breakfast early. All we could hear were humming birds and waves lapping on the shore. Suddenly this idyll was drowned out by a blast of Reggae. As we were the only guests, I asked the waitress if she would turn it off. ‘Yes, no problem,’ she replied. Nothing happened, so I asked again. Same answer, same result. Five minutes later, I went to the music console and tore out every wire that I could see. Peace restored, silence is bliss. Wicked, I know, but oh so satisfying.