Tag Archives: borough market

Breaking the Fast in London

There is no meal quite as excellent as breakfast. It’s the meal that sets you up for the day and be it toast, cereal or something a whole lot heartier, there is nothing quite like that first bite of something in the morning. Over the last few weeks, I’ve stayed in London a few times and so have had the good fortune to be rolling out of whatever sofa or hotel bed I’ve been sleeping on and heading out into the city to find something to eat and get me ready for a day exploring the city. Here are some of my favourite spots.

First up, there’s Bill’s. Originally a single branch in Lewes, a quaint and charming town sixty miles south of London, there are now twenty branches in London alone, and more scattered around the country. You can be in London locations as disparate as Hammersmith, Soho, Greenwich and Covent Garden and find yourself one of their restaurants. Although they serve food all day, it is the breakfast menu to which we turn our attention today.

There are some variations in the menus depending on where you are, but they are mostly the same. Bill’s serves breakfast until noon (1pm on the weekends) and has a great selection, particularly on the many and varied ways they serve up their eggs. If you want them on scrambled with salmon, on toast with avocado or even on a steak, they can provide that for you. Pancakes, porridge and toasted bacon or sausage buns are also on offer. But, of course, this is England, and there is little more fitting than a full English breakfast. The “Bill’s breakfast” provides all you’d expect from such a meal, with a vegetarian option available too at the same price. You can pay for extras as you wish.

Aside from the steak, the full breakfast is the most expensive but at £7.95, doesn’t seem unreasonable for what you get. A bacon roll will set you back £4.25, but is one of the most densely packed I’ve ever seen – the most densely packed is below – but if you’re on more of a budget, there’s toast and Bill’s own jams and marmalades for £2.55. And if you’re really taken with any of the preserves, you can buy them in store too.

Should you find yourself out in Ealing in the morning, there’s one place I wholly recommend over here – Limeyard. Billing itself as an “All Day American Kitchen”, the place is remarkably welcoming and filled with hipster trappings that make you feel that maybe you’re a bit too uncool to be eating here – but you aren’t, I promise.

Their full English is called the “Full Yard” and contains a couple of finer details. The eggs are poached rather than fried (though you can request an inversion), and other ingredients include spiced beans, chili tomatoes, and maple cured bacon. Their vegetarian option, the “Green Yard”, substitutes the meat for grilled halloumi and kale. Like Bill’s, pancakes and toasted bloomers are also on offer here, or an omelette if you so choose. While the toast and pancake options are only served until midday, you can get a Full Yard up until 4.30pm, priced the same as Bill’s, £7.95, although the vegetarian option is £1 cheaper.

Limeyard is actually very probably home to the best breakfast I’ve ever had in London, but if you want something really fancy, then I would suggest Tredwell’s, a Marcus Wareing restaurant.

Situated off Seven Dials somewhere between the theatre showing The Mousetrap and the statue dedicated to its author, Agatha Christie, this restaurant shares a name with a butler from one of her novels, although whether intentional or not, I couldn’t discern. Their full English was heartily stocked with sausage, bacon, fried eggs, toast, potato croquettes and chorizo jam. It’s the most expensive one in this list, coming in at around £12, but it is worth it and definitely feels very fancy.

Unfortunately, however, in researching for this blog post, the menu for Tredwell’s seems to have changed and, on the website at least, there appears to be no option for breakfast. I emailed them to check and, at present, they are not offering brunch. Perhaps they will do again after Easter – they appear to be focusing on Sunday roasts for this time to year at the moment, but all I know for certain is that right now, you’ll have to take my word for it that this was a magnificent breakfast.

But if you’re not in the mood for a sit-down breakfast and you need to hurry along, then Borough Market is your friend. Opposite Southwark Cathedral are a number of food stalls selling sandwiches and rolls with freshly cooked ingredients and more filling than you could imagine. I’ve on a couple of occasions bought myself a bacon roll from here, so stuffed with delicious rashers, that I’ve then walked around London for the rest of the day and not had to eat again until evening was well and truly settled.

So, once you’ve got hold of your breakfast, mop up the egg and ketchup spilt down your shirt, pay the bill, and head off into the city to see what new treats you can discover.

The First Step

“London is a riddle.” – G. K. Chesterton

It all started when my train was cancelled. I found the one that was a dead cert for getting into London and hopped on it, arriving in the city four and a half hours before I was due to meet my friend. As the train got closer and closer to its destination, I found myself staring out of the window. I’d been reading the rest of the way but then there I was, my eyes flickering around the scene like it was the first time I’d seen it.

A plane banks and takes off into the horizon. People are hanging sheets out on their tiny balconies. Graffiti peppers the walls, and Tower Bridge peeks above blocks of flats. Then the Gherkin swims into view and the train stops at London Bridge. I get off and by the time I’m out of the station, stood beneath the Shard, I have decided on a plan of action – I am going to walk though London and fall in love with the city all over again.

Deciding to head west, I trip down steps and through Borough Market, where my nostrils are attacked immediately by traders setting up their stalls, some serving up cooked breakfasts and baps, others offering all manner of cheeses and spices. It is still early, the market not yet in full swing, so I slip on through and am suddenly face to face with the Golden Hinde, the galleon owned by Sir Francis Drake and an easy reminder of the city’s long history. Anywhere else it might look out of place, but in London, it looks right at home.

Shoplifters will be prosecuted.

Shoplifters will be prosecuted.

I slip down Clink Street, past the prison museum and notice, for the first time in my life, a skeleton hanging in a cage above the entrance. Was that always there? Is it real? I trot along Bankside; St Paul’s visible ahead, the Shard already seeming far behind. Cranes speckle the skyline, adding a never-ending string of finishing touches to the city. I’m suddenly outside the Globe Theatre, a replica built to honour William Shakespeare and his work. I admire the strangeness of Millennium Bridge, a bridge unlike any others that crosses the Thames as of yet, and avoid looking at the Tate Modern. I quite like it from the outside, but what happens inside is of no concern to me – I don’t understand it.

A lone human statue, spray-painted silver and hovering in a seated position comes into view and I march past, no longer as impressed as I once was when I first saw one of these. Under Blackfriars Bridge, and then past London Television Centre, where a soundstage of leather sofas is being set up on the side of the river for This Morning, a crowd of people gathered to see who’s going to be sat on them.

A man walks past me chatting into his phone speaking a language that sounds more like Simlish than anything else, a sudden reminder that London is a city made up of people from all over the world with every kind of background. To aid this point I note Cleopatra’s Needle on the other side of the Thames, another artefact brought here from a different time and place. London is a city where all of time and space is trying to happen at once, held together – just about – by copious amounts of duct tape and hope. No wonder the Doctor spends so much time here.

The bookshop under Waterloo Bridge is only just setting up – I’m too early – so I make do with a trip into Foyle’s instead. I buy a book, because I can’t not, and resume my walk. On the northern bank of the Thames is a building that looks like a Bavarian castle; a thought passes through my mind that I’ve no idea what it is. Back on the Southbank, I approach the London Eye, a singer belting out a rock song of his own devising on one side; a performer dressed as Charlie Chaplin taking photos with a tourist on the other. Tourists are suddenly now everywhere and I can no longer walk in a straight line – I dodge, duck and weave and emerge on Westminster Bridge.

A friend of mine has recently got a job in the Houses of Parliament, so I text and ask if he can escape to see me, but he’s in a meeting and there won’t be a reunion today. I cross the bridge anyway, MI6 in the distance, one of the most obvious secret buildings in the world. I loop around Parliament Square, observing the statues of Churchill, Lloyd George, Peel, Disraeli and others, discovering for the first time that Abraham Lincoln has a statue here too. Why? I sit for a little and then continue on, pounding the streets between the Supreme Court and Westminster Abbey, sure that I’ve never been up this road before.

The Duck Tour bus comes down the road, heading for the river. An Indian family get out of a car, having apparently found the last parking space in the city. Anyone who drives in London is far braver than me. I’m now at St James’s Park tube station, a station that I have no memory of, apparently one of the few in Zone One that I’ve never used. Not much further on is the ever-spinning sign of New Scotland Yard, a place I’ve never seen in person, only on television.

I pass into Pimlico now, through a street market selling cheap trainers and expensive sandwiches, and then past the offices of Channel 4, a massive number four outside, towering over taxis dropping people off. I keep walking, now not sure where I’m going at all, but pressing on regardless. I somehow loop and I’m heading back towards the river, but I don’t mind, I let my feet take me where they need to. Before I know it I’m back at the Thames, on the north bank this time, MI6 and St George’s Wharf now dominating the skyline.

I keep on west, the smell of salt water reminding me that we’re not actually that far from the sea, comparatively, and at this point the river is still tidal. I walk past some houses, right on the riverside, presumably worth millions. One has an unusual sundial on the wall, and a chess set with intricately carved figures set up in the window. I contemplate taking a picture, but the Private Property sign makes me think twice.

I move to a street further from the river and suddenly every road and building has the word Grosvenor in it – I’m into a seriously posh bit of London. I wonder now whether I most want to end up at Agatha Christie’s Chelsea home, or beneath the watchful gaze of the Natural History Museum’s diplodocus in Kensington. As I think, I spot a set of stands that should contain hire bikes, but there is only one left. On the road, a man opens a van and begins to unload the bikes, setting them up. It’s only then that I look up and see the towering face of Battersea Power Station on the other side of the river. It hits me now just how far I’ve walked and I look at my watch. I’ve been walking for nearly three hours. I’m meant to meet my friend shortly, and we’re meeting in Canary Wharf. I can’t walk back that far. I check a map and move to Victoria, the closest tube station.

My aching feet in blue suede shoes.

My aching feet in blue suede shoes.

I walk past houses I’ll never be able to afford, find a statue of Thomas Cubitt that seems to have been swallowed up by the city and most people probably have no clue is there, and wonder absently what’s going on behind the curtains. I cross Lupus Street, wondering if it was named for the disease and, if it was, why, and then am engulfed by the pervasive smell of a Subway, just before passing the Queen Mother Sports Centre, a name which conjures up a hilarious image of the dear old Queen Mum in all her finery on a treadmill.

At Victoria I grab a sandwich and mill among the people, then descend beneath the city to find a tube station. If it was hot above ground, it’s nothing compared to the fetid, stale air of the underground system today. As I reach the bottom of the escalator, there’s a crash and I look up to see a woman’s shopping trolley has upturned itself on the ascending escalator and is spilling shopping down the steps. Enough people run to assist her which means I don’t have to feel guilty about not helping. I think briefly of the stereotype that Londoners are unfriendly and ignorant. I don’t think it’s true, never really have.

The tube journey is uneventful otherwise. I change once at Green Park and power on to Canary Wharf, where I mooch around the shops in the underground mall for a little bit, joining the businessmen and women on their lunch breaks in what seems to be their own private part of the city. Eventually I find a seat in a bar with the wonderful name of Smollensky’s and await my friend’s arrival. My feet hurt, but I am happy.

My mission was to fall in love with the city again, and I absolutely did that. I saw things I’d never seen before, encountered old things for the thousandth time, and generally let my mind wander as far as my feet. So I’ve started this blog to talk about all things London, to explore its streets, buildings, history, people, culture, parks and everything else besides. It’s a city I think I know well, but here’s where I put that knowledge to the test.

Join me, won’t you?