Sunday 23 December 2012

Best of 2012

Having inspected 45 places in 2012 it is time to look back and see who was best at each category and decide who was the best overall winner. I am also looking back at other memorable moments of 2012..

Upon entering - I was gobsmacked as soon as I entered the incredible St Werburghs City Farm Cafe in Bristol, it was like entering a hobbit's house! Read the full write up here.

Service - It sadly closed back in July after 25 years but nothing beat the incredible service at By Appointment in Norwich.  Read the full write up here.

Contents - All the items I like on a breakfast are included in the excellent breakfast served at The Street Cafe in Norwich. Read the full write up here.

Presentation - The beautifully presented breakfast at House Cafe in Norwich is served on vintage plates and the drinks are served in mismatched, vintage cups and saucers. Read the full write up here.

The food - The flavours of the beautifully cooked quality items on the breakfast served at The Iron House in Norwich were just incredible and it was hugely enjoyable to eat. Read the full write up here.

Value for money - Westlegate in Norwich offer an excellent breakfast served with toast and a decent hot drink for just £6.25, bargain! Read the full write up here.

Veggie option - I didn't actually eat a vegetarian breakfast in 2012 so I can't really pick a winner. I did however take note of Vegetarian options and started a new section on the blog, find out more here.

Overall - The place that impressed me the most in 2012 and remains my all time favourite place is E. Pellicci in Bethnal Green. Not many Cafes like this still exist and with its truly stunning and original art deco interior, great service and huge portions of delicious food this place will take some beating! Read the full write up here.

Other memorable moments in 2012 included...

Visiting the excellent Tea and little cakes in Norwich.

Those fried eggs at Kenny's Cafe in Norwich.

The long wait at Mackintosh's Canteen in Norwich.

The quirky interior and great food at Station Bistro in Wymondham.

Fry up themed food at my wedding.

The shocking breakfast at Corner Cafe in Norwich.

Festival fry ups at Boomtown Fair and Beautiful Days.

The best ever fried bread at Mrs Potts Cafe and Bistro in Aylsham.

The great breakfast at No 33 in Norwich.

The disappointment of Greggs breakfast in Norwich.

Formica heaven and 1960's tables and chairs at Gambardella in Blackheath.

Confussion and frustration at Hotel Bloom in Brussels.

Some great new places have opened in 2012 and I always tried to visit other places whenever the opportunity arose. Most inspections took place in Norwich where we are really spoilt for choice with so many places offering really amazing breakfasts. I am looking forward to visiting many more places in 2013 as the search for the perfect fry up experience continues...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Hotel Bloom - Brussels

Rue Royale 250
1210 Brussels

Breakfast served until
10am Mon - Fri
11am Sat & Sun

The hotel was located just behind the botanical gardens.

The interior was quirky, spacious and modern.

Our room was excellent for €40 per night.

When we first visited the bar we were really impressed but this was short lived as we later discovered the very loud music goes on until 2am at weekends making it almost impossible to sleep in the rooms above.

 It seems like complaining about the noise payed off though as we were given a free breakfast for 2 voucher worth €30.

 The breakfast room was huge and when busy became difficult to get around.

 Each table had salt, pepper and a selection of sugar, sauces were available near the hot food.

You can play sudoku if you wish, I chose not to though as trying to work out where all the breakfast items were locating was taxing enough for me.

 After a long wait at the coffee machine I finally got a cappuccino.

Just a shame it only ever dispensed half a mug..

 It was far easier to get to the fruit juices.

 These were freshly squeezed and tasted great.

The joys of a buffet queue.. Some people were queuing which resulted in a cold breakfast whilst others (me included) simply got the items they wanted in a desperate bid to keep their food from going cold and tried to ignore the evil looks from other guests . There seemed to be no guidelines on the correct etiquette of serving yourself in a buffet queue but one thing is for sure, it was frustrating and not much fun.

Often items had run out so you had to quickly decide if it was worth waiting for more to arrive or just go without. 

 The tiny sausages came in 2 different varieties, pork which were very nice and chorizo which were ok but very rich.

 Cold meats and cheeses were also available and perfect to make some rolls with which could be eaten later in the day. 

On the first morning the scrambled egg had run out but there was plenty of delicious chicken breast and it seemed to make sense to make a cheese and ham salad sandwich too. 

 On the second morning I quickly grabbed what I could and managed to eat it whilst it was still warm, I had to wait a while for some bacon to appear though.

 The bacon though quite pale was far better than what I had tasted in other hotels abroad and the chicken nuggets were delicious if a little odd at breakfast time.

 I added ham and cheese to the plate simply because it was available and my stomach was convincing me it was a good plan. The scrambled egg was good but the beans were very solid and needed more juice.

It has become a regular thing now that in mid December my wife and I visit a new city, we have so far visited Berlin, New York, Paris and Madrid. This year we decided to visit Brussels as we had not been there before, it was easy to get to on the Eurostar and there was a big food festival happening in the city called Brusselicious (but we saw no evidence of it during our stay.) The hotel only cost us €80 for 2 nights which seemed like an amazing deal, when arrived at the hotel, it was very stylish, quirky and spacious with an excellent sized room. We had booked the room only option as the breakfast each day cost €25 per person which seemed a ridiculous price to pay. The breakfast room did look incredible though so we inquired at reception about what kind of breakfasts were available. We were told a vast selection including cooked breakfast were available at a special weekend rate of €15 per person. This seemed a much better price, especially as everything in this city seemed rather expensive anyway so we decided to try it...

The following morning having been kept awake by loud music till 2am from the hotel bar we headed into the breakfast room. The room was huge, I couldn't work out where everything was located and found it difficult to take photos convinced everyone was watching me. I decided to abort the inspection and just eat the breakfast that although not particularly hot still tasted pretty good and was incredibly filling. My wife prepared rolls up for lunch ready to smuggle out, at one point we were convinced we had been spotted but to our relief the slightly scary looking lady heading directly towards our table simply tidied the table behind us.

We decided the following morning we would have breakfast at a 50's style diner but looking it up on the map realised it was quite far out of the city centre so decided on an Irish pub that were offering a full Irish breakfast for around €12. Having spent 8 hours walking around Brussels and seeing some amazing sights we decided to head back to the hotel around 8pm. Around 9pm music from a private party on the floor below started booming out so loudly that fixtures in the bathroom started to shake. We jokingly said to each other maybe if we complain about the noise they will offer us a free breakfast. Around midnight my wife phoned reception to complain about the loud music and they did offer us a free breakfast the next morning. Finally at 2am the music stopped and knowing the layout from the previous morning I decided to have a second shot in the morning at inspecting the hotel breakfast..

Upon entering - Hand your breakfast voucher to the person at the entrance of the dining room (on the second morning there was nobody there so anyone could have just walked in) and find a table. The room is stylish and looks amazing with contemporary furnishings and illuminated wall panels.

When we arrived it was really busy with most tables occupied but we did manage to find a table to the side that was free. I sat there until my wife returned with a pastry on a plate that we could leave on the table showing it was occupied. We then went off in different directions to attempt to locate everything swiftly and return to the table to hopefully enjoy a hot breakfast. With so many people trying to achieve the same thing though we soon discovered this would be no easy task! I decided to start with the coffee thinking this would stay hot long enough for me to return for some food but there was a long queue at the coffee machine so I went for some fruit juice instead. Next it was time to get some food but this was not going to be happening just yet as the large plates had run out. Whilst waiting for more plates to arrive I headed back to the coffee machine where the queue had got longer but decided to wait anyway. The coffee dispensed from the machine was really nice but why it only fills half the mug is still a mystery? 

Finally more plates had arrived so we headed to the now really busy food section only to discover that half the items had run out. I was keen to get some bacon but couldn't decide if it was worth waiting for more to arrive or maybe I should attempt to make it back to the table. I waited about 30 seconds and headed back towards the table with my baconless breakfast doing the awkward waltz with Germans, Americans and Chinese people along the way. As soon as I sat down to eat what I had managed to salvage from the food counter the reality hit me, I needed some bacon! I quickly slurped some of the cappuccino and downed the fresh orange juice in one gulp, I was going back in to get some bacon. As I passed numerous people giving me a "you have plenty on your plate, do you really need more?" look I saw more bacon arrive at the counter. 

My wife at this time was having a similar frustration with the scrambled egg that had run out. We eventually made it back to the table to eat our food but on this huge tour of the breakfast room I hadn't once spotted butter anywhere and wasn't prepared to go searching for it. My wife informed me it was in the fridge area which made sense but having it so far from the toaster didn't. Finally more scrambled eggs appeared so my wife headed back to get some, by this point most of the people had finished their breakfast and the room was much easier to navigate. I imagine at less busy times choosing your breakfast is a fairly easy process but when busy it was a bit of a nightmare! 3/10

Service - You serve yourself so I can only base this section on the staff replenishing the food that has run out. They were doing there best but people were still waiting quite a long time for things to reappear. 4/10

Contents - There was a vast selection of things available to eat and drink including, different teas and coffees, breads, cold meats, cheeses, salad, pastries, waffles, cereals, fresh fruit, yogurts and pancakes. The cooked breakfast items consisted of, pork sausages, chorizo sausages, bacon, chicken breast, chicken nuggets, scrambled eggs, baked beans. Some of the items on offer may appear a bit strange but they were clearly trying to offer something for everyone. 7/10

Presentation - You serve everything yourself so it is down to you how everything looks on the plate. The items are presented nicely on the counter and everything appeared nicely cooked except the beans that were looking a bit dry. 7/10

The food - The pork sausages were really nice but the chorizo ones were a bit too rich at breakfast time, the bacon was the best I have eaten abroad so far. The scrambled eggs had a great taste and nice consistency. The chicken breast chunks were delicious and seasoned really well and the chicken nuggets were really good too. The beans were very solid and dark in colour with not enough bean juice to accompany them. The ham and cheeses on offer seemed to be good quality and tasted nice. The pastries, bread selection and drinks on offer were all really good. 8/10

Value for money - Based on the standard rate of €25 per person it seemed very expensive, for this price you would expect to be served a piping hot breakfast without any of the frustration that can be found in a crowded self service breakfast buffet. We paid €15 each on the first morning as it was a special weekend rate and had to tolerate 5 hours of banging dance music in order to receive the next breakfast free. You can eat as much as you like for the money but it may not be the relaxing breakfast experience you were hoping for. 4/10

Veggie option - Not any veggie alternatives to the cooked meat items but still plenty of other things on offer.

Overall - The hotel itself looks stunning with large and well designed rooms and really nice communal spaces. It is not a good place to try to sleep in at weekends though as the music on Friday and Saturday nights can be heard throughout the hotel until 2am so if you are looking forward to a good nights sleep you will be disappointed. The breakfast experience was not particularly enjoyable as so many people are trying to get their breakfast at the same time causing delays, queues and frustration as items run out. I imagine if you manage to have breakfast when it is less busy then it would all seem a much more pleasant experience. The food is good but sitting down to eat it whilst it is still hot with a hot drink and some hot toast is probably something that is impossible to achieve. 5.5/10

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Classic London Cafes

Looking for a classic London Cafe??

These ones are well worth visiting!

 Regency Cafe - Pimlico
Find out more about it here.

E. Pellicci - Bethnal Green
Find out more about it here.

Beppe's Cafe - Near Barbican
Find out more about it here.

 The Shepherdess - Near Old Street
Find out more about it here.

Terry's Cafe - Borough
Find out more about it here

Gambardella - Blackheath (Now closed)
Find out more about it here.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Gambardella - Blackheath, London

*Now Closed*

47-48 Vanburgh Park

Opening hours
Monday to Friday 7.00am - 5.30pm
Saturday 7.00am - 2.30pm
Sunday - Closed

Breakfast served all day

The Gambardella signage has like most of the cafe remained unchanged for decades.

The staff working here are really friendly and seem to be on the go non stop ensuring their customers are kept happy.

The classic panels in the front dining area were magnificent.

The original 1960's tables and chairs in the dining area to the rear were stunning and a very rare sight these days, I loved them!!

There are plenty of set breakfasts to choose from and adding extra items seemed like the best plan.

A classic condiment and sauce set up sat neatly on each table.

 Random cutlery in different sizes.

I forget how much it cost but the Cappuccino was incredibly nice. 

There was plenty of buttered toast and it was served piping hot.

The portions here are huge and the ingredients used are basic.

 A quite frilly looking but nicely cooked egg with plenty of beans.

 You could chose from fresh or tinned tomatos, I prefer tinned.

The mushrooms were tinned and the sausage was not about to win an award for quality.

Having already visited the excellent E.Pellicci and Regency Cafe on previous trips to London I decided to find out what over classic London Cafes still existed. I could have visited numerous places offering award winning sausages and claiming to serve the best breakfast in London but I was looking for somewhere with character and a bit of history, one of those few remaining classic cafes that remain unchanged and still stand the test of time. A bit of research online led me to this article about the Gambardella cafe in Blackheath, I really liked the look of the place so decided that would be the place. I hadn't visited Greenwich for many years and with it being so close to the Gambardella we decided to look around Greenwich after eating breakfast. From Cutty Sark station it was a good 30 minute walk through Greenwich Park and the views across London were amazing. Eventually we spotted the Gambardella towards the end of Vanburgh Park and having built up an appetite from walking we headed inside...

Upon entering - Before walking through the door you are greeted by the classic and original signage above the cafe, through the window you spot the incredible flesh coloured vitrolite wall panels with chrome edging. As you enter immediately to your left is the counter but no need to order here as there is a full waitress service so decide where you are going to sit. The front is tempting with the beautiful vitrolite covered walls but I was drawn to the rear as soon as I spotted the original 1960's moulded plywood revolving chairs and red/black formica covered walls. The back was also quieter so much easier to take photos which I was keen to do straight away. A menu is bought to your table but it will require some looking at with its many breakfast options as most offer no more than 4 items so adding extras seemed quite essential to ensure you get a complete breakfast. Once seated you will not need to leave your seat until you have finished eating as everything is bought to your table including the cutlery and each table has a good selection of sauces and condiments. It feels like you have travelled back in time but the great thing is that this place is original and untouched unlike the many recent 1950's style diners that are popping up everywhere. I felt so pleased that I had decided to visit the Gambardella as there are so few places left like this now and it just looked so amazing and felt so special. 9/10

Service - As soon as you walk through the door you are greeted by the friendly staff. Once you are seated they bring you a menu over and return shortly after that to take your order. I noticed how well they seemed to run the cafe and they were constantly on the go taking peoples orders, bringing food to the tables and clearing them swiftly when people had finished. They all seemed really happy and looked to be enjoying their work and were certainly able to cope really well when it got busy. Once we had placed our order the drinks arrived first along with the cutlery, next the stack of piping hot buttered toast was bought to the table followed by the breakfasts. As you leave simply pay the person on the counter who will bid you farewell with a smile. The staff team at the Gambardella are great at what they do and make you feel really welcome. 9/10

Contents - 1 sausage, 3 bacon, 2 black pudding, 1 fried egg, mushrooms, tinned tomatoes, beans and buttered toast. 7/10

Presentation - The stack of toast arrived well buttered and piping hot followed by the huge plate containing the cooked breakfast. The mass of bacon was covered in a generous splodge of tinned tomatoes, centre stage was a bed of sliced mushrooms with a very cheap looking sausage nestled on top, around this sat a lake of beans, black pudding and a nicely cooked and very frilly fried egg. Certainly a very wet plateful and one that would ensure you would not leave still feeling hungry. 7/10

The food - The sausage was very cheap but at least cooked nicely, it took me right back to days of school diners. The bacon was chunky and tasted good, it went superbly between some buttered toast and dipped into the yolk of the delicious fried egg. The mushrooms were tinned and although mildly enjoyable not a patch on the real thing. The black pudding was fairly standard but cooked nicely and complimented the tinned tomatoes very nicely. The beans like everything else on the plate were piping hot. 7/10

Value for money - The set breakfast with buttered toast, 3 extra items added and a good cappuccino cost around £7. The breakfast was huge, the food was cooked nicely but using basic ingredients and the pleasure of sitting in such an amazingly stunning cafe with excellent service was a real pleasure so it felt like money well spent. 8/10

Veggie option - No

Overall - If it was all about the food then on the surface it would seem like the breakfast at the Gambardella is possibly not worth getting too excited about as it is quite basic and there is not a quality banger to be seen anywhere. The Gambardella though has been serving traditional breakfasts for many decades and although the food is fairly basic you can rest assured it is nicely cooked and served by very friendly staff, piping hot in generous portions. The interior is really worth seeing for yourself as it is becoming a very rare sight at a time where traditional cafes like this are sadly closing down and another Starbucks or Costa is taking its place. I feel sure that the Gambardella will be here for many years to come as it seems really popular and has stood the test of time until now and can offer something that the Starbucks of this world can't offer, character, class and genuinely friendly staff that make you feel special and appear to be really enjoying their work. There are also lots of vintage "style" cafes popping up over the place with some quite convincing interiors but nothing ever beats the real thing and the Gambardella is the real deal so be sure to take a look for yourself, you will be in formica heaven! 8/10

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Greggs - Norwich

18 White Lion Street

Breakfast served daily till 11am

 There are a few Greggs to choose from in Norwich but I decided to try the White Lion Street Branch.

A breakfast with no eggs seemed a bit wrong but I couldn't resist trying it anyway.

The seating area at the front is quite small but is the best place to sit as there is some natural light.

The area towards the rear has no natural light but there is further seating upstairs.

You will spend a long time standing here.

 It seemed like you were getting quite a lot for £3.95 but was it any good?

 Err.. no, it was awful!

 The sausages were really small and seemed different to the ones served in the breakfast rolls.

 Trying to cut through the overcooked hash brown required lots of patience.

The best part was the toast and the coffee was ok too .

I visit Greggs quite regularly often getting their breakfast roll (bacon or sausage) and coffee deal for £2.60 which is always quite nice and good value for money. I am also very partial to Greggs pasties and bakes as well as their bread pudding and split fresh cream Belgium buns. They are pretty good and very affordable so perfect if you want to buy a snack but not spend a fortune. I didn't ever expect Greggs to offer a cooked breakfast due to the limitation of them just having ovens and a microwave. One day recently though I was stood in the queue about to order a coffee when I noticed a poster for their new £3.50 breakfast, it looked very minimal on the picture and there were no eggs on the plate. I then remembered they already baked sausages and bacon for the rolls, sold toast and served beans with jacket potatoes, I also remember months back an elderly lady asking for 2 hash browns. So although unable to fry eggs it looked like they were going to offer the items they had and that would be the Greggs breakfast. I wasn't expecting the breakfast to be great but figured even without the eggs it might be at least ok and decided I was going to have to inspect it...

Upon entering - There are a choice of areas to sit, upstairs looked quite nice if enjoying a coffee with its comfortable looking chairs but downstairs seemed more practical if eating a meal as the tables were higher. Wherever you choose to sit though you will may well find dirty mugs, plates and cutlery along with used sugar sachets from previous customers on the tables as although they do eventually get cleared it can take some time. The area downstairs at the rear has no natural light and can feel quite claustrophobic so far better to sit nearer the front by the entrance. The menu system in Greggs is quite unclear with various meal offers scattered about on different posters. There are two counters, one for take away and the other for eating in, you will spend quite along time queuing so ensure you are in the correct one or you will have to start queuing all over again. The counter facing the door is for take away and the one beside it further back is for eating in. Place your order at the till, pay and select your sachets of salt and pepper before sitting down, you will be given cutlery. There didn't appear to be any ketchup and I wasn't offered any.  4/10

Service - When I finally got served the lady didn't seem to understand what I meant when I asked for the breakfast "You mean a bacon roll?" she snapped back, I replied "No the breakfast displayed here" pointing to a small poster inches from her head. With a hassled look on her face and a light sigh she went about preparing everything . The lady on the till was a bit friendlier preparing me my coffee and taking my money. The breakfast was eventually placed before me on a tray. 3/10

Contents - 2 sausages, 2 bacon, 1 hash brown, beans, 2 slices of toast and butter. 3/10

Presentation - The dark overcooked hash brown sat beside the cremated looking bacon. The quite sorry looking sausages were holding back a mass of beans, not very well though as the beans had manged to escape onto the bacon and hash brown. The toast looked quite nice but a random bean had even managed to stick to the underside of one of the slices. Not much thought had gone into how everything looked on the plate, it had simply been thrown onto the plate. 3/10 

The food - The small squashy sausages were a bit of a shock as I was expecting the same sausages served in the breakfast roll, these seemed a different type though. They reminded me of larger versions of the ones found in tins of beans and sausages and didn't taste much different. The bacon was very overcooked and tough but not half as much as the hash brown, I struggled to cut through it and was surprised I didn't lose any teeth eating it. The beans were just err.. beans that had been zapped in the microwave, quite a nice consistency but just hot beans. The highlight was the toast which was ok but when the best part of your breakfast is the toast then the situation isn't good at all. 3/10

Value for money - I paid an extra 49p an added a hot drink so total cost £3.99. What seems like a good price soon becomes a waste of money the moment you see the breakfast for the first time. You would be better paying £2.60 for a breakfast roll and hot drink but better still go elsewhere for a proper breakfast with eggs. 3/10

Veggie option - No

Overall - Not a place to bother with for a cooked breakfast as they don't offer eggs (you need eggs with your breakfast!!) and everything is heated quickly and popped on the plate with little care for presentation. I was expecting a bit better as I have often seen jacket potatoes and toasted sandwiches being served here that look quite acceptable. Pop in for a hot pasty or cake to take away but go elsewhere for breakfast or you will just waste your money and leave disappointed like I did. 3/10