Starting the day like a king and dining like a pauper is without doubt a recipe for good digestion, but for congenital night owls like me, breakfast is the least interesting meal of the day. Given the scale of my commitment to lunch and dinner, this is probably just as well, so I brace myself for a hard day at The Society mill with porridge. It’s good for me and I have no gastronomic expectations of it. It rarely disappoints.
Doctor Samuel Johnson’s observations about oats notwithstanding, porridge makes good refuelling and a nice pottery bowl, a pinch of cinnamon and a handful of berries all help to dispel the feeling of eating wallpaper paste. More importantly, the lingering and concrete-like mass it creates in the stomach also discourages the midmorning croissant-nibbling and latte-wielding which have made Britain greater than ever – about the midriff.
We have a fine tradition here of bowdlerising foreign grub. Where else, after all, can you get lasagne with chips and peas, or Thai-flavoured pizza? No figure-conscious Frenchman, even after a strenuous night of love, would gorge on giant croissants, and a trip to Italy is a salutary reminder that real cappuccino comes in a cup less than half the size of the titanic mugs on offer here. Nor are you likely to see any continental indulging in the eponymous breakfast of uninspiring cereal, bread, jam and rock-hard fruit, with Chocolate Pain if you’re very lucky. They are more likely to enjoy the full British monte, a Jack-the-Ripper or two, or even said porridge. A recent visit to northern Spain revealed Germans tucking into cooked ham and cheese, the French slicing up lovely, ripe oranges into pots of appetizingly creamy yoghourt, the home crowd munching thin slices of dark-red jamón. The newly-arrived Brits were uniformly bewildered, realising, as we do every year, that the continental breakfast is a peculiarly British invention. However, we regroup quickly as a nation, and I can report that an omelette with chunks of white asparagus folded into it certainly raised the breakfast bar for me.
But this year’s prize for the most outrageous continental breakfast must go to two Basque trenchermen at the charming Antigua Bodega, a ten-room hotel which now occupies the old winery buildings of Bodegas Palacio in Laguardia. These lusty lads heaped their plates with bacon, chorizo and fried eggs, but declined the tea and coffee on offer and made straight for the opened bottle of wine which is often offered at breakfast among the vines. Ignoring the small glasses laid out for the purpose, they simply poured the best part of a bottle of Rioja into a jug, topped it up with Coca-Cola and drank the lot.
We left them to it, lest we bump into them on the way out. On this showing, there is clearly a limited number of Basques you can put in one exit…
Anyone who thinks I am making this up may check with fellow-members Mr Ray Williams and Dr Edward Wilkins, veterans of many Spanish breakfasts.
The Society’s Rioja, from Bodegas Palacio tastes infinitely better without Coca-Cola.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor