There is an old saying about the food in Great Britain: “… to eat well in England, you should have breakfast three times a day.” Now with the globalization of London, this is no longer really true, but it did give rise to the legendary “Full English Breakfast.” Along with bacon, eggs and sausage, there are up to 30 other not-so-familiar foods for Americans such as black pudding, white pudding, fried bread and sautéed mushrooms. There are a couple of standard items that must be included, in my opinion, for a breakfast to qualify as a “Full English.”
Bacon: English and uncured
Sausage: English bangers, sagey and mild
Beans: always Heinz Baked Beans
Eggs: poached to over easy, although you don’t actually turn them over. The egg is cooked in oil on one side only, with the hot oil being spread over the top of the egg, so as to leave a beautifully cooked, semi-soft yoke, surrounded by completely cooked white.
Lastly, there must be black pudding. Black pudding is a sausage made by cooking blood with filler and spices until it is thick, then congealed as it cools. It is then sliced into two-inch portions and quickly grilled to a crispy finish on the same grill as the rest of the meats. It is delicious when done right…horrific when done badly.
So what’s the first thing I did when I hit London? I went in search of this legendary feast.
I got to my hotel early in the morning and my room wouldn’t be ready for a few hours so I began my search at a restaurant close to the hotel. Everywhere you look in London you see pubs offering the traditional Full English. The restaurant I chose was The Yeats. When it was served I began to understand the interpretations of term where very loose. The Yeats, located near Piccadilly Circus, served up a dumbed-down version consisting only of rashers of bacon, poached eggs and beans. I should have known better than to pick a restaurant in a tourist district.
Next morning, I ventured deeply into the Covent Garden area, looking for Diana’s Diner. I know I just said in the previous paragraph that you should avoid tourist restaurants, but Diana’s Diner came very highly recommended. Di’s has a very homey atmosphere and serves up a better, if abbreviated breakfast that was still missing the black pudding.
Now it was time to get serious. I had heard about a place called “The Cock Tavern,” located in the bowels of London’s famous Central Market. The Central Market, also known as Smithfield’s Market, is home to London’s Meat suppliers and some sort of market has been there for the past 800 years and is steeped in Victorian atmosphere. Sounds like a great place for a meat-centric meal. The Cock Tavern has been serving a butchers breakfast to the workers at Smithfield’s Market for over 50 years so don’t come expecting tourist-pub décor. It is a workman’s pub.
I decided to visit on morning at 6:30am. It did not disappoint. Perfect bacon, perfect sausage and a perfect black pudding was presented along with beans, kidney’s calves liver and sautéed mushrooms and grilled tomatoes. All this washed down with a pint of Guinness. Yes, Guinness at 7:00am. For most of the workers here, it was lunch, so a beer was perfectly normal. My only disappointment was no fried bread.
The Full English is not something I would recommend nor even want to have every morning. It evolved during a time when people needed a lot of fat and a lot of calories because they worked at hard manual labor. Throwing sides of beef and pig, hacking away with a meat saw and cleaver, the workers of old didn’t worry about their waistlines or cholesterol count. But enjoying the occasional fat-laden breakfast is sort of honoring these workers of the past. At least, that is my rationalization.