GRIFF RHYS JONES
‘The bacon at hotel breakfasts is a unique, slightly crispy, curly craving. Oh God, I’m drooling…’
Mrs Jones is saving money (a wise idea, given how I spend it.) Taking on the great unvisited cities of Europe, she has refused to tick the “breakfast included” box on the online booking forms because “it’s an extra thirty quid”.
At home, my breakfast consists of four cups of coffee and a portion of irritability and Mrs Jones nibbles at a bit of toast. Why pay for that? Madrid, Vienna and Stockholm are rammed with interesting cafés anyway. Why have breakfast at the hotel?
And yet … the early-morning buffet at hotels these days is a staggering extravaganza – and I prefer a chain hotel, if I’m honest. I really don’t mind those oily eggs hardening under the heat lamp. In fact, I like them. I love hotel bacon, too, the kind where the edges have gone a little curly and the salt has worked its way through a heap of rashers, prepared at 5am and slowly decomposing ever since. I have to ration myself. The outer-edge bacon takes on the consistency of deep-fried biltong. It’s a unique, slightly crispy, curly craving. Oh God, I’m drooling…
The further afield you go, the more varied the selection. International hotels at tourist nodes provide the American or British cooked option, but Scandinavians like to eat pickled fish, so everywhere offers that too. Or was it the Dutch who brought
maatjes to the trough? Who wants to eat herrings in a mustard sauce at 8am? Well me, actually. Bring it on. Compote too. Several types of German cheese. Melon. A few slices of pineapple. Those extraordinary plates of halved passion fruit in Brazil. Keep loading up the plate, no matter how small.
There are problems with the coffee, obviously: the stewed black dishwater in glass bowls on top of mini heaters, or the stuff in those suspicious silver jugs coming straight out of the kitchen, made out of catering Nesquik and fit only for pickling socks. I always befriend a waitress and make sure she gets me a steady stream of espressos, with a “special” cappuccino to start.
Mind you, befriending can prove difficult. I was working in Manchester once and stayed in the Lowry for nearly two months. Every morning before filming at 6am, I was the only person in the restaurant. Each time, the head waitress would ask me for my room number and inquire if I had ever eaten breakfast at the hotel before.
“Yes,” I would reply. “I ate here yesterday.”
Not a flicker. She would pick up a menu and gaze around the empty restaurant as if engaged in an abstruse calculation, before leading me to exactly the same table. Despite my toothy smiles, she never varied the chat. “Will this do?” “Er … yes.” It was Groundhog Day. The grub was excellent, mind – as it has been further from home. The hotel I stayed at in Yangon (Rangoon) in Burma was unbelievable. Its breakfast spanned the globe via the circumference of a huge colonial dining room. They began in India, with a selection of curries, vegetable and fish; next came China, with noodles, soups and a fetching array of dim sum baskets. There were strange squidgy things from Japan, a raft of smoked fishes and crisp breads, nuts of all nations, porridge and steamed congee, and all this before you encountered the pastry division, the American breakfast, the omelette maker and the tropical fruits and make-your-own smoothie counter.
But my No1 breakfast heaven came on returning to London after two weeks of privation in the Greek islands on a bareboat charter. Passing through Knightsbridge, I asked our minibus driver to stop outside the five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel. I herded my friends and children up the steps and into the uncrowded restaurant for an all-inclusive breakfast.
We fell upon the buffet: delicate pastries, eggs in béchamel sauce, exquisite smoked salmon concoctions. It remains the very best way to enjoy the sumptuousness of this, the most refined of proper hotels – and, at the time, it cost just over thirty quid. You have to push the boat out sometimes, don’t you?
To read more of Griff Rhys Jones’s travel writing, see telegraph.co.uk/travel/team/griff-rhys-jones
‘Who wants to eat herrings in a mustard sauce at 8am? Well me, actually. Bring it on’
Griff can’t resist a chain-hotel breakfast