The ritual of breaking one's fast has its place, says Fergus Henderson, but should never be done at brunch.
Breakfast has many roles in life.
It's the first sustenance of the day, which, in itself, can be restorative or preparational, depending on the individual. I'm a confirmed lunch man, of course, so breakfast in my case is usually a coffee, a cigarette and a Fernet Branca, being about all I can manage first thing. This is where the elevenses come in handy, always a slice of seed cake and a glass of Madeira.
As you wake up in the morning and become aware of your innards and extremities you may require a late breakfast, but be careful - too late and we move into brunch territory, which is something we don't want to do. Brunch is the bastardisation of two great moments in the culinary day into a damp squib, neither one thing nor the other. Then there is the unanswered question: what do you drink with brunch? A wineless purgatory!
It makes great sense to do much of our eating in the morning, helping our guts digest and process, compared with filling our guts, then shutting down overnight, leaving supper to fester in your stomach.
But I've nailed my colours to the mast on this subject in the past, so let's return to breakfast and the breakfast greats. One, on a train travelling from Glasgow to London, with the view of the Lake District speeding past as you attack a brace of kippers and a glass of Guinness. It doesn't come much better (just remember the kipper-burps that stay with you a while, but nothing can be perfect). The next great breakfast: the Caffè Florian on St Mark's Square. The odd coffee, a chocolate ice-cream and a Fernet; we had to remortgage our house to pay the bill, of course, but what the hell - it's Venice. And then there was the time, many years ago, when I went to Prague with the Architectural Association before the Velvet Revolution. Wandering back to our hotel early in the morning we were met by a happy scene of folk eating freshly baked bread with coarse sea salt and drinking beer - not something you come across every day.
Why is breakfast on my mind, you might wonder. Well, I work next to Smithfield meat market in London, around which the pubs have special licences to open early for the market workers, and it so happens that on my way to work today, feeling peckish, I popped into The Hope for the porter's breakfast, which occasionally beckons to me with its instant-comfort quality: sausage, egg, beans, bacon, toast and a Guinness. It's been a while since I was last there and judging from how many folk were in there, there must be fewer people working in the market nowadays than I thought - either that or they've all taken the pledge.
Sadly gone now is The Cock Tavern under the poultry market, where the landlord once turned to me and said he was having a particularly good morning - the Criminal Investigation Department were at the end of the bar drinking Château Montrachet. Who would have thought that breakfast can be weirder than lunch?
A long time ago as an architectural student one would work through the night and reward ourselves with a good breakfast at one of these Smithfield Market pubs. The only technical hitch was that the beer and the warmth of the pub led to breakfast narcolepsy. Many a time someone had to be rescued from suffocation by breakfast.
The great fault in all this is that modern urban life does not lend itself to a hearty breakfast. Here speaks a chap who can be felled by a bowl of porridge, which is innocent enough. And a fry-up is another thing altogether, more suited to tilling the land than sitting at a desk - factors that keep that kind of breakfast in the realms of a holiday treat or something for the weekend.
Rituals like these are important for passing the day, and lunch is a vital ritual, so I must end by picking up on a point I've already made: say no to brunch and give us back lunch.
Illustration: Lara Porter