The Full English stands alongside roasts and puddings as our greatest contribution to world gastronomy. At its belly-busting finest, the meal is a blissful paean to the pig: plump, herby sausages, gently bronzed and bulging out of a just-burnished skin; thin slices of smoked streaky bacon, crisp but with a modicum of chew. And black pudding, studded with creamy cubes of back fat. Then eggs of course, a brace, preferably fried in butter. A field mushroom is always a welcome addition, and a couple of grilled tomatoes too. Battalions of buttered toasts bring up the rear, all washed down with gallons of builder's tea.
This is the sort of feast that built Empires and combustion engines, palaces and stout Victorian waists. Compared to the Continental breakfast, a sorry excuse for a morning repast, this is Rule Britannia on a plate, a celebration of our gastronomic heritage. Of course, the quality of ingredients (and quality of cook, too) is everything. Slippery, hard-as-hockey-puck eggs, flaps of horribly saline, scum-covered bacon and sausages that, in the words of Jonathan Meades, are little more than "slurry-filled condoms" are simply not on. Go for the best you can afford.
Back in Edwardian days, the upper-class breakfast was a heady banquet. Chippendale sideboards would creak with devilled partridge and kidneys, vast sides of ham, pickled mackerel and oyster loaves, potted beef and baked truffles, prawn pudding and game pie. Even the working classes were able to enjoy a few slices of bacon, a couple of eggs and the odd sausage – ballast for the hard, physical day ahead. Then came the rise of the middle classes, and breakfast ceased to become a meal to linger over. The real death knell was sounded in the 1920s, with the arrival of the ghastly American cereal. Suddenly, we picked at soggy flakes of dehydrated corn. The horror.
Still, this national institution survived the nefarious onslaught and is still going strong. This is why breakfast at The Goring Hotel is such a civilised affair. Derek Quelch, the executive chef, takes breakfast so seriously that he travelled the country in search of the perfect components. And it shows. Puddings black and white; sweet, porky sausages and eggs whose yolks flow lovingly and vividly across the plate. It ain't cheap, but this is breakfast as treat. And for me, there's no finer place to spend a couple of early-morning hours. This is truly the breakfast of champions.
The Goring, Beeston Place, London SW1, 020-7396 9000; thegoring.com
Little Chef, Micheldever OK, so Heston Blumenthal consulted at this Hampshire branch, but it proves what a little common sense and inspiration can produce.
Micheldever, Winchester, 01256 398 490
The Metfield Café Anywhere that serves devilled kidneys and kippers has my vote.
Snape Maltings, n Aldeburgh, Suffolk, 01728 687980
Zippy's Café is a classic London caff. There's no organic, or rare-breed chat here. Just huge portions of well-cooked food, all for very decent prices.
42 Goldhawk Rd, London W12, 020-8740 5473
Tom Parker Bowles is the author of 'Full English: A Journey Through the British and Their Food', Ebury Press, £12.99Reuse content