Hotel breakfasts should take a starring role
something to Declare
Stephen Bayley is an author, critic, columnist, consultant, broadcaster, debater and curator. With Terence Conran he created the influential Boilerhouse Project in the Victoria & Albert Museum, which evolved into the Design Museum. Stephen writes a regular column for The Independent on Sunday’s Travel section, and contributes features that have previously covered anything from travelling through Japan via the iconic Shinkansen, to the artisans of Florence and driving a vintage Fiat 500 around Sicily.
Sunday 15 June 2014
I have never much cared for breakfast. My current regime is Xishuangbanna Puer black tea and, generally, nothing else. My extreme breakfast proposition is black coffee and orange juice. If I feel positively Rabelaisian, I might add a croissant.
Anyway, even if not to my taste, I can recognise quality in a breakfast. The Nordic preference for perspiring industrial cheese, penitential rye bread and synthetic pink cold cuts has never tempted me. Best breakfast I have ever seen? Probably at Il Pellicano on the Tuscan coast. Here was an amazing variety of home-made preserves, breads, natural milk and seriously good coffee.
As in so many areas of its culture, the French breakfast is in dismaying decline. Out on the street, French coffee is disgusting. Waitrose sells better croissants than any I have ever eaten in France. But in the loftier dining halls, does the creaky old Michelin system do anything to preserve the once traditional excellence of French food at breakfast ?
Because of its ludicrous hieratic nationalism, preposterous snobbery and influence without accountability, the Michelin Guide Rouge provides an important reference point for what the French think about their food and, by extension, of themselves. Years ago Simon Hopkinson told me that it's good to visit a three star once a year just to re-set your compass. It's advice I have often taken.
I recently visited Maison Lameloise – a trans-generation hand-me-down of great repute in Burgundy. Dinner had its necessary absurd magnificence whose great artifice only a fool would deny (even if an exasperated guest was pleading theatrically for something identifiably edible, rather than intellectually challenging, to be put on his plate).
Breakfast, we took in our room. It was an ideal moment to contemplate the pleasant prospect of an interesting day ahead. Then the trolley rattled in carrying little pots of factory-made jam (fruit is grown in Burgundy).
Most despicably, the orange juice's provenance was a carton. Either that or with great art they had faked the colour, texture, opacity and chemical taste of a supermarket product. This, in a part of France where the respect for grape products' cultivation is murderously competitive.
Why should a three-star restaurant whose traditions were founded in the rites of Escoffier want to offer what tasted like facsimile OJ? Because complacency seems to have replaced care. Maybe Lameloise's croissants were baked on site, but if so the pastry chef needs to go back to school.
I began to look for clues and soon found them. The new owner of Lameloise had trained in a great kitchen, but had more recently worked for Accor, the enormous French hotel business whose "offers" include Formule 1, Ibis and Mercure and all those other depressing boxes you see on ring roads and make you think "Yuck. I'd rather sleep in the car".
Michelin's three-star category is defined by an establishment being "vaut le voyage". I would not say that carton OJ is worth anybody's journey, but I would suggest Lameloise's management visits Waitrose to discover a decent croissant.
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