Eating out for breakfast is the foolish, youthful urban habit that I'll never give up

Britons are now spending literally millions on eggs, sourdough and making their own toast

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The Independent Online

Britons spend £76m a day on going out for breakfast – or its lazier, more aspirational counterpart, brunch. That’s an awful lot of granola, sourdough toast, eggs Florentine and artisan porridge.

For these are no ordinary breakfasts. The same survey states that the average amount people spend on going out for the first meal of the day is £7.31. They are not dining out on Shredded Wheat and a Nespresso (breakfast of champions, incidentally). Or if they are, they are being hideously overcharged.

We are living through a breakfast boom. The number of people going out for morning meals leapt by 5 per cent last year, compared with a 2 per cent jump for lunches and 3.5 per cent for dinners. In London, where breakfast sales surged by 16 per cent, otherwise sane people start their weekends by leaving the homes they barely see during the working week to stand instead in a long queue and scrap for small tables where they can slurp juice, scoff scrambled eggs and Instagram their avocado on rye.

It is a middle-class city fad, largely, and, I think, a relatively youthful one. In my experience, older generations rarely have much truck with the concept of brunch, still less with going out for it. But there is a giant market for it nonetheless.

The greasy spoons of old have been joined – not yet supplanted, thankfully – by cafés that serve simply cereal, or just poached eggs, or toast, or porridge. Elsewhere, those two fail-safe barometers of British taste, Wetherspoons and McDonald’s, are upping their breakfast ante, the latter trialling the idea of serving its breakfast menu all day. An Egg McMuffin at midnight: imagine that.

This survey, I think, is half-designed to make us choke on our cornflakes, to spit out our PG Tips in disgust. How profligate we have become, going out to eat bacon sarnies when they cost barely £2 and take five minutes to slap together at home, where you know that it is proper HP and not a cheap imitation in the sauce bottle. And yet, one in three people do this once a week, and 14 per cent every single day. While it’s true that if one stopped spending £7.31 a week on flat whites and granola bowls, one would have enough at the year’s end for dinner for two at El Celler de Can Roca, that is really not the point.

Ever since childhood holidays, when the annual treat of choosing between the Early Starter and the maple syrup pancakes at Little Chef all but overshadowed the holiday that followed, breakfast has been my favourite meal of the day. I never skip it – not just because that is the nutritionists’ advice, but because I cannot imagine starting my day without it.

It’s not simply the synapse-rush that first whiff of bacon, crunch of cereal or sip of coffee sets off – it is the sheer variety of food on offer. What other meal allows you to eat sausages and jam in the same sitting? There isn’t a single standard breakfast item (barring black pudding, obviously) that I don’t like. When travelling, it is often the best and simplest way into a country’s cuisine, a way to sample its freshest fruits and vegetables, its most delicious meat and cheese, its sweetest breads and pastries.

 

Of course, there is no buffet better than a breakfast buffet. If you tried ordering Coco Pops, fruit salad, a cake, an omelette, side of bacon, a milkshake, a pancake and a coffee in a restaurant at lunch or dinner time, you would probably be thrown out. At a hotel breakfast buffet, it’s expected. Throw in a glass of champagne or a Bloody Mary, and call it brunch. Magic.

There is one risk in eating breakfast out: cafés catch you at your most vulnerable – befuddled, empty stomached and dangerously caffeine starved. One must be more than usually vigilant to fads and rip-offs. Booking a table for huevos rancheros is fine; queuing for an hour to make one’s own toast is not.

A few years ago, I told my mother about a full English I’d had in south London that was served in a Le Creuset frying pan. She laughed down the phone. And rightly so, it was ridiculous. If you’re going out for breakfast, multiple plates and cups are part of the joy – and the knowledge that someone else will be doing the washing up as you get on with your weekend is what makes it taste so good.

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