It might be informal, but a hotel breakfast is possibly the most important meal of the day, as Guy Woodward explains

With the possible exception of the shower, there is no single element of a hotel’s offer that is more integral to my general equilibrium than its breakfast.

For most of my year, breakfast consists of a glug of juice taken standing by the fridge, followed by a coffee – and, if I’m really organised, a banana – at my desk. A cooked breakfast, served to my table, is a vacation indulgence.

Then there is the practical aspect. When you have a whole day of holiday activity ahead, you want to fortify yourself; and, yes, get your money’s worth. I will happily admit to overloading on hotel breakfasts simply to avoid having to splash out on lunch.

Sublime truffled poached eggs

In order to do so, though, breakfast has to be included in the room rate. So no sneaky extra charges for the more tempting hot options that augment the pitiful ‘continental’ buffet. OK, I get that the sublime truffled poached eggs at Le Meurice in Paris (where they don’t do buffets) might, just might, justify a supplement. Less so a bog-standard bacon sandwich at a rural B&B. As for the £15 cappuccino at the Paris Peninsula, that’s just taking a liberty (even if it does come with a beautifully stylised and rather appropriate ‘P’ composed of chocolate sprinkles).

Stately but begrudging - the Hassler
Stately but begrudging – the Hassler

The much-maligned buffet

On the subject of the continental option, do Europeans really eat smoked ham and goats’ cheese for breakfast? The one thing in the continental format’s favour, however, is the much-maligned buffet. Sure, it’s a little low-rent, but there is something to be said for being able to gauge your options in advance; not least when they are as plenteous as at the likes of the all-inclusive (yet rather regal) Excellence Cancun.

In such circumstances, I like to pay a reconnaissance visit early on, on the pretence of getting some juice (again, I prefer this to be self-service; one glass is never enough), in order to plan accordingly. Some à la carte hot items, though, are a nice touch, and I’m a big fan of having someone (preferably in chef’s whites) on hand to rustle up an omelette. I’m not entirely adverse to the hot options being part of the buffet, though preferably not in the from of a lamp-heated console with five or six poached eggs floating in a sheen of tepid grease or beans that have developed a second skin, served with a spoon that has been contaminated by scrambled egg. (There are times, though, I’ll admit, when I have succumbed to the Premier Inn’s all-you-can-eat self-service offer – mainly because you get to have six hash browns without actually having to voice those words out loud.)

I dread to think of the calories

Over-indulgence is somehow more acceptable at breakfast than it is at any other meal. I dread to think of the calorie intake from the marvellous french toast at the Mandarin Oriental Marrakesh, but I have yet to encounter its equal. Generally, though, I prefer my hotel to at least make a pretence of a healthy menu – the heavenly Rosewood Mayakoba’s smoothies of the day come with ‘health benefit’ listings, even though each one is certainly as calorific as a Big Mac.

Other places choose to play up the indulgence factor. But a word of warning: promises of ‘American-style x, y or z’ are a recipe for disappointment. My American wife verifies these things.

Marvellous french toast- Mandarin Marrakech
Marvellous french toast- Mandarin Marrakech

I can safely convey to the Idle Rocks in Cornwall that crepes stacked with flaccid bacon and drowned in honey do not qualify as ‘American-style’ pancakes. ‘American’ is offering six types of milk for coffee or cereal, as at the Royal Monceau Paris (and, thankfully, stored in chilled chambers and not, as so often happens, left on a tiled bench to slowly warm).

A shockingly common oversight

Speaking of which, a word on toast. Why do so many places insist on bringing this to your table as soon as you sit down, when any sane person wants to ease themselves in with some fruit, yoghurt or cereal? Everybody knows that toast is a secondary, possibly even tertiary element, to be taken, often excessively, after the main event, with the detritus of previous intake still scattered over the tablecloth. By then, of course, the ‘fresh’ toast served at the start of the meal will be flabby and cold, with the result that the butter will go on in an irregular, lumpy fashion, particularly if it has been delivered straight from the fridge, or kept on ice, so as to be rock hard and unspreadable – a shockingly common oversight.

Timing is critical with toast. I have no issue with those do-it-yourself conveyor-belt toasters, but they are a minefield if the separate ordering of eggs is required. Synchronising the arrival of both is a tortuous affair. How quickly will the eggs come? If you decide to have some cereal first, they are likely to arrive immediately. If you head for the toaster post-haste, the wait will be interminable.

A new technique?

Back at the Premier Inn Hall Green (I stay there a lot, Birmingham being my home town) I got stuck behind a man who insisted on toasting each of his four slices one by one, even though there was clearly enough room for two to fit snugly on the rotating rack. When I demonstrated this, via a wilfully conspicuous show of piling mine almost on top of his, he turned to me in amazement. ‘Woah – two at a time? A new technique there,’ he exclaimed, as if I had just poured the milk overarm into my cornflakes while administering the sugar with my spare hand. Returning to my table, I relayed the episode in detail to my wife, not realising (or at least, not until he returned from performing some other glacial task – dispensing frosties into his bowl one by-one, perhaps) that his wife was at the next table. In the midst of this excruciating saga, my eggs had been brought to table, and were cold.

A new technique?
A new technique?

9am is just antisocial

Timing is equally critical when it comes to serving hours. No-one wants to have to rush down to breakfast, or, worse still, set an alarm for it. A 9am cut-off point is just antisocial. 10am is the absolute earliest. And this mustn’t be imposed begrudgingly. As the curfew hit at Rome’s stately Hotel Hassler, staff were not just clearing away the buffet, but actually vacuuming around us.

In-room breakfasts are always a tempting alternative, of course – there is something decadent about eating in your dressing gown – but ultimately, you just know they’ll forget something. Or not bring enough milk. Or butter. And it defeats the object to have to call room service, and get up again when they arrive, with all the associated awkwardness.

Lady eating in dressing gown
There’s something decadent about eating in a dressing gown – Le Meurice

No baseball caps or bikinis please

On the point of dress code, a final note to fellow guests. Breakfast may be an informal meal, but that doesn’t mean a degree of etiquette doesn’t apply. So unless you’re taking it in your own room, baseball caps, vests and bikinis are a no. Phones too. Newspapers are fine – but not the Daily Mail.

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