Maddy Hubbard interviews Seb Emina, who explains his passion for the most important meal of the day
Breakfast is a very important subject, and none take it more seriously than Malcolm Eggs, alias of the pun-loving founder of the London Review of Breakfasts, Seb Emina. I interviewed him as he recovered from the launch party for his first book, The Breakfast Bible, and although rather hungover, his passion for all things breakfast-related was clear.
For many, breakfast seems a cheap but slightly grotty fixture on the high street, but Seb waxed lyrical about greasy spoons, arguing that they are places of real cultural importance. In fact, The Breakfast Bible is dedicated to G Muratori, a caf’ where contributors to the book – including the fabulously named Grease Witherspoon, Blake Pudding and H.P. Seuss – would meet once a week. He claims the magic was due to the sausages, which were “just a little bit better than average, meatier –” (cue a wistful pause, as a mark of respect to a departed friend.) It closed down just after they submitted their manuscript, and has been sorely missed.
In the wise words of Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Dinner parties are mere rituals; but you invite a man to breakfast because you really want to see him”. Breakfast is at once the most intimate and also most democratic of meals. Seb points out that whether you’re in Claridges or a cabman’s shelter, you can have pretty much the same plate of food, made to the same recipe, and while the produce might change in quality, at no other time of day can you find such an egalitarian meal.
Seb has had little breakfasting experience in Manchester, and regrets missing the opportunity to eat Bury black pudding, which he claims as “one of the three great black puddings of the UK and Ireland” (the others being Stornaway in the Outer Hebrides and Clonakilty in County Cork, Ireland.) However, he ended up eating at his Travel Inn on his last visit, despite crowd-sourcing Twitter breakfast recommendations of Trof and North Tea Power. He describes the chronic disappointment of breakfast in buffet form, summed up by the fact that “I want eggs cooked for me, not just for someone who happens to be me!” A bad breakfast can be horrible – flabby bacon, watery egg, undercooked tomato or flaccid sausage can all ruin the experience. Even in posh places you aren’t guaranteed a satisfying meal; Seb argues that in fact many of them put breakfast on the menu without truly thinking or caring about it.
This, of course, is a cardinal sin, as a good English Breakfast is a marvellous thing. While not prescriptive, the Breakfast Bible sets out the framework for this: the Magic Nine. These are eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, black or white pudding, toast, baked beans and potatoes. The last two are particularly controversial, and we agree that chips have no place on a breakfast but are unfortunately ubiquitous. HP Seuss immortalised the image of a “baked bean militia” in an early review for the London Review of Breakfasts, which, if insufficiently disciplined, will flood the plate and “carouse like drunken navvies”. As I am firmly in the school of thought that sees baked beans as the work of the devil, I couldn’t agree more.
This wonderful image is a good example of the central feature of both the blog and the book. While firmly focused on the subject of breakfast, the form is more literary than food blog. Reviews come in the form of poems, political dispatches and Freudian dreams. In fact, many of the writers in the early years have gone on to have extremely successful literary or journalistic careers. In the Breakfast Bible, along with recipes, there is an essay on Freud’s breakfast dream, a list of songs the perfect length for boiling an egg to different degrees of hardness, and a strict guide to breakfast etiquette, such as the first rule: breakfast should be held in silence, punctuated by occasional grunts about passing the marmalade.
Clearly, this is a man that respects breakfasts and treats it with due reverence and sincerity. One would be a fool to visit London without referring to the London Review of Breakfasts, and now his new book will enable lovers of breakfast to create the perfect breakfast at home as well.
Recipe for the ultimate Breakfast Cocktail
Seb was in a quandary on the morning we spoke, as his hangover had in fact been caused by far too many of these the night before, but in general this is the perfect antidote to a heavy night. He found the recipe in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, and it came with the instruction that it is “to be taken before 11am, or whenever steam or energy are needed.” While Bloody Marys are for hair of the dog, this is if you just want to get right back on it
The Corpse Reviver
20ml Lillet Blanc, or sweet white vermouth and a dash of bitters
20ml lemon juice
Dash of Absinthe
Mix all ingredients and shake over ice. Pour into a cocktail glass and consume immediately.