The London Review of Breakfasts

"Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper." (Francis Bacon)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Bill's Produce Store, Soho

Bills Produce Store
44 Brewer St
020 7287 8712

by Malcolm Eggs

What was that old saying again? "If Mohammed will not go to the mountain..." For years I'd been hearing about a place in Lewes called Bill's. People said it was the capital of breakfast for the entire south coast. In 2006, an LRB agent paid a visit and reported good things. But I have still never been to Lewes.

They opened a branch in Brighton and I didn't go there either. Then they opened five in London, one in Cambridge and another in Cardiff. They were spreading, and eventually the path of least resistance led directly through their door.

There is a pattern to these things. A restaurant becomes popular, so the restaurant owner opens more branches. Muttering commences, and the restaurant becomes less popular. There is a certain tone of voice used when people say of an old favourite "it's a chain these days" and all of the rumours that had reached me about Bill's Soho, Bill's Islington or Bill's Covent Garden had been muted and a little sniffy. There was a sense of betrayal. What was Bill's doing in London? It's a Sussex place.

But my Bill's Breakfast (£7.95) was excellent. The sausage element was two herby miniatures, formed from very finely ground meat (first bite mind-response: 'hmm do I like this? Yes, I do'). The bacon was streaky and had been cooked by one of those people who know about the existence of the zone between fatty wetness and brittle dryness. The fried eggs were perfect. The tomatoes had not been shoved in the grill at the last minute and served barely lukewarm, but slow-roasted by someone who cares about the medium-term future. The mushrooms needed salt, but that was on the table.

As for the flat white, well, that was only OK. But while the coffee round the corner at Fernandez and Wells is better perhaps I'd come here for coffee meetings: the room is huge, so you'll never have to stand around awkwardly nibbling on a pastel de nata and gently glaring at a woman reading Slate on a tablet device. The chairs were comfortable, the wooden tables were homely, the service was efficient and the wifi was free. Tinsel and dried tomatoes hung from the ceiling. There was a pootle of music in the background but my dining companion and I could hear each other speak.

I am glad that Bill's has come to London and I am glad I have never been to the original so I don't have to grumble about how much better it is. I shall also look forward to visiting the London Kremlin, the London State Building and the London Sphinx.

Another saying, this time from Morocco: "better a handful of dried dates and content therewith than to own the Gate of Peacocks and be kicked in the eye by a broody camel." I have never been able to work out what the hell this means, but I am sure it has never been more relevant.


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