Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Break Fast

One thing my diet of intermittent fasting has taught me - along with the satietal importance of soup, obviously - is the value of breakfast.

Yeah, I know the etymology; the whole thing about breaking ones fast'n'shit, but this is the first time that's really made sense on any kind of practical level.

See, for many years I've generally only partaken of a big cooked breakfast in the morning when either getting up early to travel somewhere (typically having a full English in an Airport Wetherspoons) or while staying in a hotel (on the morning of New Years Eve I had a fairly decent plateful at the Mortimer Arms near Romsey - first time I've had fried bread for many years, which in itself probably isn't a bad thing!)

A bad breakfast is an unpleasant thing, whether you're hungry in the mornings or not. During in the early-Naughties I lived for some time above a pub in Ipswich where a greasy and unpleasant full breakfast was served every morning. Sometimes the fried egg even had cigarette ash in it. After a few months of this I told them I'd go without. None of the other guests seemed to mind much, but then they consisted almost exclusively of builders from Teeside.
Anyway, I have been known to fry up a fry-up at home occasionally, but this would be our main meal of the day and probably eaten sometime well North of midday. During normal, everyday, stay-at-home life, I'd never think 'ooh, let's get up early and go out for breakfast!'

But this might be the year where that all changes.

On the mornings following fasting days I'm often ready for something substantial and assuming I stick to the diet for a while, 2013 could well end up being the year I seek out the best breakfast in London.

Duke it out

I first visited Duke's Brew and Que last Summer and gave the place a mixed review - although, in fairness, I didn't try their ribs which are what American Barbecue is all about, surely.

This time we were on the way to a football match and in the mood for some serious breakage following a fast, and Duke's, the home of the Beavertown microbrewery, just happened to be en route. Sort of. If indeed Haggerston can be considered en route to anywhere!

While the barbecue and burger menu is evening-only, you can get the American Brunch right up until 3 PM, which makes it ideal for those who aren't early starters and who like to take their weekend breakfasts at a wholly reasonable hour.

There are quite a few options on the menu, including a big stuffed veggie 'Popeye' omelette (£9.50), which Mrs B-V sampled, but for me it had to be the full 'Duke's Breakfast' (£10.50).

The Duke's Breakfast
The plate is piled high, with eggs (cooked however you choose), bacon, sausages, tomato, home fries, mushrooms and toast.

It's big, and it's good. Very good in fact.

My scrambled eggs were perfectly (and freshly) cooked, the streaky bacon is so thick it's almost like pork belly rashers and it manages to achieve the bacon nirvana of being really crispy yet still utterly meaty.

Home fries can be hit and miss, but these were spicy and seasoned well with a good crunch, and while the fat sausages were surely of Cumberland provenance, rather than typically American, this was probably no bad thing, given some of the mechanically-recovered sloppage that sometimes passes for 'breakfast sausage' in the States!

Toast is often an afterthought at breakfast - a couple of triangles of thin sliced white, brown if you're lucky. But here the ever-so-fresh sourdough toast is so much more than 'just toast' and goes beautifully well with the light and buttery scrambled eggs.

And, as one would expect, or at least hope for, both traditional and green variants of Tabasco are available on every table - the sort of nice little touch that I found lacking on our previous visit to Duke's.

Beer'o'Clock in the morning

One of the other little disappointments last time was the lack of their own beers on draught. This time they had one of their beers available, which is better than none, and the 4.3% 'Neck Oil' is a solid enough session pale ale, and doesn't go badly with a full American breakfast.

Worth getting up for...
It's a salty plateful, and beer is probably a better foil than, say, coffee or fruit juice (though there's a decent coffee shop next door to which we adjourned immediately afterwards for an espresso and a gooey chocolate brownie...)

Criticisms? Well, I'm not a huge fan of small, hard button mushrooms and would have prefered a large flat one, but the real trick they are missing is not including any of their smoky, meaty barbecue beans on the plate.

These aren't necessarily the most inspiring side with a burger and fries, but on a plate with eggs, sausage, bacon and toast I think the beans would work brilliantly and really come into their own.

Fewer mushrooms and a dollop of beans - seems like a breakfast no-brainer to me. Do have a think about it, Mr. Duke!

But minor quibbles apart, this was a fucking good breakfast, and if I can find just one other place in London that does breakfast as good as the Duke I shall be one happy breakfast camper!

Where to find it...

Breakfast @ Duke's Brew & Que
33 Downham Rd,
N1 5AA (map)

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