"Startled, our man turned round looking like a teenager caught in a compromising position with a bottle of lube and a copy of Razzle..."
I'm sometimes accused (unfairly I feel) of being a bit of a grumpy bastard. This might once have been true, but now that I've found my true calling as an unsuccessful food blogger, I'm all sweetness and light. There is, however, one thing guaranteed to bring out the grumpy Yorkshireman lurking inside me: the prospect of being made to shower, get dressed and leave the house without eating in order to go out for breakfast.
For a certain sector of society this appears to be a sacrosanct part of their weekend routine. But in all honesty I cannot think of many less amenable or relaxing ways to spend a Saturday morning.
For a start, as most places don't take bookings it means the whole thing has to be planned with military precision: getting out of bed far earlier than is desirable and rushing out of the house as if this was a weekday morning and you've got an eight-thirty with the CEO.
Then, because in actual fact you fancied that extra half hour in bed, you round the corner leading to which ever clip joint you've set your heart on and your heart sinks: there is queue of tired and hungry breakfasters snaking out of the door and round the corner. Joining the queue, the waitress swears that the wait won't be more than twenty minutes, but you and she both know that this is a bare-faced lie.
Forty-five minutes later and in a foul mood you sit down, only to find yourself being waited on by some greasy haired hipster with tufts of pubic hair glued to his upper lip and a too-tight stripy t-shirt which exposes his paunch and moobs. All of which is more than enough to put you off a mediocre plate of huevos rancheros and a luke-warm flat white.
Finally, you stumble out of this dream world, where every day is a Saturday and the eggs are always sunny side up, to find yourself twenty quid and three hours poorer than when you started, ready to start the weekend anew.
There's a place in Clapham called 'Breads etc', where the main attraction for the queuing masses is that each table comes with its own toaster, so you can actually toast your own bread at the table! What a revelation. Not only do they make you queue, they charge for the privilege of toasting a piece of bread, as if this is some novelty that most of us have never experienced before.
It takes a lot to shift me from my usual Saturday morning routine of a cup of tea, a couple of slices of toast and a dose of Saturday Kitchen – a painful two hours of James Martin being eclipsed by a pleasurable five minutes of Keith Floyd. But when the perennially hungry VD, who, unlike me, is a big fan of going out for toast, announced she would like to go somewhere smart for her birthday breakfast, I knew I'd have my work cut out resisting her demands.
In order to avoid a morning from hell, I required a venue with a number of particular characteristics: the ability to book; smart waiters; smart food; and somewhere with a bit of birthday pizzazz. In that case two obvious options from those serial restaurant hit-makers Corbin and King stood out: the Wolseley and the Delaunay – both of which are styled as grand 'Mittel-European' all day cafe cum restaurants and well-known breakfast locations.
For my sins, I'd never been to either, so which to choose? Ideally it would have been the Wolseley, because I used to peer in through the windows while zooming past on the number 14 bus on my way to work. But having to catch an early afternoon train from Charing Cross meant that the Delaunay, which is close by on the Aldwych, was chosen.
Inside, I have to say I was rather underwhelmed by the room: elegant certainly, but nothing out of the ordinary – wood panelled walls, leather banquettes, and a large clock, for those weekday power breakfasters who have to squeeze their kippers between a 7am work-out and a 9am board meeting.
Being led through, I was asked whether we'd like a banquette; being slightly unprepared for this question, I hastily answered in the affirmative. Unfortunately the banquette chosen was one (of the many available) next to the waiter's station: not the best seat in the house by any stretch. Perhaps I should have asked to move, but being of the old school (musn't fuss) decided not to. In any case, if I had I would have missed a moment of exquisite comedy.
Getting up to locate the gents at the same time as one of the smart besuited maitre d's was scraping plates into a washing-up bowl behind me, I uttered a medium-loud 'ahem' to ask for directions. Startled, our man turned round looking like a teenager caught in a compromising position with a bottle of lube and a copy of Razzle. He could not have looked more embarrassed to be caught in flagrante delicto with some toast crumbs and a half eaten sausage. For that moment and that moment only The Delaunay's veneer slipped, but it made my day.
As it was a special occasion we started off with a basket of pastries with a little birthday message attached, which was a very nice touch for somewhere so smart (and on the house). But when it came to ordering, VD still managed to live up to the billing I give her here as London's greediest girlfriend. Unable to decide between the eggs arlington and pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, she took the path of least resistance and ordered both. To her credit our frosty waitress only briefly raised one eyebrow, before noting down my own slightly more modest request for birchermuesli and an omelette Arnold Bennett.
Of these four, the stand out was certainly the eggs arlington; a single perfectly poached egg on a toasted muffin, wrapped in what can only be described as lashings of smoked salmon and topped with a lick of hollandaise – the perfect breakfast dish? The birchermuesli was pretty good, but not much better than you'd get elsewhere, and the pancakes with bacon and maple syrup did what they said on the tin, although were not really to my tastes – bit too transatlantic.
I am more of traditionalist at the breakfast table, so the Arnold Bennett was a natural choice. While the arriving omelette contained plenty of plump pieces of delicately smoked haddock, the hollandaise seemed to have split and it was so rich (Roman Abramovich style) that I could barely manage half. Yes, I know my complaining that a dish of eggs, bechamel and hollandaise is too rich is a futile exercise, but it was too much for all except the most determined trencherman.
How would I describe breakfast at the Delaunay? The food was, by and large, pretty good, reasonably priced and very generously portioned – the eggs arlington are possibly the best and the best value breakfast dish in town. The service was polished, although for the majority of the morning our waitress was perfecting her Miss Trunchbull impression. I was also expecting a bit more buzz and atmosphere: it was only half full and you could tell. I'd imagine a weekday morning, when it is full of movers and shakers, is a better bet.
The best possible recommendation I can provide is that despite my aversion to breakfasting out, I enjoyed myself and would happily return (next year)!
The Delaunay, 55 Aldwych, London, WC2B 4BB
020 7499 8558
Monday to Friday: 8am – midnight
Saturday: 8am – midnight
Sunday: 11am - 11pm