Tuesday 20 June 2017

Minute-taking with Maté at Kooks

October 7th 
Writing is a funny thing. It is a very solitary occupation, but in my experience it tends to flourish most when you surround yourself with other writers. You can feed off their ideas, their excitement, and become energized by their creative impetus. Every time I have been for breakfast with a fellow writer, I have come away with fresh enthusiasm for the act of writing, and my breakfast with Maté was no different.

At the time, Maté was my colleague. He had not been at the company for long and was fresh from the final stages of his creative writing Ph.D., which was all done bar the final viva. He had also had a story published, a wonderful post-apocalyptic survival tale entitled In The Panther’s Wake. As a result, we had a lot to chat about on top of other shared interests such as music and football.

Unfortunately for me and the rest of the Medical News Today office, Maté had been offered another role, teaching English in the north of Italy. For someone who had recently come to the end of one particular journey, this presented an exciting opportunity - one that could not realistically be turned down. And so, in his final week working at the MNT office, we ventured out for a farewell breakfast.

Since moving out to Italy with his precious guitar and writing notebooks, he has been having a great time. As should be expected, he has been eating lots of pizza and pasta. He has also finished the sequel to his first book, Through the Panther’s Storm, which has just recently been published and is available to purchase.

I am looking forward to reading it as the first book was a real delight. Set in a bleak future world where mankind has torn itself apart, the story follows two young brothers forced to survive alone after their family home is destroyed. They are driven by a dream and a desire to navigate wastelands and hostility to reach the sea and freedom, all the while aided by the mysterious figure of a panther.

The book creates the same haunting dread that permeates works such as The Road and The Last of Us, and yet offers a glimpse of hope and humanity that other works in this setting sometimes neglect. Ugly brutality is everywhere, but it can be defeated. This brutal world is also a real joy to travel through, and I am eager to dive once more into its richness. I am hungry for more, and the fast that I have been undergoing since completing the first book needs to be broken.

And so, the breakfast…

Kooks Vegetarian Breakfast
Falafel, halloumi, poached eggs, roasted vine tomatoes, mushrooms, hommus, guacamole on sourdough
Veggie breakfast - £9.50

Although the name Kooks should be musically associated with David Bowie, it has a stronger link for me with the band who took their name from one of his songs. I’ve never really been a fan of the Kooks, and so the name of the cafe automatically had negative connotations. I think it has also taken the place of Temptation Café, which I rather enjoyed when I visited it in the past. As a result, the breakfast was immediately at a disadvantage. What could it do to overcome this handicap?

Quite a lot, it turned out. The vegetarian breakfast was packed with a range of flavours and textures that made the meal an adventure. Smooth, crunchy, juicy, hot, cool, firm - all were present, and were often provided in different ways to how you would expect a breakfast to offer them.
Author, visionary, dreamweaver.

The falafel gave the wholesome crunch that a hash brown often would. The hummus and guacamole lent the smooth moisture that baked beans bring to the party. These options also felt slightly more healthful than the traditional breakfast components, and this was emphasized by the addition of rocket salad.

The rocket’s pepperiness meshed well with the mushrooms, buttery and subtly seasoned. Vibrant and intoxicating juiciness flowed from the tomatoes, but this taste explosion was nothing compared with the eggs, which were poached to perfection.

There were some areas that could perhaps have been slightly more tasty. The guacamole was fresh but standard. The halloumi and sourdough, while cooked well, did not offer anything beyond what one would normally expect from them. As these are usually wonderful components, however, there was little to really complain about.

The breakfast was so enjoyable that I actually forgot that no beans were included. Although it did not adhere to my breakfast canon, it was hearty enough to disguise this omission.

My only major hang-up with this was the price: £9.50 is a bit steep for any breakfast. Although the flavours were top quality, I’m after something truly exceptional if I’m spending almost a tenner. Perhaps some additional baked beans would have sealed the deal. Nonetheless, I ate a fine meal.

I have seen Maté once since he left for Italy; he popped back to the U.K. around the end of the year and found time to play an open mic gig with his friend Carl. Together, they are known as Bears At The Gate, and they make very smooth grooves. They had been working on some recordings, and hopefully these will see the light of day later this year. Hopefully he will return and visit again soon. Hopefully I will eat several more breakfasts of the quality of that offered by Kooks.

Function: Hearty enough to disguise the lack of beans - 4/5
Adherence to canon: No
Taste: Some high-quality pieces with the odd standard - 4/5
Value: Very tasty but pretty pricy - 3/5
Presentation: Great range of colours but presumption on positioning - 4/5
Venue: Pleasant venue with very attentive service - 4/5

Overall: Expensive, but largely worth it - 4/5

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Jawing with John about a cooked Brexit at Verano Lounge

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away

Looking back, many months after eating this breakfast with John, I see now that it has come to represent everything that has passed since. We were at the Verano Lounge on Western Road. During our walk there and while we were waiting for our food, much talk was on the matter of the referendum on the EU. Would Brexit come to pass?

I know John through one of my oldest friends, Steve, as the two of them lived together while at university. I had first met John many years ago when I had gone to visit Steve, and I have since met up with him most times he has visited Steve now that he lives in Brighton. I think he has forgiven me for the time I wore his suit jacket to and from a game of squash, although I am not entirely certain.

John comes from the town of Devizes in Wiltshire. It is a Conservative-leaning town whose MP was previously the Rail Minister (and once said that she “often ashamed” to hold that position).

John has his finger on the pulse and is ardent follower of what is going on in the area - particularly the matters that divide the local community. He keeps his ear to the ground with the help of “The Devizes Issue,” a Facebook group where people air their views on the town.

Here, it would seem that tensions around immigrants and Muslims in particular were high. He described how in one discussion where fears around a mosque were compared to people’s acceptance of various restaurants and eateries run by Muslims. A striking reply from one individual to this was that “a chicken korma won’t cut my hand off.”

Although he follows such talk, he is not that kind of gent himself. This contrast is paralleled in a strange way by the fact that he has long been vegetarian but still loves pike fishing, using salmon as bait no less. His record pike was 20 lbs. At least, it was at the time. Many things have changed since we last spoke.

His experience of public sentiment surrounding the referendum was the polar opposite of my own. I didn’t think it would ever come pass while John was far less certain. I maintained this believe right up until I headed to bed, maybe around 1am, with news that Farage had conceded defeat filtering through. Everything was going to be fine when I got up for breakfast…

And so, the breakfast:
Verano veggie breakfast
Courgette and sweetcorn fritter, fried egg, toast, hash browns, tomato, wood-roasted pepper, mushrooms, and beans
Verano Veggie Breakfast - £6.95
It’s kind of funny that this blog has gotten stuck with this event. Perhaps it is significant that the Verano Lounge has since closed down. Its windows are boarded, the door well-locked. There’s nothing left to suggest that this was once a large, airy place where you could always get a seat at a table and a cooked breakfast. Nothing but memories, anyway. 

I remember having a decent breakfast here. I was mostly curious about how closely the breakfast would mirror that served at another venue in the same chain, the Al Campo lounge. The courgette and sweetcorn fritter was certainly different, offering a complete textural change in the form of something akin to a pancake. 

Overall, the food was well-prepared. Both the tomato and the hash had great textures; the former was warm and strong while the latter had a wonderful oniony crispiness. These paled in comparison to the pepper, however. This wood-roasted charmer had a real spiciness to it and a strong essence that was enriched with a vinegary tang. 

If John was in Germany, he wouldn't be able to throw it back.
Other rich flavours were provided by the beans and the mushrooms. The dish was not as vivid across the board, unfortunately. The toast was ordinary. The egg could have been runnier, offering a stewed, subsided yolk when put upon. 

As the venue has now closed down, my review of the meal is inconsequential. A visit to the Al Campo lounge or the Modelo lounge in Hove will probably provide a very similar experience to the one I had with John, likely minus the trepidation of a huge, impending political event. 

I don’t pretend to be an expert on political matters. I do know that racist attacks have increased since the referendum. It’s been especially crazy to hear of them down here in Brighton - a place that voted solidly for the Remain camp and a place that never allowed me to imagine that Brexit would occur. Just weeks after the decision, I was chatting to a guy in a pub who described first-hand how he had been the victim of such racism. I wonder how the chicken korma fan in The Devizes Issue has been carrying themselves. 

I also know a bundle of people who voted for Brexit and some who considered doing so for a long time. I would describe all of these people as lovely individuals who wouldn’t hesitate to denounce any ignorant act of hatred.

It’s a complex matter. Breakfast is usually a simple matter. We had a nice time chatting about Game of Thrones. John did make one political prediction, and that was that the Wall would tumble at the end of the last series. Thankfully, this did not come to pass. 

At least the people of Westeros don’t have to worry about White Walkers marauding around the world just yet… 

Overall: The past is a foreign country that we are no longer in a union with.

Saturday 9 April 2016

Nattering with Nicola at Egg & Spoon

March 13th

When it comes to writing this blog, I have a fairly regular way of noting stuff down. I tend to write down a list of the breakfast’s components and then, as I sample them one by one, I jot down a couple of words for each item on the plate. Although this process prevents me from diving straight in as I would usually like, it does mean that when I eventually come to write up my thoughts - be that a day, a week, or several months later - I have something to go on beside my fleeting memories. And in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t take very long.

Compared to some reviewers, however, I have it easy. Mystery diners such as Nicola’s parents are instructed to be incredibly detailed in their reports. If they go to a restaurant and order a coke, for example, they must record whether or not it is served in a branded glass, how many ice cubes it comes with and what consistency those ice cubes are in. Such precision has apparently led to them on occasion to sneaking to the toilets in order to make notes; thankfully, my breakfast blog has yet to require any such level of secrecy as this clandestine operation.

As it was, I was able to have a lovely chat with Nicola instead of worrying about the swirls in my coffee and whether or not the waitress had provided both a matching saucer and the right length of spoon. Rather than focusing on the kinds of banalities that are only of interest to the most exhaustingly in-depth forms of market research, we could focus on the other important aspect of this blog’s existence - conversation.

I’ve been pals with Nicola for a few years now, coming to know her through her partner Tim, with whom I had lived for a good many years after first moving to Brighton. Amusingly, we had both gone to the same sixth form college without previously crossing paths (at least, not to my knowledge). She is kind, thoughtful and easy to get along with, though unfortunately up until this point, most of our hanging out and chatting had taken place as part of larger groups, at events and parties.

This was a particular shame as Nicola is highly skilled when it comes to nattering. She has a fairly eminent qualification when it comes to talking things through and so is well aware of the powers of conversation. She has also taken this important ability out of the workplace and applied it to the local population as a canvasser for the Green Party during the past election.

We had a chat about how important talking about things is. Raising issues and making recommendations are often the only ways in which people find out about things; you can’t always rely on the media and individual investigation to bring important things to light.

For example, I had recently managed to bring my friends’ attention to the threat of ticket station closure at local railway stations. In a similar manner, Nicola had helped let her colleagues know about the existence of the NHS Reinstatement Bill that Caroline Lucas was attempting to bring to parliament. Without people starting the conversation, many others are unaware that issues like these exist.

The importance of conversation doesn’t just apply to political matters. Truly brilliant films, TV shows, music, books and games might never reach their intended audience without a network of recommendations and informants. Before this breakfast, Nicola had never seen Mean Girls. Since our breakfast, she has now seen this landmark of cinematography and I can confirm that she thought it was pretty damn fetch.

Nicola had also been recommended our venue for the morning. The recommendation, however, had been for the venue in its previous incarnation.

I had been there before, and even written about my experiences. The second breakfast ever to be discussed on this blog was consumed at the Kemp Town Deli with my friend Simon. At the time, I had been delighted with the friendly atmosphere, the attendant staff and the classic cafe decor. Despite the tastiness of the food, however, the Deli had gone, and had now been replaced with Egg and Spoon. Would its successor be able to live up to the standards it had set?

And so, the breakfast:

E&S Breakfast
Eggs, avocado, halloumi, E&S beans, mushroom, tomato, toast
E&S Breakfast - £7.95
In truth, I had previously peered through the window of Egg and Spoon before Nicola had ever mentioned it, and my initial impression was one of skepticism. I had spotted the prices of some items on the menu, and seen that they sold “detox” items, granola and porridge. As I may have previously mentioned, things like porridge do not strike me as things that decent cafes should be serving (or things that self-respecting diners should be paying money for). These fears proved to be unfounded, however, as soon as my breakfast arrived at the table.

You are barely able to see every component of the meal from the photo I took. The number one fear with fancy establishments is that portion sizes will be reduced in the name of aesthetics, and thankfully that was not the case here.

Nicola's breakfast recommendation was very fetch.
The beans were the logical first item to taste, seeing as they were described as “E&S beans,” dominated the plate and had been heavily recommended by Nicola’s partner Tim. They did not disappoint; their soupy texture was combined with a sweet and smoky flavour, with hints of pepper and paprika. These beans felt unique and deserving of their spotlighting moniker.

The use of delicate flavouring was apparent in the mushroom and tomato too, with both benefitting from a peppery boost. They had also been cooked to perfection, being soft and juicy yet maintaining a square presence on the plate, indicating that a certain degree of care had been given in ensuring that each component was served up to its full potential.

Originally, the E&S Breakfast featured further flesh options in sausage and bacon. To make it a vegetarian breakfast, I asked if I could swap out these meaty items for others and the staff were only too happy to oblige, allowing me to bring in halloumi and avocado. If halloumi or avocado are not to your fancy, a range of other options are also available (including waffle and bubble & squeak).

Once again, these components were delivered perfectly. The avocado was especially impressive in that it was simultaneously creamy to a degree of delicacy and sliced smoothly. It held its shape well, exhibiting perfect ripeness. The halloumi was also everything that a halloumi lover desires; soft, tender and subtly squeaky.

These were not the only choices I had to make; I was offered the usual options when it came to my egg, as well as either standard toast or sourdough. On this occasion, I decided to go for poached egg and the toast, and was rewarded when both came with ideal textures. Soft white, runny yolk and invigorating crunch.

The breakfast turned out to be everything that Nicola had suggested it would be following her glowing review and she was pleased that this was the case. Although the cafe no longer had the cosy homeliness that Kemp Town Deli had once had, the care in which the food was prepared certainly made you feel looked after. As a result, I will not be hesitating to recommend Egg & Spoon to those looking for exquisite fastbreaking succour in Kemp Town.

Function: slightly fancy but definitely breakfastly - 5/5
Adherence to canon: Yes
Taste: delicious and carefully prepared food - 5/5
Value: lots of food for a solid price - 4/5
Presentation: bright natural colours and garnish - 4/5
Venue: bright and friendly, although not as homely as the deli had been - 4/5

Overall: another triumph in Kemp Town - 4.5/5

Friday 12 February 2016

Indian with Ian at the Temple Bar

January 17th.

Due to the excesses of the festive period, I usually reduce my drinking habits in January. Last year, the plan was to reserve drinking to “special occasions,” a term to significantly cut things back while remaining flexible enough to allow impromptu good times. This belt-tightening is something I will be enforcing again this year.

My brother, Ian, has his birthday on January 10th. When it came around this year, I was still reeling from two weeks spent in deepest, darkest Cymru and was not feeling up to a dash to the Home Counties (I say dash, the journey would have involved multiple replacement buses) to pat an inevitably hungover younger brother on the back before heading back to Brighton in preparation for a first day back at work.

I don’t see Ian as often as I would like to, largely due to geography and my insatiable social scheduling. He’s a busy lad himself, working at Frimley Park Hospital by day and working on an Open University degree in computing whenever he gets his head down.

As it stands, he could well be on course to be the first McIntosh on this wing of the family to come out of uni with a first, leaving me and my mum’s 2:1s in the dust. This would be a particularly ace outcome considering that Ian has not previously been one for academia - he decided that college was not for him after the first year. Fingers crossed he keeps up the good work.

Fortunately, business brought my brother down to Brighton this past weekend, allowing me opportunity to celebrate his birthday belatedly. This, according to my mantra, was a “special occasion,” and that Saturday evening, the beer (and Ian’s good friend, Captain Morgan) flowed liberally alongside board-games and poker.

We had decided that on Sunday we would go and see The Force Awakens, as Ian is a big Star Wars fan but, as impossible as it sounds, had yet to see the new film. I had seen it before Xmas but thankfully it is one of those things that I'd probably be happy to rewatch again and again and again.

Our original plan was to get up nice and early and head down to the Harvester above the Sealife Centre. Here, an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet is served that I thought would be a great test for the McIntosh appetite. The only drawback is that this breakfast is only served between 9 and 11. Due to inclement weather and a 3am bedtime, this was not logistically possible.

Fortunately, I had been tipped off about a breakfast venue close to my flat that would be able to offer something a little different to the usual that would be right up my brother’s street. With this in mind, we eventually stepped out into the cold afternoon and headed to the Temple.

And so, the breakfast:

Vegetarian Full Indian
Spicy scrambled eggs, batate ambade, vegetable pakoras, chilli beans & roast cumin tomatoes. Served with naan, date & tamarind sauce and spicy ketchup.
Vegetarian Full Indian - £9.50
A bar encountered early on a Sunday afternoon is often a delightful place; quiet, homely and spacious where normally it would be intensely raucous and brash. So to was the Temple Bar, transformed into a location of contemplation and reflection by the dying light of the weekend. The music was relaxing, the staff were friendly.

The Temple Bar hosts food from Curry Leaf Cafe. So far, nothing too surprising; there are plenty of pubs and bars in Brighton that have guest kitchens providing food. Highly regarded eateries such as La Choza and Pizzaface can be sampled while drinking in other establishments in the city. What changes things slightly here, however, is that they do not just offer their regular fare but some special brunch items too (which as far as I can see differ from what is available at their own place).

The Vegetarian Full Indian offers traditional elements of the cooked breakfast prepared in the manner of Indian cuisine, alongside elements of Indian cuisine that sit aptly alongside established figures of the canon.

Possibly full up at this point.
Here, great effort had been made to take the concept of scrambled eggs and beans away from the quick and easy stylings they are normally served with. This reimagining was carried out well, and both felt and tasted comfortable served alongside the fried goods. The tomatoes had undergone much less of a transformation, but the seasoning stood them in good stead to mingle their juices with the dumplings.

Batate ambade are deep fried, spiced mashed potato dumplings, operating somewhere between the hash brown and bubble & squeak. Although unfamiliar, these fitted the cooked breakfast well and would have not tasted out of place alongside more traditional English fare.

It was left to the vegetable pakoras to provide that integral crunch and they did not disappoint. These were just the right kind of crispy to provide the kind of heart warming that fried food does best (interpret that as you will), yet the flavours of the vegetables within remained with gusto.

In some ways, naan could be more useful than toast when it comes to the plate of a cooked breakfast. They are ideal for mopping up the spilt effluvium of generous eggs or tidying away the remaining sauce of an over-eager fastbreaker. In this instance, they provided me opportunity for sampling the delectable sauces that helped this breakfast stand out further from contemporaries following condiment tradition.

My brother opted for the meaty option and experienced spiced streaky bacon instead of the batate ambade - bacon that he pronounced as some of the most magical (my words, not his) he had ever tucked into. There certainly was something magical about the way two culinary styles were fused together so seamlessly with this breakfast to create a combination that felt natural rather than forced. Here, then, was a new place of worship for this intrepid fastbreaker.

Function: comforting fried food with enlivening spices - 5/5
Adherence to canon: Yes
Taste: - delicious, although perhaps one-dimensional spicing? - 4/5
Value: the only downside was how dear the price was - 2/5
Presentation: stylish silver dishes, although would benefit from a bigger plate - 4/5
Venue: Ian liked every song they played in this bright and airy bar - 4/5

Overall: a breakfast fit for worship - 4/5

Ian wearing his Robe of Worship (+1 to all fastbreaking checks)

Saturday 16 January 2016

Joining Jackson at Corner Cafe

August 29th.

An Italian breakfast is something I had tried to emulate for my Breakfast World Cup. Unfortunately, what I managed to come up with (on two separate attempts) was not something I enjoyed particularly. In Group D, the Italian breakfast finished bottom, ranking behind the Costa Rican, the Uruguayan and, naturally, the English.

Now it would be time for an Italian man to feast upon the English breakfast. I had planned to meet up with Jackson Braghieri on his final day before leaving Brighton for good. His eventual destination: Salt Lake City, UT, to start the next stage of his post-university life.

I had been introduced to Jackson through a couple of my five-a-side football team mates who were both studying/working at Brighton University, and he was recruited by them to bolster our squad when numbers were reduced. He swiftly became a regular member of the team and, eventually, an indispensable one. 

Not only did he continue the fine tradition of Italian defending, but whenever regular goalkeeper Robin was unavailable, he could be counted upon to step between the sticks and leap about like a young Gianluigi Buffon (or Toldo, or Zenga).

Jackson has family in the US who have set him up with a job to be getting on with. He also as a result has pretty solid knowledge of US tourist hotspots, and so was able to make recommendations for Claire’s trip to the US. For anyone travelling to New York in the near future, he recommends taking a tour of the UN and visiting the Twin Towers museum.

Certainly one of the kindest guys I’ve met living in Brighton - and one of maybe only three people to provide me with a birthday card last year - Jackson will certainly be missed as he crosses the Atlantic for his great American adventure.

As Jackson was living in Whitehawk, I suggested the Corner Cafe as a venue - the cafe is situated on St. James’ Street in Kemptown and I was very familiar with its previous incarnations when I lived but minutes away a few years ago. There was one other reason for me suggesting the Corner Cafe, however; something on their breakfast menu had caught my eye…

And so, the breakfast:

Corner Vegetarian Breakfast
Baked beans, mushrooms, Lincolnshire veggie sausages, caramelized pear, egg, vine tomatoes and farmhouse toast.
Corner Vegetarian Breakfast - £6.95
As soon as I had read the menu, one item in particular leaped out at me. It was something I had never seen as a breakfast component before and something that I was especially eager to try out. It is fair to say that the caramelized pear was the second and more decisive reason for me choosing the Corner Cafe as the venue for our breakfast.

So let’s cut to the chase. The pear worked well flavour-wise, providing a level of sweetness similar to that offered by the baked beans. I would consider pear for future breakfasts; although it seemed a bit strange, it did not taste out of place. In this instance though, it could have been softer, having the texture of a potato that perhaps should have been boiled a few minutes longer. Slightly too firm to engage with with maximum joy.

Jurassic Park Rangers Hall of Famer
Solidity was an aspect that characterized this breakfast. The tomato, toast and mushrooms were all chunky. However, if the inclusion of pear had suggested that the breakfast was going to be taken me to places new, untravelled culinary shores, these items showed me that this was the extent of this thinking outside the box. No additional flavoring had been given and, like the pear, the tomato felt as though it could have been softened a little longer.

The sausages were nondescript and bland, offering little more than solid stodge. Variation was offered up by the chunky toast that was pleasantly fluffy, and in their chunkiness the mushrooms were bursting with juice. Further moisture came from the solitary egg whose yolk’s oozing flow was decent.

It was the beans that were the highlight of the dish. Sitting proudly in their own little bath, these beans were rich in taste, pleasingly viscous and fantastically abundant. The richness helped mask the deficiency of flavor that presided elsewhere in the dish.

While the breakfast here at the Corner Cafe offered the suggestion of a fresh start to fastbreaking with its inclusion of the pear, on the whole it was merely business as usual. Thankfully, I can safely say that Jackson’s jaunt to the US will provide much more refreshing and exciting flavours. He will probably be hard pressed to find caramelized pear on the breakfast menus of Utah, however.

Function: did what was required  - 3/5
Adherence to Canon: Yes
Taste: varied from average to delightful - 3/5
Value: needed more effort for this cost - 2/5
Presentation: neat bean bath but crammed plate - 3/5
Venue: spacious but staff forgot Jackson's drink - 2/5

Overall: without the pear, it wouldn't be worth much discussion - 3/5

Monday 11 January 2016

Eating with Ellie, dining with Dan at Redwood

August 8th

I try to keep my breakfast outings strictly mano y mano. This means that I should have a deeper pool of people from which to select fastbreaking companions from. However, there are certain special occasions where you can’t go eating with one person without another.

This was one such occasion. It would have been criminal of me not to go for a breakfast without both Ellie Williams and Dan McEvoy; two lovely folk who had for the past year or so been living, working and doing amazing things in South Korea.

South Korea must be an exciting country to live in. Alongside the occasional MERS scare, Ellie and Dan have been getting to grips with a completely new culture, complete with a different alphabet, its own legends and wildlife.

For example, when you are out for walk in the UK and hear a rustle in the bushes, one of the most exciting animal options you can hope to encounter is a badger. I told Ellie and Dan about the time I was up walking past the County Hospital one night when from out of a raised bed flew a discombobulated badger. It plummeted to the pavement before darting away into the darkness.

Dan was able to trump this tale, however. On a walk through a forest in South Korea, he and his party heard a mysterious rustling sound. Later pondering led the group to believe that the rustling could…could…have been…none other…than…a bear.

They have bears in South Korea!

Not only bears. They have tigers too, possibly with huge glowing eyes. Ellie was told a story from a local about glowing lights spotted in the forests of the night known as tiger lights that were believed to be the eyes of tigers.

It was a great pleasure to catch up with Ellie and Dan, particularly as I was able to chat exclusively to them rather than sharing them with a pub full of people as I had done the previous evening. They have that winning combination of being softly friendly and excitingly interesting.

This adventure in Korea is just the tip of the excitement iceberg, though. They have ambitions to travel further, to India, and to tackle projects in the future; a place to set up camp in France, a collaborative music project across the globe. They’ve got many pies baking at the moment, and it may be that even more exciting pies have been put into the oven since I last spoke to them. Whatever they end up doing, they are sure to have a lot of fun and look darn good while doing it.

With so much going on, both in the present and further down the road, their visit to England was a great opportunity to get back in touch with their roots and old acquaintances, be they good friends or homely meals.

And so, the breakfast:

The Weekender Breky
2 dippy eggs, seasoned chewy brown bread, grilled tomato, 1 grilled garlic mushroom, quarter of an avocado, 2 vegy sausages and a side of mustard mayo + brown sauce.

The Weekender Breky - £7.50
Well. I’m not sure how I feel about the spelling of that at all. Despite this, the presence of one particular item quickly set me at ease...

For me, there are fewer foods more homely than eggs and soldiers. So much so that I can’t remember the last time I ate them - they’ve certainly not appeared on my plate in adulthood. Consequently, when presented with my eggs, sitting neatly on their “hendelabra” (this word will catch on), I was unsure how to approach them. I couldn’t recall having ever removed the top of a soft boiled egg before. What if it went wrong?

Fortunately, Ellie seemed to know what she was doing, and after observing her method closely, I gave the tops of my eggs a soft whack before carefully taking the knife to them. It was a technical process requiring surgical levels of calm, but once it had been accomplished, the eggs were laid open and ready for dipping.

Revitalised by their Korea move
I have been conflicted as to whether eggs and soldiers are a legitimate food to buy at a cafe. On the one hand, they - like cereal and porridge - are so breathtakingly simple that it would feel like a waste of money to order them (I’ve seen the prices of cereal and porridge in some cafes and they’re often very ugly indeed). On the other hand, they can be a tad fiddly to prepare, and so may warrant you paying someone else to prepare them for you. Oh, I just don’t know.

Fortunately, Redwood eased my troubled mind by putting some effort into making the eggs and soldiers feel like a special event. The soldiers were drizzled with olive oil, at once distinguishing them from the simple buttered toast of my childhood. Combined with eggs that were cooked to runny perfection, these were a great success. Also cooked to perfection was the tomato, which came in that ideal and blissful state between firmness and mushy pulp.

Similar efforts had been made with other components to make them feel more special and, more importantly, taste better. The avocado had been seasoned with paprika and the mushroom had been grilled in garlic. It was even served with the chopped cloves of garlic it had been grilled with, adding another vibrant dimension of flavour to the plate.

The only let down on were the sausages which were bland and lacking in character. The only upside to these was that they presented an opportunity for me to use the mustard mayo that had been provided which lent them a little integrity.

It is not often that you find something that feels unique in a Brighton breakfast, and it is always exciting when that unique item is integrated seamlessly into a collection of oft-used favourites. The eggs and soldiers fitted in well but also made the breakfast feel twice as homely as it otherwise would - a fact that is especially important considering the lack of baked beans on offer. This lack and the uninspiring sausages were the only shortcomings that I could identify with this breakfast. Oh, and the spelling of “breky.” That kind of tomfoolery is never going to fly, no matter how good the food is.

Function: eggs and soldiers conjure warm memories  - 5/5
Adherence to Canon: No
Taste: largely vibrant and exciting - 4/5
Value: significant fare for a significant amount - 3/5
Presentation: both homely and chic - 4/5
Venue: calm, friendly, has a big chessboard - 4/5

Overall: only minor faults held this delighful dish back - 4/5

Saturday 15 August 2015

Brunching with Ben at Grand Central

June 14th.

I’ve been quiet on here once again. This time I’ve had a decent excuse, however. All of my writing energies had been diverted into finishing the first draft of my dinosaur pirate novel. At the start of last month, an old friend from uni was scheduled to start working at my office. As he also hails from Brighton, it was likely that we would be commuting together, thus reducing my antisocial writing time, and so it was imperative that I finish the draft before he started the job!

In speaking to him, I discovered that he had also interviewed for my job last year. Although surprising, I would later find - while breakfasting, no less - that he was not my only comrade from Sussex Uni that had interviewed for the post.

Finding out that both he and Ben Meredith had interviewed for the position immediately validated the 5-or-so years I spent working in a hospital.  I know for a fact that Ben is a skilled writer, having read various pieces of his work and heard him discuss texts and ideas with wit and dexterity in workshops. He is also yet another person who was a finalist in the Myriad Quick Fictions competition.

Ben has his fingers in a lot of creative pies at present, and so perhaps it is best he doesn’t have his creative energies sapped by the rigours of medical news writing. Oh, the rigours.

In terms of his creative output, Ben is currently working on an exciting-sounding comic, set in a world where the post-colonial influences of our own are inverted. In this world, airships that are powered by music play a prominent role, as do the people who fly them. Composers are needed to pen the music that is used to get the ships from point A to point B, while conductors are needed to pilot the performances of these pieces.

As you would expect, music will have a prominent role in this story, and even more exciting is the fact that a certain chap-hop legend may have some part to play, after Ben got talking to him about the project at an Iron Boot Scrapers EP launch.

Ben’s love for stories also has him busy in two other key areas of geekdom; video gaming and role playing. Alongside his comic, he is working on a computer game that will explore the idea of fate, and playing an ongoing role-playing game documented in the regular Rusty Quill podcast. This game utilizes the open-source Pathfinder system, and as someone who also enjoys dice-based role-playing games, it has been interesting seeing how people outside of my own circle of biscuit and pizza eaters approach it. If this kind of thing is your bag, I recommend giving them a listen.

Of course, being the arch-creative that he is, it wouldn’t be Ben to just sit back and play a game. Last weekend, he ran a game jam at Nine Worlds Geekfest in London. A game jam is where people come together to create games within a short period of time. In this jam, participants were tasked with creating their own pen and paper RPG on a side of A4 paper within an hour, and then building an expansion for someone else in another hour. I can only presume that Nine Worlds 2015 was bursting with rampant Ben-inspired creativity last weekend.

It was a pleasure hanging out with someone is driven to putting all of his creative ideas into practice. Ben is a man with a lot of exciting projects on his plate. Speaking of plates…

And so, the breakfast:

Veggie Breakfast
Grilled halloumi, wilted spinach, Heinz beans, tomato & field mushroom, free-range eggs (also includes toast)
Vegetarian Breakfast - £7.50

The Grand Central sits over the road from the Bystander Cafe in the same way that North sits over the other side of the compass from South. On the one hand is what appears to be a classic greasy spoon-style cafe (I shall investigate further) and on the other is a trendy bar. A fine illustration of two of Brighton’s many sides.

We opted for the quieter Grand Central. I had been in there the previous weekend and noted a sign advertising a “banging breakfast;” a challenge if ever I saw one. After a short wait with some coffee and juice, two beautifully vivid breakfasts were brought forth.

The most eye-catching component on the plate was the halloumi, a surprisingly underused veggie breakfast component. Here it was grilled well; not too firm and retaining a good level of moisture to give it a meaty texture. This consistency was shared by the mushroom, which was delightfully big but with a taste that lacked in depth. This field mushroom did not taste any different from smaller mushrooms gathered elsewhere.
Composer and conductor

Green vegetables are not seen often in veggie breakfasts either, and here the spinach was another welcome addition. It had been cooked so that it still had a pleasing bit of crunch to it and it offered a great counterpoint to the baked beans (Heinz, don’t you know) which were sweet but not too overbearing.

What was disappointing about the spinach and mushroom was that these are two vegetables that are very easy to jazz up in the cooking process and give a little extra character to. Sadly, no extra risks were taken. These remained plain.

For the most part, however, all of the components had been cooked well. The poached eggs stayed together, even if the yolk could have been a bit thicker, and the toast (no pre-buttering) was nourishingly crunchy. Only the tomato felt underdone, whose core was just a little too firm.

The Grand Central have opted to season their food with adjectives rather than ingredients. I say this because each of the components here had simple and unsurprising tastes. There were no extra embellishments of flavour to give the food true character, and although it looked good and was perfectly functional, the meal did not stand out as a result.

One of the most repeated maxims you will here in creative writing is “show, don’t tell.” Rather than letting the food do the talking, all of the seasoning at the Grand Central takes place in the menu. Eating this breakfast felt a bit like reading the description of a character where the writer has just listed precisely what they look like and weighed them down under a mountain of adjectives and adverbs. Sure, the character might be a good one on paper, but in the act of writing there are certainly more exciting ways of doing it, and ways that readers are more likely to appreciate.

Function: not "banging" but not whimpering either  - 3/5
Adherence to Canon: Yes
Taste: solid but unspectacular - 3/5
Value: a bit pricey for what it was  - 2/5
Presentation: rich, vivid colours, nice plate - 4/5
Venue: a generic Brighton bar - 3/5

Overall: show, don't tell - 3/5