James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

The Father of the American Diner Breakfast

The Father of the American Diner Breakfast

A Full English Breakfast in London

Late September, our first morning in London, we awoke to overcast skies and drizzle, floating in a river with fluorescent green algae, geese, and run-down canal barges. Surprisingly, we were still dry and lively after the previous night’s journey. Our guest bed on a squat, sturdy, and well-waterproofed Churchill-era naval repair ship-turned-houseboat was easily among the oddest places we had slept during our cross-continental, couch-jumping honeymoon.

This antique was kept ship-shape and bachelor-padded by a worldly friend-of-a-friend who gave us reason to smile after such a long, tiring slog. He pointed us to the marina’s sole establishment, a canal-side hole-in the wall serving a Full English Breakfast.

Loaded with fried and fatty deliciousness to keep out the chill, the Full English Breakfast is most definitely the father of our favorite meal, the American diner breakfast. It was a bridge between cultures on this final weekend of our journey, and for that we loved it instantly.

The “Full Monty” is widely available, often around the clock, and full of staple foods more filling than nutritious. Fried eggs, back bacon, rashers, fried potatoes, and baked beans glisten in shades of fat-tanned ochre and mahogany. Stewed mushrooms and a bright red, grilled tomato lend a farm-fresh cheer. Pale buttered toast sits separately because it won’t fit on the overstuffed plate. It is a sepia-toned, all-English feast with none of the exotic bright bananas and oranges we take for granted at our table back home.

We tucked in to our overflowing bounty. The salt, lard, eggs, bread, and potatoes brought us back to life and released the tension in our limbs from the previous night’s hours of trekking to reach this secluded locale. Blessed with the perfect meal at the exact moment we needed it, we gazed out the doorway of the small cafe—built into what appeared to be the local rowing club’s flood-prone ground floor—at rain-slicked green grass, passing dog-walkers, and cyclists. We melted into our chairs and sat, satiated and comfy, feeling right with the world.

The British seem to have a complex about their love of a good “fry-up” that is unjustified for such a welcoming meal. It’s too greasy, too low-class, a sign of an obesity epidemic. It’s the British Big Mac. Yet, even Prince William is caught in the tabloids getting a helping. The Full English is loved and shamed and knows no bounds of class or creed. It’s British soul food that makes strangers feel at home.

Up Next

A Pint of Beer is Probably a Healthier Breakfast Than a Full English, Actually

Featured City Guides