The English breakfast may be the true legacy to the world of this country’s cuisine. Yes, there are English muffins, creme anglaise, and of course English breakfast tea. But the only dish that needs no specific description is the eponymous Full English. It’s a meal that is widely available throughout the land, with many regional variations and personal preferences accompanying the standard ingredients of egg, sausage and bacon.
We’ve have eaten a good many of the Island’s full English breakfast offerings: from the woeful – with oily deep-fried mushrooms and rock-solid yolks – to the absolutely glorious.
Years ago, we stayed in a farmhouse B&B in Chelmsford (long story). It was quite a remarkable experience. The farmhouse itself was an historic half-timbered affair with wobbly floors like the deck of the Victory, and a soundtrack of spooky creaks and rustles. Cat discovered that ‘Hello’ magazine was a guilty pleasure of Matt’s and he worked out that not all full English breakfasts are the same. If TripAdvisor had existed back then we would have written a scathing account of rehydrated mushrooms, miserable flaccid cocktail sausages and Cat’s upset stomach following consumption of some particularly elderly eggs. You get the picture.
Spin the clock forward a decade and a half and, praise be to God, we have discovered what might be the acme of English breakfasts within the shores of this fair isle. Bleach your minds of any thoughts of us prodding listlessly at cold and brittle unbuttered toast. Instead fill your imaginations with the scents and sight of moist and meaty smoked rashers, succulent sausages and doorstops of multi-seeded toasted bread.
But hang on a moment, let’s unwind a little bit first. No, not all the way back to Chelmsford – that filthy memory has been expunged. No, let’s consider the slow and steady rise and rise of Briddlesford Lodge Farm. As any attentive visitor to the farm’s new heritage centre will know, the dairy farmer arrived there in the 1920s and, over the decades, the Griffin family has established an award-winning dairy herd in Wootton. And a farm shop. And a café. The café is what tourism bosses might label a ‘destination’ venue, as is the Garlic Farm café. Both are off the beaten track and both have established themselves on the visitor radar by being consistently rather good.
Over the years, Bluebells Café has maintained the quality of its food even earning itself a coveted Wight Marque, the brand that shows the Island provenance of food and drink. Bluebells is an excellent example of why that’s worth something. It’s a delight – but hardly a surprise – that this dairy farm café serves its own milk, cream and veal. What’s less expected is that its own butcher prepares the sausages.
All the ingredients in Matt’s Bluebells breakfast were well above average. The aforementioned sausages were meaty and firm, and the bacon was sublime – thin, smoky and cooked to perfection. You’d hope that a farm would be able to produce a decent Full English and it really does. Here Bluebells triumphs.
All this talk of meaty goodness is starting to overshadow the other meal on the table. Cat chose to have the vegetarian breakfast, as a nod to those of you who like to hear about such things. Some vegetarians are so militant in their views that they will not even countenance substitutes that are facsimiles of meat, such as ‘facon’ and ‘fausages’ (OK, Cat made that last one up) – but you know, vaguely meat-shaped and salty fodder. If you are one of those vegetarians that prefers veg to look like veg then you will like the Bluebells veggie breakfast.
Unlike the FEB, with its traditional arrangement of meats and whatnot, Bluebells vegetarian breakfast was presented in a bowl; a kind of layered affair of spinach, chopped and fried mushrooms and tomatoes, mixed up with sautéed potatoes and with two poached eggs wobbling gently on the top. The eggs were perfect, so top marks to Mr Poachy. As Cat delved her way through the layers in the bowl she had a lightbulb moment. The sautéed potatoes and spinach were a kind of deconstructed bubble and squeak. Maybe it would have been even better to combine them into actual bubble and squeak and serve it on a plate, alongside the (unchopped) mushroom, tomatoes and eggs. Giving the vegetarians coveted bubble and squeak would certainly make the carnivores sit up and take notice.
We cogitated this idea for a while, as Cat supped her rather decent Americano and Matt swilled his teapot to wring out a third cup of redbush. We both turned to look out of the window at the calves chewing their way through some sweet hay – and couldn’t help but recall some excellent veal we’d recently had at Bluebells.
Briddlesford genuinely is a working farm, and part of the appeal of the place is how the visitor experience is woven through with relatively little fuss. There’s no need to get in the way of the loader as the silage is taken off to the nearby barns, but if you want to stand and watch it happening, you can. Big windows in the café reveal the farmyard, where agricultural activity abounds. You can even visit appealing young calves in a little petting area on the way out. But Briddlesford is not a play farm; they take their dairy business seriously and that attention to detail is reflected in the café.
This is the full-length version of the shorter review that was published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Hyper-local ingredients, including Briddlesford's butter
- Some really good quality ingredients
- A chance to see a working farm
- At the top end price-wise
- Veggie breakfast a bit potatoey