I love breakfast. So seeking a great breakfast is a little bit of a pastime of mine. I’ve wandered by a few Bill’s locations, including Bill’s Angel and when I have I’ve generally kept on wandering, suspicious of it’s all too homogenised “fun” decor and suspiciously clean looking branding. It reeked of mass franchise, to which my foodstinct usually says no.
But this morning, I googled “best breakfast London” and was somewhat surprised when Bill’s topped the list of the Time Out guide. A click deeper and Euan Ferguson exposed the chain’s Brighton roots, and the feature photo did a good job of up showing off a veggie breakfast. I remembered a fleeting visit to Bill’s in Lewes and I decided to give it a go.
It made me slightly nervous when two staff pointed out the price list of decorative items strewn around the place. Am I in a shop or a cafe? Or perhaps I’ve inadvertently landed in the Hardrock Cafe and I’ll be going home with a t-shirt. I was willing to accept that, Euan’s review still echoing in my ears.
When my latte arrived with five centimetres of foam, I continued to attempt to hold on to that position of acceptance. Deep breaths, Jared. But I couldn’t help but think if I’d wanted a cappuccino I would have ordered one. Maybe the barista was having a bad day. I persevered.
I waited a few minutes. The wifi didn’t work. But surely that didn’t matter, I could read the paper. Which it turns out, was yesterdays. No matter, a few mindful moments wouldn’t hurt.
And in those mindful moments, I caught up with myself. Things weren’t looking good. I’ve been practising non-attachment. I flowed with it. I can’t control the situation but I can control how I react. Channelling the dalai lama here. Deep cleansing exhale. But no, the truth of the matter couldn’t be cleansed. I wasn’t enjoying myself. Not at all. I was mindfully aware that this place was not up to scratch. My foodstinct wanted to run.
The Bill’s Angel Veggie Breakfast
The veggie breakfast arrived and my eyes winced to regain their focus. My heart sank. Encircling the dish was a thick stream of sweet chilli sauce. The sugary, plasticy gumph you’d expect with a frozen spring roll at a local Chinese in a small country town. That chilli sauce that doesn’t taste at all like chilli. The waitress asked “would you like more sauces?”. “Oh no…” I replied, as I began to evaluate what I saw before me.
The design of this breakfast dish was all there. Poached eggs, over two slices of toast, one with guacamole and another with a nutty pesto. Some fried mushrooms. Fresh, bold flavours. Vibrant colours. Contrasting textures. It had all the components that should have made it work. It became clear however, that the execution had killed any chance of success.
Having seen the chilli sauce around the edge of the plate, I was hoping I could leave it there. But the chef had clearly gone nuts with the sauce bottle. It was everywhere. Under the eggs, amongst the mushrooms. The mushrooms had been cooked in soy and this flavour clashed badly with the sweet sauce. I realised this hadn’t been thought through. The toast was cold. Not warm, but cold, so it had gone soggy as it sucked up the abundant condiments. The egg yolk was runny, but so was the white. My stomach churned. One last attempt for reprieve, I tried the guacamole. The flat, almost beige looking avocado salsa. All I could taste was fridge.
Just at this moment the waitress returned. “Is everything OK?”, I didn’t really think. Instead explaining that the toast was cold, the egg whites runny and the entire dish was covered (said with dramatic emphasis) with chilli sauce. I was speaking calmly, but I am sure she detected my emotion. She offered a new dish, with the sauce on the side. And by that point, I’d had enough. The manager kindly gave me my coffee for free and I left.
I could have waited a second go at the dish, but my intuition was telling me, very clearly, that at least on this day, in this Bill’s, nothing was going to change. The first dish and the coffee were both made with probably reasonable ingredients, but none of that special ingredient that makes food work. It’s something that’s difficult to manufacture: it’s care, attention and love. In home cooking, or a good restaurant, there will be plenty of these ingredients. Most franchises as they expand, have great difficulty finding them.
Mindfulness and not being nice
There are some people who think that mindfulness means being nice. That it means always considering others and doing what’s best for the world. Some take it further and think it means being positive always, or not having “negative” emotions. I get where these well intended sentiments are coming from, but to me that isn’t what mindfulness is about. Mindfulness is about knowing your own person, including the bits that say “no thank you!”. Being congruent, you could say. And being mindful of what you don’t want, food wise, is very much a part of your foodstinct.
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Bill’s – Angel, Islington
9 White Lion Street
020 7713 7272
Reviewer: Jared –