Battle of the breakfasts

03 November 2005
Battle of the breakfasts

In the wake of Little Chef's takeover last week, new owner the People's Restaurant Group announced that price cuts would play a key part in its plans to revitalise the flagging chain of roadside restaurants.

"There'll be no more ridiculously priced pots of tea, no more credit card breakfasts and no more remortgages required to feed the family on a short break," claimed chief executive Simon Heath.

Which all leads to the question: exactly how expensive are Little Chefs these days? Well, quite expensive, actually. Fish and chips with a mug of tea costs £9.48, a pot of tea costs £2, a full English breakfast with tea and toast costs up to £9.40.

I can hear you wail from here - "You've got to be kidding!"

Chairman Lawrence Wosskow and Heath plan to slash the cost of both dishes to 4.99, but in the meantime we decided to find out exactly what a 9.40 breakfast tastes like, and how it compares with a top-end restaurant and a good old-fashioned caf. If 30 sounds unreasonable, hold on to your wallet…

Carmen's Café, Tooting Bec, London Full English breakfast £3.60; hash browns £50p; tea £60p
Total price: 5.30
What was it? Two slices bacon, two white toast, sausage, one fried egg and baked beans
Overall impression: Clean wooden tables, a light, airy space, cheery service and a classic English breakfast at a reasonable price.
High point: Service was outstanding. The food was cooked to order, it was hot, and the staff were consistently friendly and helpful. The sausage was better than expected.
Low point: Fried egg. A well-cooked yolk was undermined by the slippery white, which left a greasy stain on the plate.
Also worth a mention: It was reassuring to see the cook slicing fresh mushrooms rather than opening a tin. The inclusion of baked beans was also welcomed by Caterer and a mug of builder's tea was brewed to perfection.
Marks: 7/10

The Wolseley, Piccadilly, London
Full English breakfast £11.75; toast £1; pot of tea £2.50

Total price: £15.25
What was it? Two fried eggs, black pudding, tomato, sausage, three rashers of bacon, mushrooms
Overall impression: Presentation was great. It looked really appetising and portions were generous enough to satisfy a hungry builder. In light of the stylish surroundings and quality tableware - complete with silver teapot, milk jug and cutlery - Caterer thought the breakfast was both good value and tasty. Service was also extremely attentive. Our one quibble was the extra charge for toast and conserves and the outrageously priced juice, at £2 for a small glass.
High point: Bacon. Dangerously crispy, so much so that it threatened to fly off the plate, while still remaining succulent and not too salty. Caterer also loved the preserves, which were all made in house and were extremely tasty - so good in fact that you could spoon them directly into your mouth.
Low point: Sausage. Not a good, meaty sausage but rather spongy, tasteless and bland.
Also worth a mention: The black pudding was light, moist and not too cloying, with a livery taste and herb undertones. Two large, flat field mushrooms were done to perfection. The tomato was slightly bland, but juicy and well cooked. Eggs were disappointingly overcooked.
Marks: 7/10

Little Chef, Dorking, Surrey Full English breakfast £8.77 (now reduced to £4.99)

What was it? One fried egg, black pudding, sausage, one slice of bacon, mushrooms, tomato, one slice of white toast and mug of tea
Overall impression: It's hard to know where to start. Everything about Caterer's trip to the restaurant was disappointing, from the sticky Formica tables to the breathtakingly bad service.
High point: None
Low point: The black pudding was rock-hard and tasted of nothing but grease. It was inedible. Bacon, one slice, was watery, greasy and tasteless. The mushrooms appeared to be from a tin and were drab, tasteless and grey. A fellow diner's vegetarian breakfast was sent back after what appeared to be a dog hair was found on her tomato.
Also worth a mention: The service was shocking. Drinks ordered with the breakfasts failed to arrive until long after the food and, when they did, the tea still had a bag left in with no spoon to remove it. Extra toast didn't arrive till we were about to leave, and we had to remind our waiter twice about an extra portion of beans. This was surpassed when the waiter came to remove the plates and scraped the leftovers from one plate on to another right under our noses, and then accidentally dropped the dirty cutlery on to one of our laps. Oh dear!
Marks: 1/10

London Hotel Breakfast Prices

The good old English breakfast of sausage, bacon and eggs does not come cheap in the capital, particularly if you are staying in one of London's luxury hotels. We rang 18 hotels to find the most expensive.

  • The Ritz (inc service) £30
  • The Lanesborough £28
  • The Carlton Tower £28
  • The Connaught £26
  • The Dorchester £25.50
  • The Mandarin Oriental £25
  • The Baglioni £25
  • The Berkeley £24.75
  • Claridge's £24.50
  • The Savoy £24.50
  • Hilton Park Lane £24.50
  • The Landmark £24.50
  • The Metropolitan £24
  • The Langham £23
  • St Martins Lane hotel £20.50
  • The Goring £18.50
  • Soho hotel £18.50
  • The Charlotte Street hotel £18

(All prices except the Ritz exclude a service charge, normally 12.5%)

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