“Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast,” says Mrs Cheveley in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. Many will agree with her that it is quite “dreadful of them” to be perky and witty, not to mention loud, first thing in the morning. I was once one of those health masochists you find at the gym at 5am, but then I had a real job. Before that brief interlude, I was a student practicing yoga, voiding my bowls at sunrise, and after matutinal pujas and contorting myself into the shape of a pretzel, nibbling a few carrots drizzled in wheatgerm.
While some get through the morning with little more than a Bloody Mary and a celery stick, others prefer a substantial start to the day. Mrs Beeton thought a hearty breakfast included not only oeufs au plat, rashers, toast and jam, but broiled fish, dried haddock and devilled sheep’s kidneys; even rump-steaks with mutton chops were considered suitable fare. She died at the tender age of 28, though for other reasons.
I’ve been offered almost everything for breakfast: from a can of Coke and a blueberry muffin in New York to a porterhouse steak with an egg on top “sunny-side up” in Australia; a mug of hot chocolate and a tankard of beer in Belgium; hummus and olives (Syria), curried eggs (Rajastan), miso soup (Japan), refried black bean porridge (Mexico), baguette and banana (Madagascar) and once, as the guest of a tycoon with more filthy lucre than taste, oysters and a Buck’s Fizz made with vintage Dom Pérignon.
We ought to be grateful the English breakfast is the tradition we’ve inherited in South Africa, though these days it competes with the ‘continental’ (designed for foreigners who snack all day and hotel establishments that can’t be bothered), and the rise of the ‘health’ breakfast. The latter involves recognising “the most important meal of the day” as a vital time to replenish one’s glycogen stores with slow release carbohydrates and push some fibre through your gut; not exactly motivating.
As someone who never liked breakfast – it makes me feel like a gavage goose in foie gras production – here are three establishments that won me over. They score high for the following reasons: all provide quality coffee; are relaxed and largely free of irritating laptop exhibitionism; and have a good choice of oil free fare, tasty and beautifully presented, which is saying something when it comes to eggs.
“Lazaris” as it is eponymously known, has made a roaring success of breakfast trade, though it is also renowned for its pink cupcakes and lunches. A popular meeting place, regular clients one recognises include many well-known comedians, an orchestra conductor, a few members of parliament and a prominent high court judge.
In addition to the regular choices, they offer a Greek breakfast with salami, emmenthal and boiled eggs (R42). Their ‘Early’ breakfast with crisp bacon, eggs to order, grilled tomato and crostini is good value at R33. On weekends eggs Benedict (R48) is their speciality. The coffee (R11) is Italian – Portioli from Milan.
On Upper Kloof Street’s estate agent strip is trendy Manna. With its icing-cake white interior and wholesome foods, it was an immediate hit with locals and tourists. Though far from cheap – free range poached eggs with slow roasted vine tomatoes and bacon is R65 – it is continuously buzzing, especially on Sunday mornings.
On the health side, they offer warm oats, fresh apple and honey, with a choice of milk, yoghurt or soya milk for R45. The coffee is the TriBeCa brand and of all the establishments reviewed here arrives at table the hottest.
Tucked away behind two enormous gum trees on Bree Street is the quirky boutique cafe Birds. Dairy crates with foam tops serve as chairs at makeshift, trestle tables. The kitchen is behind a curtain in front of which is a mouth-watering display of homemade cakes. Swan shaped lights hang from the ceiling, sunlight filters in through Georgian style windows, and instead of music they play CDs of birdsongs. It’s a wonderful respite from the city.
Few establishments take more trouble over their coffee (R12). Served in eccentric asymmetrical cups (I peaked underneath to find a Milnerton flea market emblem), they select, blend and roast organic African coffees themselves.
Scrambled eggs with mushrooms, tomato and doorsteps of homemade bread (R31) for outstanding quality must be the best value in town. I tried their filled omelette once, with loads of fresh Swiss chard, though the promised feta was all but undetectable (R42.50). Their crepes stuffed with seasonal fruit, yoghurt and honey are enormous (R42.50).
Breakfast is a healthy habit, whether its eggs and bacon or honey and almonds; best then to do it well.
Birds Boutique Cafe, 127 Bree Street, Cape Town. Open Monday to Fridays at 7am. Tel: 021 426 2534.
Lazari Food Gallery, 221 Upper Maynard Street, Vredehoek. Open Monday to Friday at 7:30am and 8:30am on weekends. Tel: 021 461 9865.
Manna Epicure, 151 Kloof Street, Tamboerskloof. Open Tuesday to Sunday at 9am. Tel: 021 426 2413.