If you’re the sort of person who wakes up hungry, you’ll want to read Red Sauce Brown Sauce: A British Breakfast Odyssey by Felicity Cloake.
It covers this writer’s journey, on her bicycle called Eddy, across the UK, to sample regional variations on our first meal of the day, whether that’s a Scottish breakfast, a desi version in Birmingham or an Ulster fry.
Cloake seems to have tapped into a foodie fetish. As she points out, Instagram’s Fry Up Police has over 750k followers, which is more than the churches of Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales combined. Although that account has been created to rate breakfasts, Cloake isn’t here to make us feel bad if we have the same toast and Marmite daily.
“Even the most adventurous eaters tend to be conservative at breakfast time. We all crave comfort to ease ourselves into the day, so I completely understand people who go for the same thing every morning, it saves the bother of having to think too much about it”, says the London-based author. “That said, there’s nothing to stop you enjoying these traditional foods at other times of the day; a kipper isn’t just for breakfast”.
Not that she’d have a leg to stand on when it comes to criticism. In the book, she admits to some controversial peccadillos.
“As someone who puts marmalade on their bacon roll, I don’t like to judge other people too harshly,” she says. “However, a pallid, floppy sausage on a fry up makes me feel queasy. I’d prefer it burnt to a cinder. And, like Alan Partridge, don’t get me started on beans touching egg”.
The idea for Red Sauce Brown Sauce came to Guardian columnist Cloake a couple of years ago, while she was on holiday, cycling the Outer Hebrides, and being fueled by black pudding rolls. Once she’d bagged the publishing deal, Covid delayed the planned trip by 14 months, which probably made sampling all 47 breakfasts on her 2,388km journey all the sweeter. Her momentum didn’t flag, thanks in part to the AA Gill quote pinned to her wall at home; “Breakfast is everything. The beginning, the first thing. It is the mouthful that is the commitment to a new day, a continuing life”.
Although this is Cloake’s seventh book, Red Sauce Brown Sauce follows a similar format to her last read, One More Croissant for the Road - another travelogue and gastronomic memoir. In common with the last book, her latest read is interspersed with recipes. These include ones for the Savoy’s Omelette Arnold Bennett, as well as ‘Scottish porridge’. Sweet or salty?
“Both! You’ve got to have a good pinch of salt in the porridge itself to bring out the flavour, but I also like something sweet on top, preferably either golden syrup or crunchy brown sugar. Sorry, I can’t help being English!” she says. “ In my defence, I don’t generally hold with adding fruit or yoghurt or any other nonsense though, I prefer to let the oats do the talking”.
The book also offers plenty of educational panels that explain, for example, the difference between a softie, morning roll, a Kentish huffkin and a West Yorkshire scuffler, as well as travel tales, including a bad hotel in Fife, a painful massage in Edinburgh, and the perils of taking Eddy, named after famous cyclist Eddy Merckx, on the train. In between feeds, she always takes the circuitous route.
“I can’t bear writing where the author is so hell bent on their goal, whether that’s a destination or a dish, that they leave no time to look around them and explore the places, and people, along the way”, says Cloake. “The best roads always meander a little, and I think there are few better ways to explore a country than by eating your way around it, chatting as you go. Whether you’re in Dieppe or Dunfermline, everyone loves to talk about food”.
The best and worst points of researching the book were based on physical achievements or failures, rather than terrible or excellent feeds. Generally, she ate very well.
“The high was actually probably the literal high point, pedaling up the Snow Road to Glenshee Ski Station, or rather coming back down the other way after a scone and a cup of tea at the cafe there. Even though it’s not quite the Alps, I felt a real sense of achievement when I saw those chairlifts!” she says. “ The low was very definitely tearing my hamstring ten days before in West Wales, which was not ideal when I still had six weeks of cycling ahead of me. The worst thing was, I wasn’t even on the bike when it happened, so I can blame no one but myself and my dodgy flip flops”.
Despite that injury, Cloake spent quite a bit of time in Scotland.
There’s a visit to Ramsay of Carluke, Arbroath for smokies and Mackays Dundee marmalade, and, in Edinburgh, she makes special mention of her favourite independent breakfast venues including The Pantry in Stockbridge, and Twelve Triangles, for their excellent croissants, which she scores 9/10.
“Not that I have anything against big chains (they’re often a reliable fallback when you’re on the road) but I love walking into an independent because you never know what you’re going to get, whether that’s a big plate of macaroni and chips at the University Cafe in Glasgow or fried haggis garnished with micro herbs at The Pantry”, she says. “Plus, hospitality has had such a rough few years that these businesses need all the help they can get if we’re going to still be able to enjoy them for years to come”.
As long as they serve marmalade with their bacon rolls.
Red Sauce Brown Sauce by Felicity Cloake is out now, Mudlark, priced £16.99.