Saturday, 23 January 2010

Automat – London. A seriously good breakfast

Wednesday saw me attending the Bibendum Grand Tasting, an annual wine tasting event held at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, widely considered to be ‘the’ wine event of the year. I’d booked the day off work especially, it’s an all day thing – the doors open at 9-30am and close again at 7pm and I planned on making the most of it.

Those who know me, probably realise I’m not much of a ‘taster’, classing myself as more of a ‘drinker’….the idea of spitting fantastic booze away after just a brief taste fills myself and my particular compadre – “the liver”, with utter horror.

To this end I thought it would be an extremely good idea to eat a hearty breakfast first. Something to soak up that booze and save me from the worst effects of all the self inflicted excess.

I’ve always fancied eating at Automat in Mayfair, the American diner. I hear it mentioned on and off pretty regularly, and I remember seeing pictures of the gorgeous interior when it opened. Checking their website, I noted that they open for breakfast from 7am and that their menu is pretty extensive – covering all of the classic American breakfast options pancakes, waffles, French toast etc. Lovely.
I booked a table for myself, and a couple of other food bloggers attending the wine tasting. So far - so good.

The night before threw up an interesting dilemma. For various reasons, my dining companions had to drop out one by one. Until I was left with a stark choice, cancel the table…. or dine alone.

Dining alone is not something I’ve ever done really, at least not in the sense of booking a table at a restaurant, turning up and being seated – ordering and eating alone. It’s entirely new to me, and if I’m honest the idea filled me with some trepidation. But, a quick poll on Twitter found that many of my fellow foodies often dine alone in restaurants, in fact some stated that they really enjoy the chance to eat, people watch, read the papers or a novel and relax. This information left me brimming with newly found confidence; I decided to press on, cross this mental boundary and experience solo dining. I was going.

Strolling through St James Park, on a grey drizzly morning and clutching a paper to read with my breakfast I made my way up to Dover Street feeling fairly serene, in fact I was really looking forward to it, my jitters of the previous evening completely forgotten. Spying the yellow awning of Automat, I entered – was greeted warmly and shown to a fantastic table…. a booth to myself in fact, which allowed me to view most of the restaurant which was fairly busy with well-heeled diners enjoying their breakfasts (This is Mayfair after all).

A note about the interior….it’s bloody gorgeous! All wood, dark leather booths, chrome, black and white geometric tiles…a fantastic and very atmospheric study in how to get it right, I loved it. This combined with the Glenn Miller big band style music playing softly in the background made it feel like I’d stepped into a 1940’s detective novel. Perfect.

Sipping a rather decent coffee, I studied the menu. Bearing in mind what I had planned for later with regards to pickling myself at the Bibendum tasting…the choice wasn’t actually that hard. “Automat Big Breakfast” strained out from the page, as the rest of the menu lost focus entirely. Made up of sausage, egg, bacon, mushrooms, tomato and topped off with fillet steak (that’s right – steak! and U.S.D.A. premium non hormone treated Nebraskan corn fed beef at that), it was practically ordering itself. All I had to add was my choice of egg (scrambled) and how I wanted my steak (Medium-rare) and we were good to go.

Whilst waiting, I people watched, read the paper…updated twitter….I didn’t once feel uncomfortable dining solo, in fact it felt quite liberating in some way…..resisting the urge to explore this newfound and strange dining freedom further by stripping naked, my breakfast arrived just in time. Wow.

Now that’s what I call a breakfast. A heap of beautifully moist scrambled eggs, a huge tomato cooked just so until it was soft, but not mushy. Crisp bacon, a nicely browned sausage, a pile of mushrooms and finally the Fillet Steak.

Cutting into the steak, spot on medium rare as ordered, I proceeded to demolish the breakfast in pretty short order. The sausage, the bacon and the steak were all of beautiful quality – as you would expect for a breakfast that costs £15 I guess. I absolutely loved it, clearing the plate, sighing happily and loosening the belt a notch or two…. I slumped back in the booth utterly stuffed and considered the verdict.

I can easily say this was without a doubt one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever eaten, anywhere. Perfect, but combined with the beautiful interior and the feeling that your in a film noir detective flick. Priceless. I can’t recommend Automat enough. At these prices it’s certainly not an everyday choice, but as a treat now and again. Definitely.

But the real test… How did this breakfast prepare me for a full day of ‘tasting’?
I got to Bibendum at 12…and left at 7pm.
I ate nothing else all day.
I drank enough alcohol to send the late Olly Reed running for cover – and I felt fine, bit tipsy perhaps but totally A1.
Automat – (and Bibendum wine) I salute you both.

33 Dover Street

Telephone: 020 7499 3033


Angeli cooks from mycaribbeanfood:) said...

Now that is what I call a breakfast, and in one of my favorite parts of London! I'm not sure anyone could outdo Oliver Reed tho'. Love the post:)

meemalee said...

Fab post Dan, but I think your stomach is shrinking - great as that looks, there's no way that would keep me going for a full day :p

A Scot in London said...

God if had known it was going to be that good Dan I would have joined ;-)

Jones said...

Looks like a great place, have filed it away for future reference. Glad you to hear you got past the solo-dining thing, could be the start of a whole new world of blogging for you ;)

Dan said...

Angeli - Yep, it's a cracking breakfast that's for sure. Yeah the Oliver Reed comment is pushing it a bit eh ;) Thanks!

Meemalee - Thanks! my stomach is shrinking - I bloody wish! It's a bigger breakfast than it looks in the pic, it's all about perspective.....that sausage on the right is actually as big as a babies arm (errr....I swear, I've never used this argument before).

Rachel - I knew a Scot would recognise a great breakfast, you should have joined me :)

Jones - Thanks, yep solo dining isn't that bad....but it's nicer to have company. Im very social.

Neil said...

Dan - Top work! You must have been truly working the rooms, and working through the wines.

On dining alone, it's something most people have trepidation about, I love it - can be as quick or as slow as you want, and you get to take the world in. That said, I learnt due to working away a lot - but I still do enjoy heading for a nice meal on my lonesome.

Alas, I've not spotted a place doing a breakfast with steak in Birmingham - this needs to be rectified.

Helen said...

And there it is in all it's glory - THAT breakfast. I am glad you took the plunge and dined alone. I really enjoy it. It gives me time to just sit there, concentrate on the food and look at other people and what they are eating. I often feel quite inspired food wise as well.

The Ample Cook said...

Dear Billy no mates ;)

Wow a breakfast with steak. It looked a pretty good plateful and a very sensible idea to stoke up with a good brekkie before all the imbibing.

ps I know you have lots of mates really

uma said...

Fab post Dan,

A damn good read. There's something rather decadent about eating breakfast out, the one you had especialy so.

Kavey said...

Looks good to me!
I was one of those who responded to your tweet... I enjoy eating out alone, from time to time. It's not something I'd choose to do all the time, I love social eating. But people watching, reading a paper or good book, chatting to staff... it's all good.
Glad you have been liberated from that fear!

Gourmet Chick said...

Well done you- eating out alone is quite fun I think but I also think breakfast is probably the easiest meal to eat alone, lunch too, it is when you eat dinner alone that it can feel a bit uncomfortable - maybe that can be your next challenge!

LexEat! said...

I agree w Gourmet Chic - "dining" alone is not really breakfast - take the challenge and go dinner!

Great entertaining post as usual Dan

scandilicious said...

Totally agree with you Dan that dining alone can be liberating, good for you taking the plunge ;) Have had a few brunches at Automat over the years, mostly of the eggs benedict/norwegian variety and the service can be hit and miss but overall the atmosphere as you say is great and that breakfast you enjoyed certainly looked *fantastic*

Greedy Diva said...

Eating alone is a great chance to treat yourself - it always feels like the ultimate luxury to drink a fine wine while reading a good book and going for the full 3 courses.

Dan said...

Neil - Thanks! Be interested to know what the place in Birmingham doing steak as part of their breakfast is like.

Helen - seems like I'm the only one out of all the food bloggers who hasn't dined alone up till now. It was a bloody good breakfast :)

Jan - Thanks. Mates hahaha yep, but I couldn't wrangle up any to have breakfast with me in my hour of need.

Uma - Thank you :)

Kavey - Thanks for the advice on Twitter, and yep you were right. Was nowhere near as awkward as I thought it would be.

GourmetChick/Lexeat! - I agree entirely, breakfast has to be the easiest option for dining alone - followed by lunch. Dinner alone in a restaurant is a different proposition entirely. I SHALL make it my next challenge :)
Thanks for the comments :

Sig - Thanks. Interesting that you've been a few times. How are the eggs benedict there? (A fave of mine). The service was good when I was there, but then I went towards the end of the breakfast rush and it wasn't as busy whilst I was eating.

Greedy Diva - aha - another blogger no stranger to dining alone. Seriously, seems like I've been really missing something here.

Graphic Foodie said...

Love the interior! Perfect place for breakfast.

Lizzie said...

I'm not a huge fan of dining alone, but I don't mind it. That looks like an absolute cracker of a breakfast, and it clearly did it's job!

Mr Noodles said...

What a breakfast ! You need a healthy lining like that to tackle a day of wine "tasting".

Breakfast and lunch are ok for dining alone especially if its something casual like bacon & eggs, a bowl of noodles or a burger. But I've never felt overly comfortable doing dinner on my lonesome although I've done it countless times on business trips.

Dan said...

Fran - the Interior was bloody gorgeous. I loved it too. Really well done.

Lizzie - yep, it certainly did do it's job. I survived :)

Mr Noodles - Healthy lining hahaha agree completely.
Yeah I think dinner in a formal restaurant on your own is the real test, I'll need to give it a try sometime soon and see how it feels.

gastrogeek said...

Fantastic post! I want that breakfast now- am so very gutted I missed this and the Bibendum thingy, so unfair.

Browners said...

Impressive stuff. The mark f a good breakfast is how it prepares you for the rest of the day. Given that you drank a skin full of booze and still felt fine, this means this breakfast must have been pretty money.

Food Urchin said...

Just as you had the guts to go it alone, I wish I bloody had the guts to have thrown a sickie that day and join you. Ah never mind.

Great post and well done for resisting the urge to strip naked. It just wouldn't have been right putting your fellow diners off their eggs Benedict.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one ot notice that you went for an American breakfast but ended up ordering the English breakfast!?! Except for the steak it's pretty much your bog standard English brekie (albeit with higher quality ingredients).

Had you wanted a true American breakfast you would have ordered eggs benedict, pancakes, waffles or an omlette. Try that next time and let us know what you think.

Dan said...

Gastrogeek - yep shame you missed it. Next time Reginald!

Browners - yep, agreed that is the mark of a good breakfast and this one did the job admirably.

Dan - yeah you should have thrown that sicky fella, you missed a great breakfast and some great wine tasting. I just barely resisted the urge...just....

Annonymous - I didn't specifically go for an American breafast, I just went there to eat whatever I fancied off the menu, but I see your point. I was starving and that was the biggest breakfast in the place. I did briefly consider the more traditional American options, but I wanted substantial. If I go back, I will perhaps try something more trad US Diner and let you know.