The centre could not hold, at least for Piggy’s. The drama of being the only greasy spoon in the West End — in Air Street, of all places — was too much, and it swelled, panicked, and fell apart. Yesterday I ate a mean sliver of almost cold bacon inside hard white supermarket bread. The butter had fled, possibly in the night, possibly with its luggage. There is a good, cheap bacon sandwich — I would argue the cheap bacon sandwich is the only good bacon sandwich — but it must have soft bread, crispy bacon, and butter as plentiful as a lover’s heart. This wasn’t it.
But what is a good breakfast in a city that is — like the new hotel inside the Trocadero, the Zedwell, pre-fabricated and built elsewhere, and shipped in — a box within a box?
3 Henrietta Street is named for its address. Perhaps this is a grasp for identity, everything else having failed. (‘We believe in London,’ says its website. What does that mean, beyond, perhaps, that the copywriter doesn’t?) Maybe it just lacks imagination. Maybe it was named by its postman. It is part of the ever-changing merry-go-round of restaurants that now, along with ever more glossy shops, constitute Covent Garden, which was once — and this is almost too depressing to remember — a flower market. It lives inside a tall, grey Georgian house on the square and is styled like a club — Soho House, what else? — with too-bright colours, as in the Masque of the Red Death, and spurious floristry, which leaks on to the plates.
Here, in two restaurants (El Takoy and Pivot) and one café (Lilly’s) you can eat, among other things, beetroot avocado toast, cheddar and mushroom baked eggs and baskets of artisanal muffins amid an almost overpowering sense of whimsy and denial. You cannot escape whimsy in London restaurants, which often call themselves ‘spaces’ or ‘hubs’. I recently found one on Brewer Street that is almost all lampshades.
Rather better is Hide on Piccadilly. It should be. Hide Above, run by Ollie Dabbous, is one of the best restaurants in the city. There is bad food as bad art and good food as good art. Hide Above is the second.
It may be ludicrous to speak ill of whimsy in an article praising a restaurant whose staircase is a bespoke tree, a sort of Magic Faraway Tree leading to a tasting-menu restaurant that serves food alongside bones and feathers and bricks of ice, but it is a very good tasting-menu restaurant. It all comes back to the food.
In Hide Below, with its pale walls and wooden floors, they also serve breakfast. It is filled with gilded women and also with hedge-funders, who probably own the box-within-a-box hotel — and the city-within-a-city — but I forgive it that, because it is a joyful experience, and well priced.
The menu is large. There is seasonal fruit, muesli, porridge with fresh honey-comb, maple syrup or prunes, and honey mango; banana bread, French toast, brioche and croissant; eggs Florentine, royale and Benedict, and a full English breakfast, though it is not called that here. It is, however, a perfect English breakfast, with every element — bacon, egg, sausage, tomato, black pudding, sourdough toast — perfectly balanced within. This is harder than it looks.
So, if you want a good breakfast in central London (Piggy’s having failed us), try Hide; or, as my husband suggests, follow the high-viz jackets on some sausage-bricked road to Oz, or nowhere.
Piggy’s, 1 Air St, London W1; tel: 020 7734 0821; 3 Henrietta St, London WC2, tel: 020 3325 5275; Hide, 85 Piccadilly, London W1, tel: 020 3146 8666.