Review | Written and photographed by Nathan Mattise
When presented with the opportunity to travel, eating locally is just as important as seeing the most historic and culturally unique local landmarks. It’s representative of local tradition, geography/agriculture and also creative (specifically culinary) trends. Anthony Bourdain reinvented himself as a writer and even found fame off this exploration of culture through cuisine.
So when I finally had the chance to visit Europe this month, exploring the local food was a must. I spent nearly a week in London and crossed off meat pies, true teas, haggis and various beverages from my to-do list. My meal preferences, however, ultimately needed to lead me to a true English breakfast. Luckily I was staying on historic Baker Street with Bar Linda nearby.
I didn’t get out to true breakfast places as much as I would’ve liked, but Bar Linda seemed like an American Diner trying to package itself as an English Diner. This wasn’t a bad thing however. It was tiny inside with a fantastic picture window that looked out onto the main street. Tables were familiar like any hole-in-the-wall establishment you’d seek out solely for the food’s reputation. The walls were appropriately covered with framed pictures of Paul McCartney and other British pop culture icons.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the decor of a true British Diner, but the interior of Bar Linda was as homey as any of the smaller CNY diners I’ve been to (felt like I was eating in someone’s small kitchen). Perhaps the American Diner I’ve come to love is actually based off English predecessors. This could be a total chicken and the egg situation not even Wikipedia can resolve.
Service at the Bar Linda was a bit different than what I was used to. You order at the table and were served there, but that was really it. There wasn’t much waitress interaction or checkup. I was told by my girlfriend/host that you don’t even tip in the American sense of the gesture. It made for a very personal dining experience as if were dining at a counter service place like a Wegmans or fast-food restaurant.
Ultimately, all of those peripheral details weren’t what’s important. The food was what I wanted to experience most. I had to order a full English breakfast.
A full English breakfast traditionally involves bacon, eggs, fried or grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, fried bread or toast and sausages, usually served with a pot of tea, black pudding sometimes included. Bar Linda’s was fairly loyal to that – for right around 5 pounds you got all of the above, minus mushrooms, plus hashbrowns and beans (black pudding ordered separately but a necessary trial). The lasting impression is that this meal is big and hearty. It’s a breakfast that simply eliminates the need for lunch.
For some specifics, the way the English do bacon is outstanding. It’s less crispy and more chewy, maintaining a great bacon flavor but being juicier than what I’d expect from the breakfast meat. Fried tomatoes are also something I never considered but will now make sure to include on any Sunday morning homecooking (they are a great pairing element to the breakfast – solid with the meats, eggs, toast, hashbrowns – you name it).
The black pudding was the only uniquely English breakfast food I was aware of coming in. That said, I didn’t have a clue what was in it (and was even hesitant to look at its Wiki well after this meal occurred). Congealed animal blood with some meat fillers doesn’t sound too appetizing, but you need to close your eyes and try it. It reminded me of a cohesive Thanksgiving stuffing, but when paired with the bacon it was a bite you could see yourself taking over and over.
London had many things I’ll never forget. It left me with a laundry list of things I want to do if the opportunity to go ever presents itself again. Near the top of that are certainly more mornings of tea and plates full of English staples. I may not have many of its peers to compare with, but Bar Linda introduced me to what a real English breakfast was and left me hungry for more.
The Final Tab
Pros: Opportunity to try traditional cuisine, affordable, quality food, cozy interior with a street view
Cons: Interior decor is nothing new, service is unusual for travelers
Four out of Five (Pancakes with sides | Some days you’ll seek it out)