Having spent the last two weeks traveling across England, I’ve had a lot of time to focus on some more traditional fare. While there is no adequate vegetarian alternative for some of England’s most famous dishes – the savoury pudding or Cornish pasty – I’ve been able to find some of the most delicious, vegetarian food by way of breakfast.
There are two ways to do breakfast across the pond, although it’s not likely you’ll do either at a typical breakfast hour.
The quintessential High Tea, and the Full Breakfast, are two must-dos if you’re ever in Great Britain. Vastly different in terms of flavor, atmosphere, and cost, both provide a uniquely English experience, and have been updated over the years to accomodate even the less carnivorous of us.
When I dined on the “Lunch Brunch” pictured above, it was actually dinnertime. But this vegetarian version of the pub classic was a home-run in terms of nutrition, flavor and culture. At a pub in Oxford, The Bell and Compass, you can take your Full Breakfast vegetarian-style. Fresh-cut peppers and halloumi cheese filled in for the bangers and rashers. While typically served with home fries and baked beans, the chef gladly agreed to my request for a salad substitute.
The Full Breakfast, at most restaurants and cafes, is usually served all day. Some are turning out plates with vegetarian sausage, while others keep the beans, add a mash, or come with toast – but there’s no question that they can quickly transform this British classic into a hearty vegetarian dream, packed with protein, vegetables, and a refreshing variety of options.
Really, High Tea is more typically taken in the late afternoon. Meant to serve as a boost to hold you over until dinner, the combination of caffeine and sugar is a great way to get through the late-day slump. However, breakfast is as good a time as any to try out this British custom.
At the Tate Britain’s Rex Whistler Restaurant, tea comes at the perfect price. Notoriously difficult on the wallet, I was thrilled to find a place that made it possible for me to indulge in this British custom. For under nine pounds, you can enjoy a pot of brewed Jing leaf tea with three crostinis and a selection of sweet morsels.
While not a listed option, the staff at the Rex Whistler quickly accomodated my request for a vegetarian version of their High Tea. Instead of salmon and cucumber, I received a bruschetta-style bite with rocket and tomatoes, delicately dressed with olive oil and cracked pepper. I agreed to keep the egg mayo and baked-cheese crostinis, as they were bite-sized tastes of the heavier foods I’d typically avoid.
I wouldn’t recommend turning a High Tea like the one at the Tate Britain into any every-day activity. Despite their tiny portions, the pastries are still loaded with butter and sugar. But as a perfectly scaled morning or afternoon treat, the English custom of High Tea is a wonderful way to enjoy some British classics, without committing to an entire fruited scone with clotted cream, or a Ploughman-sized egg and mayo sandwich.
A proper breakfast should fill you up, satisfy your palate, and set you off on the right foot for the day ahead. It’s a great time to start getting your daily protein, and is always best with a hot pot of coffee or tea.
I’m looking forward to a few more English Breakfasts, and at least one more High Tea, before taking that big steel bird back to the States. While there’s no shortage of great breakfast options back home, I might never again have the opportunity to say “If I could just hold the bangers and rashers, and have an extra serving of rocket and mash…” again. And certainly, if I tried, one can only imagine what I might find on my plate.