We have visited the Guinea Grill before. It’s an ancient pub down a mews off Berkeley Square, concealing a very traditional grill room. Though the place was a timeless London institution, it underwent an astonishing change of fortune under the management of Oisín Rogers, whose answer to the “problem” of a meat-heavy, wine-soaked, old-fashioned dive was to make it more so.
More meat, better wine, a purge on new-fanglery and a confident restatement of its original purpose. Never has any restaurateur reconstructed a place to be more unreconstructed.
What occasions the repeat visit is that “the Guinea is doing breakfast”, news that reduced the portion of London’s food community that doesn’t view a plant-based 5:2 as the panacea for all ills to excited gibbering. What wonders would Rogers wreak on the Fry-Up?
The banquettes are still the colour of a necrotising clogged artery. Nothing looks to have changed in that department but I guess that’s the point. Properly uniformed staff take your order and range the implements on spotless linen. Pros like me usually take this lull in the proceedings as the moment to pop a couple of prophylactic ranitidine.
I don’t want to call the man in charge the maître d’ — it sounds too foppish for Vladimir. Perhaps he should be “Captain”, as they call them in America, or possibly Field Marshall. I ordered coffee in a cafetière — I feared something as effete as a flat white would get me blackballed — and the full breakfast with devilled kidneys on the side.
Vladimir suggested I take the devilled kidneys as a separate first course and I prudently declined to cavil. I had just noticed a “mixed grill”, a list of about 20 terrifying components, involving parts of at least three species and suggested for “up to two people”. Having a starter with your fried breakfast was clearly the light option here.
The modest dish of kidneys would have been an admirable start to a cold day for half a scrum, a rowing eight or a dozen members of the Quorn. But I would not let it slow me down, in light of the fact that each organ was fried precisely to its pink-hearted peak, not simply “devilled” but personally tossed by Baphomet in fiery boiling oils.
There wasn’t really a brassy peal of trumpets as the main course arrived, it just felt that way in my head. There was black pudding, fudgy and packing enough haemoglobin to put iron in the soul. The sausages were short — spectacularly tasty, but there’s no point in overloading the tanks with the cheaper stuff. The bacon was a single piece, less of a rasher than a modest steak, with a substantial fat layer. There was a mushroom for health.
A fried egg — of the most wonderfully sticky consistency and lacey at the edges from the fryer — draped itself fetchingly on top of a slice of fried bread — reminding me, in some bizarre, pork-fuelled flashback, of Kate Winslet on a life raft. There were “baked beans”, but I roundly shunned them.
By halfway round the plate, I was quietly groaning, but with every element (except perhaps the beans) as exaggeratedly extra as it was, I couldn’t stop picking. I could feel my pulse in my eardrums. I could hear the sound of my own heart trying to force lumps through my tricuspid valve. This must be what they mean by “transports of joy” — or, possibly, “apoplexy”.
For many years, a full breakfast was a democratic, guiltless treat; then it was demonised when governments turned against fats. It contains enough cured pork to terrify the Low-Salt Zealots and the Nitrite Phalangists, and it’s never going to win vegans over — but it has remained an ironic celebration for largely male aficionados.
I knew I was going to eat something very special at the Guinea, so I put aside the whole day to celebrate the rite. But who has the constitution to suck down the full monty and then do a full day’s work?
In their glory days, one could take one’s father for a fry-up at Simpsons-in-the-Strand and feel one’s inheritance was ensured for another year. But avocados have sapped our resolve and it feels, at times, as if the Full-Dress Ceremonial Breakfast is endangered. But as long as the Guinea exists and Rogers continues his conservation programme, there is yet hope.
30 Bruton Place, Mayfair, London W1J 6NL; 020 7409 1728; theguinea.co.uk
Full English grill: £24
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