Surviving Northern European Cafes, or What to Have For Breakfast

Hotels should not be like people. People you should get to know slowly; you discover their drawbacks and delights over time with a sense of wonder and delight (or revulsion, in which case you run!). Hotels should not emulate this pattern – they should tell you all about themselves upfront and unequivocally.

Which is to say, I checked into a large, metropolitan hotel to discover that they were unrepentant bastards because they had not made it clear on their website that that they had no food: no room service, no restaurant, no lobby coffee shop, not so much as a crumb for that mouse in Whoville. And after 48 hours of travel, were we pleased? Oh no we were not, especially when the clerk snapped that I might simply use the local food-delivery app, which I had never heard of, much less used. Quelle distress as I trekked, hiked I tell you, for blocks searching for sustenance. At last, as I was close to tottering, I found a place.

The next morning, off I went in pursuit of a cafe. Sigh. What did I find? A northern European cafe. Sigh. Oats. Oatmeal. Carrot rolls. Salt and pepper rolls. Skagen (I don’t know what it is, I doubt anyone knows what it is, probably made from sheep’s hoof or petrified horse poop or both). Breakfast pastries made from seaweed, bread made from sand with little pebbles as decoration, salads made from thistles and coffee made from seawater. A chocolate roll made with rye. Rye! I ask you: how evil do you have to be to destroy chocolate by pairing it with rye? Very evil.

And the problem with northern European cafes is not simply the food, one might, possibly, with time and a lot of rum, forgive them the food, but there is no absolution for the decor. The decor is unforgiveable. Polished cement has never made anyone happy. Ever. Black and white is not a color scheme suitable for any place except the prison cells of dire offenders and black paper napkins have no reason for existing.

Darling, no one has ever said, “I am feeling fey and frolicsome, let’s have a northern European breakfast” or “Let’s throw caution to the wind, we’ll have a whole wheat bun and, for extra enjoyment, let’s spice it with cardamon” or “I had such a jolly conversation with my 6th husband at that charming northern European cafe with such delicious, decadent, melt-in-your mouth petit fours.”

Northern European breakfasts are not what you reward well-behaved paramours with; they are what you threaten hardened criminals with if they don’t give up the location of the loot they stole.

Whatever the joys (fleeting and infinitesimal) of the UK, they do not include breakfast. For breakfast you need France (good coffee, good pastries) or America (bad coffee in heavy white pottery mugs and a plate with fried eggs, hash browns, toast and something pork with a little white plastic container of Smuckers grape jelly).

Please allow Sir Alma-Tadema to demonstrate how to properly be welcomed into a hotel: