Sunday, 8 December 2013

More on the James Bond breakfast at the Dorchester

In my previous post, I reviewed the 'Solo Breakfast' served at the Dorchester Hotel in celebration of the publication of William Boyd's Solo. As part of the experience, guests were given a copy of the hotel's breakfast menu dated to 1969, the year in which Solo is set. I was fascinated by the document. It offers a snapshot of life in 1969, and it's interesting to compare the menu with today's breakfast habits. I was also curious about the prices given. As I enjoy playing with numbers, I had the idea of costing up the various breakfasts Bond enjoys during the course of his adventures. If he were to eat more regularly at the Dorchester in 1969, what would he be expected to pay?

The Dorchester's breakfast menu is divided into 'Plain Breakfast' and 'A La Carte'. The plain breakfast options – tea, coffee, cereals, toast, marmalade, muffins, croissants and so on – seem reasonably standard even to modern eyes. That said, muffins might confuse today's consumers, who would now be expecting the small cake rather than the bread-like English muffin. The simplicity of the coffee is also notable; there were no Americanos, lattes, or mocaccinos in 1969.

There was plenty to choose from in the a la carte menu. Much of it, though, has disappeared from the modern menu. The fried egg, grilled sausages, and bacon offered as separate items in the Dorchester menu is now in Britain more usually offered together as the 'Full English Breakfast'. A time-traveller returning to 1969 might struggle to properly reconstruct the full English at the Dorchester. The 1969 menu has no baked beans, hash browns, or black pudding (actually, this isn't  always available today), and while tomatoes and mushrooms are on the menu, they are provided with other dishes. Still, I'm sure the staff at the Dorchester in 1969 would be obliging enough to put a fair approximation to the full English together.

The Dorchester menu is relatively heavy on the fish. Apart from kippers, which I haven't seen on any hotel or restaurant breakfast menu for many years, there is also herring, plaice, haddock, whiting and fillet of sole (given a chance, I'd go for this last mentioned just for its loose Bondian connections). None of these is part of the modern breakfast. Similarly, grilled kidneys, liver, chops and cutlets, listed on the 1969 menu, are now absent today. And I'd be very surprised to see stewed prunes or pears and a baked apple in a modern menu.

One of the few items which is just as popular today as it was in 1969 is Bond's favourite, scrambled eggs (a fact which in some small way may have helped to keep Bond relevant today; if he ate little else other than kedgeree, he might seem more old-fashioned). But it's not as if the items long gone from the breakfast menu have disappeared altogether from modern diets; they're still available, but are now only eaten during the evening meal (no doubt rarely in the case of liver and stewed fruit).

So, looking at the prices given in the Dorchester menu, we can see that the breakfast William Boyd gives Bond cost 3 shillings and 6 pence (not including the coffee). If Bond had ordered the breakfast he ate in New York in Live and Let Die – comprising scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, marmalade, coffee and orange juice – he'd pay 6 shillings and 6 pence. Another of his breakfasts described in Live and Let Die (pineapple juice, cornflakes, shirred eggs, bacon, Café Espresso, toast and marmalade) is slightly cheaper at 5 shillings and 6 pence. Shirred or baked eggs aren't on the menu, but I've assumed that the Dorchester staff would have cooked them for Bond and charged him the cost of a fried or poached egg.

The breakfast Bond consumes at his London home (From Russia, with Love), comprising a boiled egg, coffee, toast, jam and marmalade, is relatively cheap at 4 shillings, as is his café complet eaten in France (3 shillings) in Goldfinger. In contrast, his breakfast prepared by Dr No's staff (scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, a grilled kidney, and an English pork sausage) is comparatively extravagant at 7 shillings.

Unfortunately I can't give a reliable cost for green figs and yoghurt, which Bond orders in Istanbul (From Russia, with Love), and one of Bond's Jamaican breakfasts – paw-paw, red bananas, purple star-apples, and tangerines (Live and Let Die), although individual pieces of fruit at the Dorchester vary from 6 pence (for a banana) to 1 shilling and 6 pence for a pear or half a grapefruit.

The breakfast menu for 1969 offers insights in how breakfasts have changed over time. For modern readers of the Bond books, it is also strangely familiar. With a few exceptions, the Dorchester would have had little difficulty fulfilling Bond's breakfast demands. An obvious point to make, from a memetic angle, is that Bond's breakfasts are naturally a product of prevailing cultural environments. There was very little chance that Fleming would describe breakfasts of more modern form, simply because they were not yet popular or indeed did not exist.

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