Train Spain to London

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I’m sitting in the Velasquez Bar in Madrid’s Ritz, listlessly twiddling an olive inside my cocktail. It’s not just the eye-watering price of my drink that’s disappointing but the length of time it took to get here, too. I’m the best-part of 24 hours late, having spent a night in Barcelona, en route here from London by train.

I say late, because I travelled a little before a new rail link made it possible to comfortably travel here by rail in the same day. Thanks to the new route, it’s now possible to have breakfast in London, lunch in Paris, dinner in Barcelona and cocktails in Madrid, skipping on and off the train to do so.

All of this should have happened in early 2013 when the high speed lines were completed between Paris and Barcelona. It’s hard to know where to assign the blame for the delays, but suffice to say they were bureaucratic rather than technical in nature. In any case, with hold-ups and transfers at the France-Spain border I had to divide my journey with a night in Catalonia, having set off from London yesterday morning.

As a Brit, to take a culinary journey through Europe is an exercise in humility, so inferior is our food compared to that of our neighbours. Only in the last decade or so, with the incessant rise of cookery TV programs, have we started to care more about what we eat and where it comes from. We are like a lost tribe finally emerging from a deep cave, crawling into the light with suspicious, near-blind eyes.

But through the dark years, we held onto two things: the Sunday roast, and the cooked breakfast. I may sound like a patriotic boob when I say this, but we do those two meals better than any other country on Earth. The French can keep their namby-pamby croissants and overly strong coffee* – there is no finer way to start the day than the British breakfast.

(*If you’re French and reading this, please disregard. I love your coffee.)

The Plum and Spilt Milk, the on-site restaurant of the Great Northern Hotel just outside London’s St Pancras Station, looks too trendy to serve a decent Full English, but the wizards in the kitchen know exactly what they’re doing: don’t swamp the plate poorly presented slop, choose good quality ingredients, don’t have baked beans polluting everything else on the plate. Seventeen pounds is a laughably expensive for eggs, sausage, bacon, tomato, black pudding and mushrooms, but such is life in modern London.

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