Hotel Hostal del Cafe, Xilitla, Mexico

A long and winding road brought us to Xilitla, a small town perched in the mountainous jungle of the Sierra Madre. The journey had been long, and hairy – tight, tight corners with nothing but hard desert rock or, later, steep and abundant jungle to capture the incongruously large bus as it toppled over the edge. Thankfully, it was not to be and our B&B was close; so close, the taxi drivers laughed at the prospect of a lift uphill.

Into the Hostal and it was like arriving at an old friends’. Set up by Alejandro and his wife, the building was full of family photos, brightly coloured rooms and interesting ephemera, Mexican quotes about the richness of life on the walls and fantastic B&B rooms set into the (practically) vertical, verdant tropical garden.

This being the jungle, the air was thick with moisture and nothing dried (the backpacker’s pants wash in the sink all for naught); the town, however, was a wonder, with rooftop bars looking to the mountains, excellent taquerias and cowboy-only establishments (even a hoe-down in the local square).

The next morning, breakfast was served by locals in the great dining room, one long table set up for the handful of guests. From the kitchen came chicken and spicy maize, baked in a banana leaf and served with beans. Coffee was local – next door’s, to be precise – and flavourful, if a little less strong than the Bristol palettes were used to.

After such a feed, we were set for our adventure to Las Pozas, unaware then that this wholesome feed would see us through a more convoluted experience than we could have imagined…

Price: from $465 MX. Breakfast $70 MX per person.

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Hospital Medicine, Ciudad Valles, Mexico

An unexpected breakfast.

Ten hours from Mexico City, having tested all class of bus – from WiFi on board to chicken bones in the footwell – we reached Xilitla, a beautiful hillside town deep in the jungle of the Sierra Madre mountains.

After an evening of drinking beers on another rooftop (watching the clouds pass through the canopy above), the best tacos yet and being serenaded across the vast and haunting valley by Frozen’s ‘Let it Go’, we were ready for the next day’s adventure. We set off early the next morning for ‘Las Pozas’, a monument to surrealism set deep in the jungle.

We scaled stairways to nowhere, watched pillars sway in the breeze, looked down to the pathways far below from narrow bridges, no bannister in sight. Edward James, creator and friend of Dali, Picasso et al., had seemingly opened his brain into the jungle, with stunning – and dangerous – results.

So it was somewhat ironic that it was a wet paving stone, metres from the exit, that was to create my own surrealist adventure. My weight went from under me, directly on to my right wrist. I felt the blood drain from my head, rushing to the pain – and a glance at the new ‘s’ shape between my arm and wrist told me something was very, very wrong.

The Egg Poacher went for help, bringing in his wake a confused looking first aider and a queue of intrigued holiday makers. A nurse was found amongst them, who made fast work of setting my wrist with paracetamol packets for a splint, feeding me a host of drugs I could only feebly nod to.

Then followed a flurry of transport – battered 4×4 to the local hospital, a taxi to the doctor in town who owned an x-ray, a long and bumpy bus to the hospital a few towns over. We were met by the most wonderful doctor – Santa Claus with a stethoscope – who had employed his teenage daughter to translate. A general anaesthetic for me, to reset the bone, and yes, the Egg Poacher could stay overnight, too.

And so to breakfast, once awake – a pile of fruit and yoghurt, toast and the requisite Jello, all happily wolfed down as the relief set in. The staff, all lovely, were kind about my bad Spanish and brought EP blankets, and a pillow. So, despite it all, the breakfast fared pretty well. And we left feeling very, very lucky.

Price: don’t ask. Travel insurance required.

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Chilakillers, Escandon, Mexico City

There seemed no better way to get to grips with our arrival in Mexico City than to head straight for the local brunch spot. Our hosts, Kerry & Bernie, had mentioned Chilakillers the night before, so armed with our directions (‘left out the front door and forward 100 yards’) we set off in search of our first Mexican feed.

Chilakillers is hard to miss. The frontage matches the interiors, in that all the colours, patterns and icons you can imagine jump out, all at once to capture you as you pass by. Skeletons in top hats mingle with Yoda Christmas lights, an empirious golden lion and a bird cage full of plastic tigers. There are bright murals on the walls, including Frida Kahlo smoking a cigar, and skull plant pots that add the only semblance of a general Dia de los Muertos theme. To add to the chaos, pop and rock music blares, apparently trying to drown out the traffic noise coming from the msin freeway just outside. It seems to capture the essence of Mexico City itself: vibrant, loud and a whole lot of fun.

And so to the menu. With our basic Spanish we manage to point to the Chilakillers we’re after – chicken and green salsa for the Egg Poacher, chorizo and mole for me. Feeling pretty pleased with ourselved we sit back and survey the scene; pleased, that is, until EP’s Americano comes back as a glass of orange juice and my glass of water is a long drink of…something. Nonetheless, the staff are lovely and soon bringing great stacks of fried tortilla chips, kidney beans and cheese, replete with the toppings we were hoping for. We’re relieved we opt for the ‘media’ option, as the ‘complete’ may have seen us off before the trip had properly started.

As it turns out, it’s an excellent start – the perfect fuel for a days’ getting lost in Mexico City.

Price: Chilakillers from $65 MX.

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Salt Cafe, Morningside, Edinburgh

To unite the Egg Poacher and Brunch Hunter clans, a suitably smart breakfast venue was required – up stepped Salt Cafe in the heart of leafy Morningside. The stretch of shops along the main road haven’t always fared well, but Salt seems set to stay, offering excellent coffee and a simple brunch and lunch menu for the well-heeled masses.

Inside the interiors take a nautical theme, with great hulls from old rowing boats on the walls, a central bar of wood and metal, and great rolls of brown paper listing the daily specials. Bulbs are fashionably exposed, tables neat and hewn from burnished metal, all built to seat a reasonable number of covers for a relatively small space. Staff are few and very friendly, quick to deliver an excellent flat white while menus are perused.

For brunch the offerings are reassuringly familiar: Eggs Benedict, Florentine and Royale, granola, a selection of pastries – and there are daily smoothies, milkshakes and wicked sounding breakfast cocktails to clear the weekend’s fog away. There are local sausages, Scottish fruits and beers from nearby breweries; flavours are fresh and perfectly seasoned.

Salt was doing a roaring trade on a Thursday morning so will fill up fast at weekends. Head there early (brunch starts at the very reasonable 10am) and grab a table by the window to watch the day trundle by.

Price: from £5 (granola) to £9.95 (full Scottish breakfast).

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The Swan at Wedmore, Somerset

IMG_2070[1]Nothing quite screams ‘bank holiday weekend’ than a leisurely Sunday roast, followed by a nap on a giant double bed in one of Somerset’s multitude pub with rooms. The Swan does all of these things will aplomb: the young staff deliver great plates of roast beef, fresh gnocchi and delicate crab washed down with local lagers or a multitude of wines by the glass, while upstairs the rooms are cool and inviting, with woolen throws and tartan armchairs adding a touch of texture to otherwise neutral Farrow & Ball tones. Ours had a small balcony overlooking the main strip of yellow stone buildings, the nearby church chiming on the hour to complete the Archer’s feel; better still, a claw-foot bath and a host of Bramley products meant an afternoon bubble bath in the sunshine (pint included for good effect).

And of course, one of the best bits about an overnight stay is the fact that breakfast comes with it. Like their dinner menu, the focus is on local fare – the bread comes from a bakery a short stroll from the door, and bacon is home-smoked; elsewhere suppliers are listed on the chalkboards around the bar. The menu is simple and traditional, and offers plenty for those less egg-averse than me (my bacon and mushrooms on toast looked somewhat lacking without the mound of scrambled egg). Nonetheless, with ingredients this good the flavours win the day, and, importantly, the coffee is just as well-sourced and made with equal care.

There’s plenty to love here, and lucky locals flock (expect a troupe of chinos and well-polished sprogs mussing their Sunday Best in the garden out the back). For those less close, it’s worth the journey – come armed with the papers and your PJs and you’ll be in for a weekend treat.

Price: from £3 (toast & jam) to £11 (The Swan Full English) B&B from £85.

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The Runcible Spoon, Nine Tree Hill, Bristol

IMG_1943[1]The Runcible Spoon is tucked up one of Bristol’s infamous hills, though thankfully only a short hike from Stokes Croft’s centre and therefore unlikely to put off all but the most hardened of calf muscle. It’s been overseen by a handful of different owners, all committed to keeping things fresh, seasonal and as local as can be, and its latest incarnation tows the same provenance-conscious line.

On a chilly March morning, the tall windows steam, hiding the inside from view. Stepping across the threshold is like dropping in to your favourite aunty’s living room: eccentric nick-nacks, pot plants, creepers, antique cutlery and a wonderful old original fireplace set the informal tone, while 6 Music on the radio and the friendly, laid-back staff add a touch of cool. It really is a teeny space – the studious chefs can be seen through the hatch to the kitchen and the bar is within touching distance; long-legged stools and a benchtop by the door help them to squeeze sociable diners in.

With a focus on quality ingredients, the brunch menu is short but compelling: bacon sandwiches with onion marmalade, veggieIMG_1944[1] and full English breakfasts, avocado flat breads with poached eggs. Facing my ovophobia head on, I opted for the baked eggs with chorizo, and wasn’t disappointed. This is brunch in its truest sense, with potions so generous you won’t even remember lunch exists: along with smoky choizo, creamy eggs and sweet peppers, there was a side of properly buttered sourdough, too. Coupled with some decent flat whites this was an excellent way to start a Saturday – and for those who don’t believe in early rising, it’s served until 3pm.

Price: from £2.50 (sourdough toast and cinnamon butter) to £8.95 (Big Breakfast).

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The Cosy Club, Corn Street, Bristol

IMG_1926[1]Corn Street is having something of an identity crisis. Once the Stella-spattered playground for sports fans and students on the hunt for cheap beer and an argument, it’s now the home of some rather classy establishments helping to raise its reputation from the spew-flecked gutter: Pata Negra and The Ox are doing good things for Bristol’s carnivores, while The Birdcage and Small Street Espresso round the corner are bringing quality coffees to the sleepy masses.

The Cosy Club (newest edition to the relatively well-known chain) seems to fit in the middle of this new mould, serving breakfast through to dinner in the stunning situation of a former church and banking hall. Think vaulted ceilings, cornices and marble floors, all set off with chandeliers and a family of stuffed deer heads nestled amongst oil paintings and ancient flags. The staff are dressed in natty waistcoats and deliver jugs of water while menus are perused; a gleaming bar is tended by similarly fashion-conscious baristas who polish glasses and concoct mid-morning cocktails.

There’s no doubt the setting is sublime . And yet. When coffees come there’s something lacking in their construction, with flat IMG_1927[1]whites quickly dissolving into a tepid milky americano, and, though the menu is well stocked, the food is delivered a touch to soon to be truly freshly made. The ingredients are fine, with local sausage, bacon and black pudding, but the execution a little lacklustre (the Egg Poacher’s potatoes were underdone, my mushrooms somewhat sad and cold). There’s nothing that couldn’t be solved with a little more time and care, but for now the style outweighs the substance. A shame, as with such a large and unique space, this could be an excellent and popular addition to Bristol’s ever-blooming foodie reputation..

Price: from £1.75 (toast and preserves) to £8.95 (steak and eggs).

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