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Steadfast breakfast

Debbie’s Cafe
Mellieħa

Food: 7/10
Service: 8/10
Ambience: 6/10
Value: 8/10
Overall: 7/10

Historically associated with the poor, the sick, children and those with lusty appetites – this is breakfast. It’s come a long way since the Middle Ages. I relish absolutely everything about brunch; this late, lazy weekend meal that elevates breakfast from being merely functional and perfunctory and takes it to fantastical heights. The possibilities are endless.

Debbie’s Cafe is a casual, little place tucked into the Mellieha hillside; prettily decked out in pastel colours. Far more important than the wall colour is the breakfast that is served here. For the most part it all feels terribly British: there are bacon butties and scones, tea and cake and a full English breakfast on offer.

This is the now-universalised full-English – popularised by the Victorians, promoted by the legendary Mrs Beeton and still much-loved to this day. It was a full-blown affair, an absolute treat – sunny, hearty and satisfying, starting from the inseparable breakfast duo of the eggs and the bacon.

Two pert fried eggs with soft, runny yolks the colour of a setting sun were served alongside  crisp strips of chewy, densely-textured  bacon.

The breakfast was further beefed up with properly seasoned, quality Cumberland sausage, grilled tomato, some beautifully sautéed mushrooms and a little bowl of baked beans. 

The mandatory hot toast accompaniment is no ordinary, thinly sliced sliver but a veritable brick of bread; a slab of good quality stuff. It arrived toasted and generously buttered. 

There was one final addition to the plate – a slice of black pudding. Oh yes. Crisp on the outside, giving way to unctuousness on the inside; it was darkly violent and chewy with the alluring crunch of the oatmeal. Black pudding is a bloody good treat. 

We consume animal blood as food and it can be magnificent in its many preparations. Ubiquitous in culinary traditions across the globe, blood puddings, pancakes, soups, stews and sausages are found the world over from Finland and Poland to China and Korea. As far as blood sausages go, the French – well-versed in the art of charcuterie preparation – developed the boudin noir. The Italians developed sanguinaccio. The Spanish, morcilla. And let’s not forget our very own mazzita.

At Debbie’s, the first meal of the day is given the attention it deserves

The English have their own version: black pudding – a deliciously tasty sausage in which boiled pig’s blood is made to reach a more solid consistency with the addition of pork fat along with oatmeal or barley groats. It fits the nose-to-tail trend to a T and ensures that every part of the pig is consumed. Everything but the squeal.

Grilled or fried , thickly-cut slices of black pudding have long been considered a quintessential part of the traditional full English breakfast in the UK and Ireland. But the English have been rediscovering their taste for blood.

While seafood or game birds paired with black pudding have now become something of a restaurant classic – the flavours marry beautifully, with the black pudding imparting a fantastic richness and depth of flavour –   the culinary novelties have continued in the guise of black pudding ice cream and ravioli filling.

The vegetarian breakfast was also lovely, consisting of fried eggs and a hunk of wholemeal bread, slathered with a tasty baby spinach hummus. Slices of charred halloumi, a grilled tomato and a couple of slices of avocado rounded up the dish. Delicious.

On the other hand, the fishy breakfast of salmon and eggs was somewhat disappointing. The scrambled eggs were grossly under-seasoned and fell about in a big, tasteless clump. The salty smoked salmon slices were of a decent enough quality.

Things became markedly un-British when it came to the pancakes – distinctly American in size and in the use of a raising agent. Unlike their far thinner, weedy European cousins, these are hefty, puffy things.

We tried a couple of topping varieties and were presented with two platefuls of fluffy American incarnations – golden in colour, springy in texture and stacked one on top of the other. 

The pancake discs dripping with sweet maple syrup and sprinkled with strips of brittle bacon rashers had us whisked off to New York in no time. This mouth-wateringly good classic embodies the archetypal American brunch. It is breakfast perfection for many.

The blueberry pancakes were equally as sinful. The thickness of the American-style pancake allowed for blueberries to be mixed into the batter, but the mushy bursts of cooked fruit were nothing compared to the sharp juiciness of the fresh blueberries used to garnish the pancakes. I’d have appreciated a more generous helping of those.

Greek yoghurt and lashings of maple syrup were soaked up into the denseness of the pancakes. The fine shreds of toasted coconut were an unnecessary addition.

Gorged on by the early Greeks and Romans, the origins of the humble pancake are not merely ancient – they are prehistoric. Indeed, pancakes have been around for millennia.

Our Stone Age ancestors dined on these flat cakes, having already discovered one of the great comfort foods. Fifth century BC Greeks breakfasted on ‘frying pan cakes’. Their deliriously besotted poets sang their praises and waxed lyrical about them. They were called Tiganites – made from wheat flour, curdled milk, honey and olive oil and topped with everything from cheese, honey or fruit and nuts. They sound rather lovely.

The coffee served up at Debbie’s Cafe is great and the freshly squeezed orange juice is a frothy splash of sunshine. The milkshakes are magnificent, made from fresh fruit that has been blitzed to a heavenly, creamy consistency.

Our Anglo-American brunch had been immensely enjoyable.  I looked around at a cafe full of happy breakfasters. 

At Debbie’s, the first meal of the day is given the attention it deserves. Breakfast and brunch are clear and conscionable excuses for gluttony. We are, after all, breaking a fast, the longest gap between meals.

They are feeders here. Whether you’re an early riser or a brunch buff, they expect you to have awoken with an appetite. They want to nourish you and set you up to have the best day ever. And at exceedingly good value, I don’t mind if I do.

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