The attack on the Cereal Killer café in the East End a few weeks ago – I assume the anti-gentrification mob attacked at breakfast time – reminded me of those 5.30am walks in the 1950s with my grandfather, from Aldgate East tube past the Whitechapel Library then Blooms and left down Brick Lane to his family business, the grocery warehouse of Silverstone and Sons in Hanbury Street.
Before we set off from his flat in Baker Street, I always had a large bowl of Kellog’s cornflakes. Indeed I put the man I am today down to my morning bowl of cornflakes. And my love of reading, too, because of my addiction to reading the stories on the back of the boxes.
I didn’t just have cornflakes by themselves of course; I had lots of healthy, granulated sugar – two spoonfuls – scattered over them and occasionally, for a special treat, I’d slice a banana on top. To this day, this remains the pinnacle of my cooking achievements. Later, “would you like to come back to my place for some cornflakes” was a line that worked successfully for me for years in the clubs in town.
I still am a serial breakfaster. OK, I take it at Claridge’s but you tell me where else can you get a “full English” for under £50? I only call them if I’m not coming; I’ve booked my table until 12th December 2046, when I will be 101, when perhaps I might slow down my breakfast habits.
I’m still a man who insists on slicing his own banana. “No I’ll do it, I like the exercise,” I say to Israel. He’s a wonderful waiter. Israel is Spanish. I love shouting: “Good morning, Israel!” Sometimes: “I love you, Israel!” It somehow always seems to happen when there are Middle Eastern guests at the next table. Trouble-maker? Moi? No, I’m all for a two-state solution, especially at breakfast. In fact, if I could get Netanyahu and Abbas around my breakfast table, I’m sure I could have a Middle East peace agreement by the 30th scrambled eggs.
George Clooney was so beautiful as he ate breakfast
Fifteen years ago, I looked up from my newspaper, toast and marmalade and boiled eggs to see Henry Kissinger about to sit down next to me. ”What a nice surprise, Dr Kissinger, I was waiting for Irving Goldberg, a dentist from North London.” He paused, looked over his glasses at me and growled: “Wrong table.” He was meeting Douglas Hurd in the other corner.
Anyway, back to the Cereal Killer café. They should not be attacked by masked protesters just for offering the investment banking locals of Brick Lane a healthy start to the morning. Breakfast is definitely the greatest meal of the day, and I should know – I had 889 of them last year, surpassing my previous record of 859 breakfasts at Claridge’s in 1989. “Just look for a man who looks like he’s had 400 breakfasts,” I tell my guests. If I like them, I sell them life insurance over the best scrambled eggs in the world. “I only take on new clients if I like them,” I say. “Congratulations, I like you! But don’t take it personally, I like everybody.”
Nobby, the legendary head waiter for over 40 years, greeted me one morning in 1982 with the historic words: “Mr Rosengard, congratulations you’ve inherited the Onassis table. As he’s dead, he wont be having any more breakfasts. It’s yours.” I was overcome as this was the best table in the room – it even had its own alcove. “Maria Callas would sit here”, Nobby told me, “with Mr Onassis and his friend Mr Niachros and they’d write all their shipping deals on the tablecloths and every month he’d be billed for all the breakfasts and a couple of dozen tablecloths.”
David Frost, another regular back then, was a couple of tables away and one day I noticed he had a bigger alcove than me. But I didn’t let it upset me.
I once watched George Clooney eating his cornflakes. I was on holiday in Lake Garda in Italy and he lived nearby at Lake Como. As I checked in to my hotel, the receptionist asked “Would you like to see George Clooney eating cornflakes?”
“Yes, I certainly would. Where is he sitting? Out on the terrace?” And then she handed me an iPad with a video of the world’s most handsome man sitting at a table munching away handsomely. ”This was last month, when he came to stay,” she said. ”But I watch him every day – he is so beautiful when he eats the cornflakes, don’t you think?”
“Yes, he certainly is a man who knows how to handle his cornflakes all right.” I said.
Back to Brick Lane. The days of Gestetners and Blooms and Silverstone and all the other Jewish businesses might be long gone but I, for one, will stop off soon at Cereal Killers for a trip down Brick and Memory Lane and a bowl of cornflakes.
I might even take my own banana.