My favourite culinary experience on the road is breakfast.
I always take time to have oatmeal at home, but a real indulgence for me is lingering over a long, slow breakfast in a hotel dining room or in a busy local cafe or diner. It's the time of the day when I get into gear and I like to take it easy. Even if I have appointments, I'm up early so that I have at least two hours to fuel myself for the day.
I love the full catastrophe – a hotel breakfast with silver service, white linen tablecloths and napkins, smartly dressed waiters, and course after course, from juice to fruit compote, cereal, cooked dish, pastry basket, endless cups of coffee. I often keep ordering things, just so I can stay longer, reading an actual newspaper, a luxury in itself.
I should add, in case you think I'm a total glutton, that it's often the only meal of the day for me when I'm travelling alone, perhaps supplemented by afternoon tea somewhere – I can't resist a good cake.
Just this morning I breakfasted in New York's Plaza Hotel, in the Palm Court, the hotel's legendary tearoom, which has recently been grandly refurbished. I'm hard pressed to find a more iconic place for breakfast, sitting under the beautiful stained-glass roof, amid palms. Yes, the hotel treated me to breakfast and it is breathtakingly expensive, but my good fortune aside, it's nirvana for hotel breakfast lovers, with full silver service, gilded and monogrammed cutlery and fine linens. The waiters are attentive and professional and it offers an extensive menu of all the breakfast classics expertly cooked, plus some healthy twists.
Unfortunately for me, this being New York, I had an early appointment, otherwise they would have had to remove me with a forklift truck.
Recently, I was staying in a villa in Venice which had a personal butler attached. I ate breakfast from the buffet at the hotel next door with the butler traipsing behind. As I selected dishes, the waiter collected them on a tray and then served me as I sat at the table. The rest of the guests at the hotel, unencumbered by personal servants, stared, obviously intrigued by who this pretentious woman might be. I got indigestion. (I'm obviously not meant to be rich.)
The most memorable dining room breakfasts I've had recently include the whisky porridge at Gleneagles, Scotland, and the lavish breakfast buffet at Le Royal Monceau Raffles in Paris, which included pastries by macaroon king Pierre Herme. The rose-filled, flaky "Ispahan" croissant was unbelievable.
Le Royal Monceau has one of, if not the best breakfast buffets on the planet. At €55 person it would need to be exceptional. It goes for miles, including exquisitely arranged fruit platters, breads and pastries, home-made preserves, chefs cooking omelettes, crepes and waffles, cheeses, meats and international selections.
Buffets do wreak havoc on the waistline and I find it almost impossible not to keep grazing beyond what is wise. If you're not hungry, there's no value in hotel buffets, as they tend to be pricey, especially in Europe, and sometimes a blatant ripoff when the food offerings do not match the price.
There's an argument for not eating in the hotel at all, but to get out into a cafe where the locals eat, and soak up the culture, but I think hotels have a culture of their own, and one that is so different to home, where I make my own porridge and eat it at my desk, that it's a treat to be served and have time to read the papers top to bottom.
But it's not only grand hotels that provide the best breakfast experiences. I also love the "bed and breakfast" concept, where you share a morning meal home-cooked by the owner of the lodging. It's very convivial.
And I am rather fond of shabby US diners where the "Americano" coffee is like dishwater and you can order crispy bacon with your pancakes and maple syrup and no one blinks. (I was recently offered bacon with my porridge in Dallas.)
In fact, one of my favourite breakfast experiences is a cafe in Harlem, Amy Ruth's, where the waffles and fried chicken, smothered in maple syrup, are absolutely divine.
Whether I do it in high style or low, I'm a breakfast junkie.
The writer was the guest of The Plaza Hotel, Gleneagles and Raffles Le Royal Monceau.