Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Perfect Porridge Pilgrimage;
The Scoffing Cow takes to the streets.

In my last blog, I rather virtuously pledged to scour the globe (well… Nottingham at least) for eateries offering a healthy, nutritional and hearty start to the day, in the form of the latest brekky on the block, porridge

Although my follow up is slightly tardy… (turns out that porridge hunting is not a valid excuse for arriving at work an hour late) I can finally bring to you…reader… the fruits of my labour.

Rated, slated, and berated; Pret A Manger, Starbucks, McDonalds and Le Pain Quotidien square up in the battle of the breakfasts.

 Day 1 
Pret A Manger - High Street, Nottingham

As self proclaimed advocates of healthy eating, and pioneers of nutritional labelling, it was with relative ease that I located my first victim venue, in the form of Pret A Manger.
With 3 varieties to choose from, plain, honey, or very berry compote, Pret serve British Jumbo Oats daily until 10:30am.

Priced at a reasonable £1.99 a pot, I opted for a portion with a generous dollop of nectar, (and generous it certainly was) in order to claim one of lifes rare, guitless sugar highs.

Before I am perhaps unfairly critical, I must explain that in my opinion, optimum porridge consistency is on the scale of things, pretty runny. Since Pret make theirs using jumbo oats in order to ‘up’ the texture ante, I was probably never going to be blown away. However, even when taking personal preference out the melting pot, I couldn’t help but feel that Pret had missed the mark.

Creamy, though it was, and plentifully sweet due to addition of honey, this concoction was just a little too Muller Rice for my liking. To top it off, the porridge was sort of luke warm (who the hell is Luke?) which unfortunately did little to shake the comparison from my mind.

Pret's Porridge with Honey
Calorie Count: 307
Price: £1.99
Scoffometer: (3 out of 5)

Day 2 
Starbucks - Upper Parliament St, Nottingham

Despite offering their ‘Perfect Porridge’ with pretty much whatever milk derivative you can think of, Starbucks limit it’s customers to only one flavour of their warm oats… plain.
Okay, so you do get a little sachet of dried fruit to sprinkle on top, but still, this offering is pretty uninspiring for those looking for something a cut above in the porridge stakes.

Despite this, the texture was creamy, smooth, though perhaps a little too runny. The fruit addition did provide a slight bite and extremely subtle sweetness, and without sounding too much like Goldilocks, the temperature was just right.

Nonetheless, without that all important taste factor, Starbucks failed to deliver; and at a whopping £3.50 for the privilege, ‘Perfect Porridge’ does nothing to shake the chain’s reputation as being overrated and overpriced.
Perhaps I could have forgiven the extortionate rate and bland confection, if I had not expected my breakfast to live up to its immodest name.

Listen up Starbucks, re-advertise….‘Seemingly Average Porridge,’ or perhaps even ‘Velvety Smooth Gruel,’ will go down so much better with your clientele.

Starbucks' Perfect Porridge with Dried Fruits
Calorie Count: 320 (made up with semi-skimmed milk)
Price: £3.50
Scoffometer: (2 out of 5)

Day 3 
McDonalds – Angel Row, Nottingham

McDonalds you say, McDonalds? Yes you read right.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined a ‘Scoffing Cow’ feature on the world’s most infamous burger joint, but hey, who would have funked it, Maccy D’s do McPorridge…. Or more specifically, Quaker do Porridge.

Available before 10:30am as part of the chain’s breakfast menu, a cup of oats courtesy of Monsieur Ronald will set you back a meager 95p.

Served with jam, syrup, or just by itself, Oats So Simple awaits customers daring to stray from the likes of the illustrious Sausage and Egg McMuffin. However judging by the look on the server’s face when placing my order, this eventuality occurs few and far between.

Warm, creamy and deliciously sweet thanks to the ample dollop of strawberry jam, McDonald’s healthy breakfast surpassed expectations. The texture was firm yet smooth, and despite tasting adequately milky, managed to retain the comforting earthy oat taste.

There’s no boast of finest farmed oats, slow cooking or ancient spurtles with McDonald’s porridge, but perhaps by opting for the ‘play safe’ and allowing Quaker to do the hard work, Ronald has successfully added another string to his bow.

Quaker Oat So Simple (@ McDonalds) with Strawberry Jam
Calorie Count: 246
Price: 95p
Scoffometer: (4 out of 5)

Day 4 
Le Pain Quotidien - St Pancras International, London

Okay, I cheated… St Pancras is not in Nottingham.
Nonetheless, it was day 4 of the pilgrimage, and since work had cruelly dispatched me to London on an incredibly boring business trip, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to re-fuel, and indulge in some pre-meeting porridge.

Unlike Pret, Starbucks and McDonalds, Le Pain Quotidien delivers their breakfast menu until a more lenient, 12:30pm.
Again in contrast to the aforementioned venues, customers of this established London chain are offered a much more refined dining experience, complete with metal cutlery, ceramic mugs, and table service.
Unfortunately however, Le Pain also offers a grossly elevated price for these privileges, with their standard Organic Porridge with Honey, coming in at an astronomical £4.40.
Fancy some added banana or stewed fruit? Mmmm, me too – but be prepared to pay for it.

Despite this however, once presented with my extortionately London weighted bowl of oats, all disgruntlement was eradicated.
The portion size was gargantuan; the oats were unbelievably creamy and brimming with texture, whereas the lashings of runny honey provided a subtle yet penetrative sweetness from top to bottom.

Okay… I’m gushing slightly I know, but seriously, if Carlsberg made porridge….

So, does Le Pain Quotidien get top marks? Well almost.... but here’s the catch… the calories.
You see, with added banana and a dose of honey, my 'healthy' breakfast set me back more calories than a Big Mac.
Okay, so I realise that my organic oats are still far superior in terms of overall health benefit, but 555 calories for porridge? Seriously?

Le Pain Quotidien’s Organic Porridge with Honey and Banana
Calorie Count: 555
Price: £5.40
Scoffometer: (3 out of 5)

So, there we have it; McDonalds comes up trumps. A rather surprising result admittedly, but in my humble opinion, a much deserved and refreshing victory for one of the world's most renowned burger joints.

As you can probably gather, there is no doubt in my mind that when it comes to taste and indulgence, Le Pain reigns supreme. However, once cost and calories are brought into the equation, as a weight watching penny pincher, it’s hard to argue its case.

The health conscious amongst us may indeed scoff at the thought of obtaining a healthy and nutritious breakfast from the home of the Chicken McNugget, but when it comes to porridge on the hoof, I for one will be dinning with the clown.

Bravo McDonalds. I'm Lovin' It!

For those who are interested, a lovely chap called Lukas at Le Pain Quotidien was more than happy to provide me with the following info.
These values aren’t currently available on their website, so for all you Scoffettes dwelling anywhere near the Big Smoke, I hope this helps.

Porridge plain (no honey) 440 kcal
Porridge with honey + 35 kcal
Porridge honey and banana + 115 kcal
Porridge with stewed fruit + 92 (comes without honey) kcal

(According to Lukas, the calorie content is currently created using internet provided nutrition values. However full nutritional information as well as a “traffic light” system are to be introduced within the next couple of months, and will hopefully be up and running by Autumn 2011.)


Mary said...

Thank you for your research, Ive never been able to bring myself to pay those prices for porridge when I but it by the bag for 39p for 500g and can make a bowl at home for 5p. Im actually not surprised that Mcdonald came out best, Im not a regular as I try to eat well but I do like their coffee and find it the best for miles both in taste and price. I might have to try their porridge.

The Scoffing Cow said...

Hi Mary, I know what you mean. Even the sachet variety (which I'm happy to pay the extra for during the working week) is a fraction of the price.
When I have the time, I'm more than happy to do it the 'ole fashioned' way... It's a little obsession of mine in fact, experimenting with weird and wonderful flavour combinations.
My personal fave is apple and cinnamon with a 'sugar-snap' crust. If you check out my recipe section (which is pathetically sparse at the minute) you'll see what I'm talking about. It's amazing what a spoonful of sugar will do!
SC x