What the Bubble?

Bubble and Squeak: We found ourselves in need of sustenance whilst out and about walking with Bam Bam this week. I had noticed a cafe that we hadn’t visited before in Anstey, so decided to make a beeline for it. Clara’s Cafe and Tearooms is a comfortable little independent place, with a tempting array of cakes on the counter and a friendly welcome.

The Boy ordered the regular breakfast. I have to say at £6.40 I thought it was very good value. Two of everything, and some black pudding on there for good measure. It certainly busted his belly, he needed a little sit down afterwards. An absolutely acceptable cafe breakfast in my view (although I haven’t read Felicity Cloake’s new book yet – released next week – so I may have to revise my opinion in light of her wisdom.)

A full English breakfast from a greasy spoon cafe

The issue came when my own order arrived. I spotted bubble and squeak on the menu. A relative rarity in these parts. I jumped on it, as one of the few items on the menu that held the promise of at least a few vegetables within. So imagine my surprise when I was served a plate of slightly unappetising wet mash. Almost mash soup I might say. It came with the promised beans, egg and bacon. But this was not the bubble and squeak I know.

Bubble and Squeak: An institution

My understanding of bubble and squeak is a dish of leftovers, usually made after a roast dinner. Primarily based on leftover potato it would be mashed and mixed with any remaining cooked vegetables, seasoned, and then the whole would be fried. When I make it, that just means a big mess in the pan, getting some nice crispy sections and served with sauce. The dream is having leftover stuffing to crumble in there too, but I am aware that wouldn’t be canonical.

As life has progressed, I’ve eaten out a bit more. Bubble and squeak in a restaurant or cafe tend to be shaped into a patty and fried. Easier on the production line, neater on the plate than my efforts. I had one that had been crumbed and fried in a lockdown delivery brunch from Orton’s. It was very tasty.

Then this arrived…

While I recognise that as a dish made from scraps there can be no definitive bubble and squeak, I do think that it has to contain veg, probably cabbage, and should absolutely have crispy bits. Otherwise, what’s the point? Early references to bubble and squeak are from the 17th century. Then it was specifically referring to fried beef and cabbage. The name referred to the noises it made whilst cooking in the pan.

A very loose bubble and squeak served with egg, baked beans and bacon

The so-called bubble that I go was, dare I say, slightly slop like. It had unidentifiable small pieces of an orange material, which I couldn’t identify despite picking them out to try separately. Maybe a bit of cheese? It tasted like it was probably packet mash, made too wet and then put in an oily pan. However, no amount of heat was going to crisp it up. Possibly a little bubble, but a distinct absence of squeak.

In the interests of fairness, I’m mainly writing this to try and discover whether there is a bubbly squeak variant here in the Midlands that I have never come across before. I mean, I was starving, so I ate it. But I’ll not be ordering it again. But was it bad, or just different? I’m interested to hear what you have to say in the comments.


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

2 thoughts on “What the Bubble?

  • Bubble and squeak includes left over greens and potatoes fried together to form a firmish, crispy crust. Served with fried eggs, beans and bacon if desired, or a relish such as piccalilli.

    • Seems an absolutely reasonable assessment of the situation.


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