The column basks in luxury breakfasting at London's Fortnum and Mason and Yarm's Strickland and Holt.

FORTNUM and Mason has been in Piccadilly since 1707 when, then as now, you could build a hotel for £500 and risk landing in jail soon afterwards.

William Mason was a footman to Queen Anne and dealt below stairs in used candles; Hugh Mason had a small shop in St James's Market.

Where they would have been without one another is debatable, but it is a curious fact - a double meaningfulness - that a coupling lends an enterprise authority. Think of Funk and Wagnall, Williams and Glynn, Hackett and Baines, Home and Colonial, Titch and Quackers...

Well, maybe not Titch and Quackers.

Nor, in commerce, does the rule seem to extend to trios. Two's company, three's a shroud.

It was against that well connected background, anyway, that we caught the 6.30am train to London and, three hours later, awaited breakfast beneath F&M's celebrated chandeliers.

Entirely compatible with the Jack Spratt nature of this marriage, one of us planned thereafter to visit an exhibition on the history of Turkish art at the Royal Academy across the road while the other was heading via Liverpool Street to watch Enfield v Bedlington Terriers. No guesses.

The place is much changed in 300 years, the food hall as aromatic and as opulent as the finest in Paris, time's march marked by the handsome 4.3 tonne clock which hangs over the street outside.

As the hour strikes, the 4ft figures of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason emerge, turn towards one another and bow. As the chimes end, the clock plays The Lass With the Delicate Air, or some such, on 17 bells before the founders bow once again and return to whatever it was they were doing.

It was therefore slightly disappointing that no flunkey raised his topper in welcome, though the staff were as professional as they were pleasant and many customers appeared almost to be old friends.

One of the waitresses looked a bit like Michael Jackson but was altogether more agreeable (and probably sang better, too).

The English breakfast, £14 plus 12.5 per cent service charge, embraced freshly squeezed orange juice, a grill of bacon, black pudding, scrambled egg, Cumberland sausage, tomato and mushroom and was simply wonderful, rich in forgotten flavours.

Only the toast disappointed; toast almost always does.

The marmalade was described as Sir Nigel's. However good it was, and real men don't eat marmalade, it wouldn't be as good as his steam engines.

The Boss had grapefruit juice (£2.75) and, for £10.75, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon which she thought no less perfect. So many neighbouring tables discussed the health service, it almost resembled a fringe meeting of the Labour party's spring conference, being held simultaneously back up north.

The swallow-tailed food hall - a veritable Valhalla, an epicurean Elysium, not so much the lap of luxury as its very epicentre - represents the sort of window against which small boys once pressed their noses without hope of ever gaining admission but is now altogether more egalitarian.

Unhampered, we bought some old Gloucester spot pork pie with apricot and ginger and another pork pie from the Duchy of Cornwall upon which His Royal Highness (who may not need a pick-me-up just now) is roundly to be congratulated.

On the 8.15pm homeward, it also transpired that The Boss had bought chocolate covered ants, which stuck distractingly in the throat, and Thai green crickets, which couldn't even be contemplated.

The all day breakfast sustained still. As the Bard of Stratford once observed, caviar to the general.

SO, at the double, to Strickland and Holt in Yarm, where there's an in-store branch of Lewis and Cooper and a range of products by Crabtree and Evelyn.

The restaurant's run by the McCoy brothers but, since there are three of them, answers simply to McCoys.

John Holt was a pharmacist, Oliver Strickland a wine and spirit merchant. They got it together in 1852, sherry and port from Europe still landed at the Tees quay out the back.

For years the place sold everything from soda siphons to shotgun cartridges, extracted teeth and even put down sick animals. Now it's a little more genteel - "a fashionable store with the feel of fun" they claim, not unreasonably.

The restaurant's upstairs, lunch and evening meals with a marked McCoy flavour, snacks and breakfasts and things at other times.

Lots contained eggs, from omelettes (£5.50, fillings extra) to the oddly named Alan Special, which is egg and chips (£3.99).

We ordered eggs Benedict and eggs royale, both subsequently refused because the hollandaise sauce had dried up. Couldn't they have whipped some up? Or sent downstairs for some? It wouldn't have happened at Fortnum and Mason.

The tomato juice arrived in a small glass so full of ice cubes that it gave new meaning to being squeezed, the subsequent all day breakfast was perfectly good without being in the same upper class league as Fortnum's - or, to be fair, in the same upper class price bracket. It was £6.99.

The restaurant itself has a long, old fashioned counter - very McCoys - some church pew seating with scatter cushions and tables at one end crowded so closely together that dishes had almost to be passed over diners' heads, like kids on the Gallowgate end at long forgotten football matches.

We sat beneath an old advert for "La Gramophone - la mellieure des machine pallantes".

The Boss again enjoyed scrambled egg and smoked salmon, again for little more than half the price of the London equivalent, but rightly thought it reprehensible that coffee came only by the cup and not the pot - and at £1.35 a shot.

We danced off separately shortly afterwards, the Fred and Ginger of gastronomy.

ACCORDING to a necessarily selective survey in the Observer Food Magazine, the best North-East breakfast is at Hide in Sadler Street, Durham - there's a branch in Yarm, too.

The region's best restaurants are reckoned the Fisherman's Lodge in Jesmond Dene and the Endeavour at Staithes, the best Sunday lunch at the Dun Cow in Sedgefield.

Perhaps the biggest surprise among the North-East nominations is the Italian Kitchen in the "Best for kids" category. It's in Liverpool.

ANOTHER survey, Darlington CAMRA's annual price check, reveals that the average price of a standard strength pint of real ale in the area has broken the £2 barrier.

"Some pub owners," the Darlington Drinker notes, "seem to have abandoned restraint with the passing of that psychological barrier."

In town the average is £1.92, in surrounding villages £2.13. Either way, the average is up 8p or four per cent - more than twice the rate of inflation.

JUST one helping of chips during National Chip Week, at the George and Dragon in Heighington. They were what have become known as "Chip shop chips" and no matter what other surveys claim, they're the best.

...and finally, the bairns wondered if we knew what two rows of cabbages are called.

A dual cabbageway, of course.