it’s not news to say that the british are not known for their cuisine. okay, so that’s changed as london has become more of an international city, but there’s still plenty about british food that begs for help – particularly in the vegetable department.
that said, we had opportunity to sample some pretty delicious meals during our stay in england and scotland and not all of them involved curry.
so you know when you’re going to england that you’re probably going to eat in a pub and the pubs in england center their offerings around five items: fish and chips, sausages and mashed potatoes, a hamburger, a curry offering (usually vegetarian) and a pork or chicken offering. along with your choice you’re going to get chips (french fries) and/or peas and maybe some sautéed mushrooms. you may also get some gravy and if it’s one thing the brits know how to make, it’s gravy.
the other thing the brits are famous for is making just about any or everything into a savory pie. the blackbird pub next door to where we stayed in kensington is very much into making pies, so of course we had to sample one. the pie is a hybrid of an american type pie crust on the bottom and sides, topped with a puff pastry. the dense pie crust is necessary to corral all that gravy, but you’re not likely going to be able to eat it unless you let the grave soak in and soften it. c had a beef pie and i had a chicken pie and they were both freshly made with chunks of meat, vegetables and potatoes in thick, rich gravy. frankly, i was afraid of the beef pie since the brits are so very fond of kidneys and i wasn’t giving them an opportunity to sneak any of that into my food.
besides fish and chips, which are almost always spectacular, one pub we visited served up a mouth-watering sandwich of grilled vegetables and stilton with honey balsamic that i will try to recreate if i can ever get my hands on some good english stilton.
most pubs pride themselves on their homemade sausages and local beers both of which are usually pretty good or very good. we mostly drank fuller’s london pride beer, which would remind most philadelphians of yuengling.
pubs also make wonderful breakfasts and english breakfasts are the kind that will keep you full until dinner. we only had a few of these because… well, just look at the plate and there was far too much walking planned for a day to start it with a breakfast like that.
i mentioned that the english love their peas but a new breed of british chefs is making a version of fresh pea soup with mint that is fragrant, bright and just delightful. the best bowl we had was at harrod’s terrace restaurant.
hamburgers are a big deal in london now and there are a few small chains making “proper burgers”. unfortunately, byron’s, the one place that people were raving about, was experiencing a power outage the night we tried to eat there so we wondered up the street to gourmet burger kitchen. assessment: good old fashioned hamburger. wonderful tasting and properly seasoned/cooked beef, crispy fries, all served up with a cool london pride. There are lots of toppings available, but as i’ve gotten older, less is better when it comes to hamburgers.
the british have always had a love affair with curry, in fact the first time i ever ate curry was in london in 1977, but now you can find all manner of international influences on food in england and scotland. we tried a version of an american steakhouse that was very good, not great, but very good, made better by the fact of sitting on the outside terrace in london’s west end theatre district. we enjoyed afternoon charcuterie in an outdoor café in covent gardens, pretty good brick oven pasta at a hotel restaurant, wild spatchcock chicken with green sauce and a stilton tart with hazelnut and apple salad at harrod’s, and even a lovely roasted chicken from the local grocery store.
much of this was washed down with french or south african wines that were inexpensive but tasted like some of the better california wines we enjoy at home.
some of the most memorable meals we had were in scotland. this is where we enjoyed a small, family owned indian restaurant where we sampled a variety of dishes, each one complex and delicious accompanied by some very good indian beers that are not available in the states.
one huge difference in much of the restaurant eating in england and scotland is that most (if not all) of the food is made fresh. we’re not talking reheated sysco prepackaged here. even a small pub turned out a perfectly executed platter of freshly made scotch egg.
the hotel where we stayed advertised their award winning haggis, and after tasting it, i know why. The ingredients for haggis may sound disgusting, but the final product is a hearty hash with deep, rich flavor that is made even better with the addition of runny eggs.
one of the best meals we had in scotland was at a tiny restaurant called wildest drams on the royal mile in edinburgh. the restaurant is actually down a couple of flights of stairs, through a bar/cellar, then up a couple of flights of stairs to the back of the building. they pride themselves on their fresh, locally sourced game food and they’re excited to share that the chef butchers everything himself. i had fresh caught salmon – scottish salmon is my favorite and c had the fresh killed grouse. the food tasted even better than the pretty picture it looked like.
We had some dud meals, most notably at a restaurant that advertised itself as an “American” restaurant. Think the worst of Applebees and make it even worse. One example: coleslaw with limp cabbage laden with mayonnaise and yellow mustard. Cringe.
What was most delightful about dining in both England and Scotland was that the pace was more leisurely. Maybe that would drive most Americans crazy, but I thoroughly enjoyed taking the time to enjoy a meal.