Ask anyone about their experience with British food and the response is usually: bland, boring, or weird. And with unappetizing names like blood sausage, bangers and mash, welsh rarebit and spotted dick, no wonder people get turned off. What the hell is blood sausage and why are you eating it?!
There’s also that question, what exactly IS British food? Beef and boiled potatoes? Oh... it’s chicken tikka masala. That’s the national dish. Riiight. When a country needs to adopt the flavors of a former colony to make up for its own lackluster fare, it’s got to be bad. It was writer Bill Marsano who said, “The British Empire was created as a by-product of generations of desperate Englishmen roaming the world in search of a decent meal,” and apparently that meal is chicken tikka masala.
But is that it though? Is British food that bad?
When everyone is determined to paint something terrible I’m of the mind to think: either people are just lazily buying into the stereotype or someone’s not telling the whole picture. When it comes to British food I think it’s both.
OK, even the British admit their cuisine did take a bit of a nosedive as a result of two world wars and strict rationing. But so what? Hard times call for extreme measures. But things have changed. Sure there are some traditional dishes that get a bad rap (blood sausage) but for the most part I think the old clichés are getting a little tired.
Here are three meals I enjoyed (and greedily ate again and again):
You might be asking, really? Are you serious? Dude, totally serious. Prior to my arrival in the Ham Yard Hotel in London, I had spent zero minutes thinking about afternoon tea, craving afternoon tea, or noting why I didn’t have enough afternoon tea. Because it was at Ham Yard that I realized that 1) I really like British scones; 2) Welsh Rarebit is basically cheesy bread and it’s oh so good; and 3) Clotted cream, where have you been my whole life??
Unlike American scones which are heavy on the butter and sugar British scones have a lower fat-to-flour ratio and rarely have fancy mix-ins except sultanas or raisins. The texture is more akin to American biscuits, although purists won’t like you comparing it to that. But what British scones lack in fat you make up for in thick slatherings of clotted cream and jam.
Which brings me to my next obsession: clotted cream. It’s a silky, golden-yellow cream made by heating full-fat cow’s milk in a shallow pan to allow the surface to form clots. It’s… heavenly and unlike anything I’ve ever tasted.
What’s not to like about afternoon tea? A three-tier stand of mini sandwiches and desserts accompanied by a properly brewed pot of Earl Grey (or whatever you prefer) -- LIFE IS GOOD. And those mini sandwiches, tarts and cakes - bursting with flavor but regrettably so small in size! I’d happily eat 3 more of each.
I then spent the rest of my time in England rearranging my schedule to have more afternoon tea:
Dinner at The Conservatory Restaurant in Exeter
Do you remember the meal I totally fan-girled over in Cape Town? This was the same experience.
There’s nothing boiled, bland or boring about these dishes.
The pork tenderloin was perfectly cooked and paired deliciously with the crispy-topped potato and crisp vegetables.
And holy crap the sticky toffee pudding! Yes it’s definitely sweet but not exceedingly so. Who can resist that warm sponge cake lovingly speckled with finely chopped dates and deliciously soaked in a buttery, gooey caramel sauce -- I’m salivating. Quintessentially British, it’s heaven on a plate.
Traditional Full English Breakfast
Are you paleo? Afraid of carbs?* May I present the English breakfast. A plateful of fried eggs, buttered toast, sausage, baked beans, and a couple of fried tomatoes and mushrooms are the perfect antidote to the carb-loaded pancakes and waffles you’d find across the pond. For the uninitiated, the baked beans are meant to be eaten slathered on top of your toast.
*Neither of which apply to me