Time to catch up on some countries I’ve neglected in preparation for my ultimate food review power rankings. We’ll start with what is widely considered to be an eater’s worst nightmare. As someone who spent a fair amount of time in Australia, whose native cuisine is influenced by the Mother Country more so than the U.S., I am well aware of the flavorless muck and poorly seasoned meat that fair-skinned English speakers wolf down without so much of a complaint. I was hopeful that London’s status as Global City would lead to better than expected results, as I took my first visit to jolly ol’ England.
I am happy to report that decent meals are easy to come by in London, although it probably helps to do some research and have some places picked out beforehand. There are far too many random pubs named after random monarchs or dukes that almost certainly serve up mediocre bangers and mash or fish-n-chips. With some forward thinking on the part of my lovely Indian assistants, we were able to locate some solid establishments including a South Indian “curry house” a Thai restaurant and an English “gastropub.”
Of course you’ll note that two of the three cuisines I pointed out were not British at all. Indeed it’s the influx of immigrants that props up London’s food. Nowhere was this more evident than when I went out for fish and chips at the Golden Hind. The restaurant was bustling and served me an absolutely scrumptious serving of fish, chips and mushy peas as shown.
When I went to pay however, I noted the history of the establishment’s ownership, a list of the proprietors and their ethnicities. The Golden Hind, it turns out, has been run by Italians and Greeks for its entire existence. Should England get credit for this delicious food? We know the Sicilians and Spartans know how to cook.
I hail from a country of immigrants, whose cuisine has been bolstered by the variety of ethnic options available, particularly in large cities. Taking something like Neapolitan pizza and expanding on it to turn it into the greatest food of all time could not have happened without immigrants influencing and being influenced by new customers and different ingredients. But English food does not appear to have hit that sort of evolutionary stage, other than samosas being offered at convenience stores. And while the ethnic food is good, its simply not going to compare to the dishes offered in the native country. Trust me, the Thai food is better in Thailand. So while London gets credit for variety, I know where I’d rather get Pad Thai.
In the end I decided to award London an extra stomach for its variety, while subtracting since fact you certainly can’t get the same thing in Nottingham.
The Good: I’m a fan of meat pies, although I think they are an acquired taste. I had a delicious game-stuffed pie at the aforementioned gastropub which was the best thing I ate in England. As I said earlier, the ethnic food in London, if you find the right restaurant is very good.
The Meh: English breakfast. Like much of England’s food, it does the job, but I can’t get behind the inclusion of baked beans as part of the breakfast oeuvre. Also their pastries (sweets) are generally subpar, as evidenced by the preference of scones. I mean I’ll eat a scone don’t get me wrong, but who doesn’t prefer a moist pastry? Or french bread instead of toast?
English beer also falls in the meh category. It’s not the warmth that bothers me so much as the general boring nature of the lot. Most beers I had tasted pretty flat and there were no interesting flavors or tastes I came across. The best beer I had was a whiskey-infused beer…brewed by a Norwegian, served to me by an American at a pub that specializes in Belgian brews. Again, note the global influences.
The Bad: The Sunday roast special, which was one of the most disappointing meals I’ve eaten in all of my travels. I think in my head I was expecting something like the Prime Rib from the Wynn buffet or even my Mom’s delicious pot roast. Instead I got two tiny, tiny slices of beef with some plain gravy and of course, the classic side of boiled veggies. It’s meals like these England that give you a bad name, particularly when you pimp them out as something special.
The Good/Bad/Ugly: I covered these pretty much and there isn’t a lot more to say. I was only in London for four nights so I don’t have quite the breadth to choose from. Still I feel confident making a summary judgment on the merits of the entire country’s cuisine.
2.5 stomachs out of 5.