Whenever I travel in Europe and meet the local people they’re always excited to talk about the UK and what life is like there. More often than not, the first words out of their mouth are always the same.
“Ah, you’re from England! I love the UK…except the food is terrible.”
This has always struck me as somewhat odd. I’ve traveled far and wide across the globe, from Iceland to Japan, and always found British food to be amongst some of the most heartwarming, delicious, and satisfying cuisines the world has to offer.
Why, then, do I hear so often of Britain’s awful culinary reputation? Is it just that I’ve become so acclimatized to British food that my perspective is skewed?
I don’t think so. The UK has the third most Michelin stars in the world, with a total of 230 – just above Germany and Spain. We also have a plethora of celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal that have earned an international reputation and acclaim. Dishes invented in the UK have changed the way the world looks at food.
So what’s going on here? Well, let’s explore some classic British dishes and see if we can work it out.
Roast Dinner with Yorkshire Pudding
Whenever I hear the eponymous criticisms of British cuisine, my first response is this – “Well, have you ever had a real, home-cooked roast dinner?”. The answer is always no. To me, a beautifully cooked, succulent British beef or lamb dinner, with Yorkshire Puddings and roast potatoes is the ultimate icon of British food. And yet so few visitors to the UK ever get to try one in a proper country pub or home setting. If you’re visiting us you simply have to find the time to treat yourself.
Welsh Lamb Shank
Wales is famous for its lamb, and to my mind, there’s only one way to eat it – slow cooked in red wine, garlic, and cranberry sauce with fresh carrots and asparagus. You won’t find this dish in a high-street gastropub, but look carefully at the menus of some of the classier restaurants and I can almost guarantee that it will cross your plate. It’s succulent, flavourful, and quintessentially British.
Whilst on the ferry crossing from Dover to Calais I once met a group of German travelers on their way to Birmingham. Thinking it was a slightly unusual destination, I asked what reason they had for traveling. They answered with one word – curry. Although many travelers see curry as being an Indian dish, most of the classic curry dishes we enjoy today were actually invented in the UK. The Chicken Tikka Masalas and Lamb Kormas in Birmingham are so good that tourists will cross Europe just to try them.
Grilled Scottish Salmon
Many British dishes are thick and hearty with complex flavors. However, we’re not afraid of simple dishes that let the quality of the ingredients shine through. A great example of this is grilled Scottish salmon with asparagus and new potatoes. The wild salmon that roam the highland rivers in Scotland have a unique flavor that just can’t be beaten.
Beef and ale stew with dumplings
This dish is the one that gets us all through the cold winter months, and I’ve never seen it’s like anywhere else in the world. After the beef is cooked for many hours in brown ale, beef stock, and rosemary, we add suet dumplings that fill out the dish and make it one of the most satisfying culinary experiences you could hope for. For this one though, you’d need a British guide that knows their food to help you find a venue that does the dish justice.
Once you’ve tried all the dishes on this list, you won’t think twice about the quality of British food. The problem, though, is that most of them are best experienced when cooked at home, surrounded by family and friends. For the next best thing, use one of our London walking tours to learn about some of the best traditional pub experiences in the city.