On arrival in London the differences in food and drinks were somewhat of a shock to the system, however in time we discovered that English cuisine had a lot to offer.
Our first impressions of English cuisine were not good – I was surprised to discover that a ‘lemon lime and bitters’ was unheard of, and was quite disappointed at the flavour and texture of supermarket steak. Bacon flooded a fry pan with water when cooked and was soggy, flavourless and unappetising. All was not lost though. Happily Waitrose stocked Bundaberg lemon lime and bitters and I learned to look for dry smoked bacon which behaved as expected in the frypan. A beef butchery course at the Ginger Pig taught my husband what to look for in meat and how to cut it and he came home with a small freezer load of delicious high quality beef. If we didn’t feel like cooking we could get Ginger Pig steaks at the Hawksmoor or tuck into Argentinian steak at Gauchos and A La Cruz.
Travel is not about finding a match for all the foods you eat at home; it’s about trying the local cuisine. We attended a few English barbeques, which as they are rarer than their Australian counterparts are all the more eagerly anticipated and cherished. While the meat (cooked over coals rather than on a gas grill or hot plate) tasted different, the drinking and socialising were the same and any barbeque invitations we received were swiftly accepted.
Sandwich chains such as Pret a Manger, Eat, and the sandwich aisle at Marks & Spencer and Waitrose made it cheap and easy to grab a fresh tasty sandwich for lunch. Whilst at first it seemed odd to have a packet of crisps with a lunchtime sandwich, it was not long before a sandwich alone resulted in the vague feeling that something was missing.
Whilst some would consider the term “British cuisine” an oxymoron, I disagree. I think the British have mastered simple comfort food. We feasted on fish and chips sprinkled with malted vinegar, and could be found most Sundays at a pub, digging into a roast and marvelling at the delicate crunchy Yorkshire puddings. A Cornish pasty made for a great meal on the go and simple pub meals of pie or bangers and mash really hit the spot. After wolfing down toast and a coffee for breakfast all week isn’t it wonderful to sit down on the weekend to a full English breakfast of tea, toast, marmalade, bacon, eggs, sausages, baked beans, mushrooms, tomato, hash browns and perhaps a little black pudding? If you are not that hungry, perhaps opt for a little bubble and squeak (shallow-fried leftover vegetables from aroast dinner) or a bacon sarnie.
Another element the English excel at is condiments. I tried but was not converted by a taste of salad cream but the simply named brown sauce with its mysterious touch of tamarind now accompanies my full English. An encounter with Branston Pickle on a cheese and pickle sandwich resulted in it becoming a regular on the grocery list. I became so enamoured with Fortnum and Mason Piccalilli (A bright yellow relish of chopped pickled vegetables and spices) that any time I was in the area I’d pop in for another jar.
Fortnum and Mason and the nearby Ritz are just two of the many places in London where you can experience high tea/afternoon tea. Generally this consists of a selection of teas, tiny crust-free sandwiches with fillings like cucumber, watercress, ham and mustard, cheese and chutney or salmon and scones with clotted cream and jam. So very civilised, so very tasty and an ideal place to take a visiting Mum.
When a colleague requested builder’s tea I learnt that it was not a type of tea, but just strong, sweet, milky tea. Whilst ‘elderflower’ sounded like the drink of choice for lady pensioners, it only took one taste of light refreshing elderflower cordial, for me to become keen to try anything on the cocktail list that mentioned it. It was in London that I first tried two of my now favourite drinks; Pimms and gin and tonic. Guinness became a winter favourite and many a happy hour was spent sampling the many ciders and beers available in British pubs.
Of course, in cosmopolitan London you are absolutely spoilt for choice and can easily find just about any cuisine, French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese – the list goes on. However in the English mid-Winter when it’s dark and cold and the rain is lashing at the windows, I can think of nothing better than sitting by the fire in an English pub, tucking into the Sunday roast dinner and a half pint of Guinness – cheers!