The Great British Food Series: Part One, London and Brighton

I finally finished editing all the photographs from our recent trip to the United Kingdom (2,000 photos!), so here’s that belated UK food post I’ve been promising. I’m going to split it up into a few posts, because there are just too many pictures!

Our tour was June 22 through July 7, and included London, Brighton, Doncaster, York, Edinburgh, Bamburgh, Lindisfarne, Liverpool, and Chelmsford. I’ll explain why we went to each of these places as we explore their foods. I lived in England from September 2001 until June 2005, and only came back against my will. It’s a long story involving a terrible relationship, youthful stupidity, and lots of heartache; but my four years there were also filled with adventure, atmosphere, learning, and joy. I love the UK—especially England, and particularly York—and going back for the first time in eight years, after an abrupt departure, proved to be both a blast for me and Eric as tourists, and some much-needed (if expensive) closure for my 25-year-old self. Someday I’ll write more about that.

But right now, let’s talk about some mouth-watering British food!

People are wrong about British food. I already wrote a post about that a couple of years ago. British food is delicious, healthy, diverse, and filled with history. Did you know, for instance, that fish and chips originated with 17th-century Sephardic Jewish immigrants? Or, check out the history of kedgeree. Or, consider the many historic and delectable varieties of British cheese. I could go on.

Since it was Eric’s first trip to the UK, I made sure we hit all the high spots: fish and chips, giant Yorkshire pudding with roast beef, curry take-away, bangers and mash, real ale, hog roast, Mr Whippy… And, despite the fact that we walked six to eight miles per day, and drank mostly half pints, I actually gained six pounds. Oh, well!

A few quick thoughts before the photo essay: British food was as I remembered it, but more diverse and more consciously foodie. The farmers markets I remember from my time in London and York, for instance, now boast stalls selling kielbasa and injera, in addition to sausage rolls and cloudy cider (indeed, the Saturday market at Royal Festival Hall in Southwark was weirdly similar to the Mueller Farmer’s Market here in Austin, with its artisanal salumi and handmade soaps and stall holders with ironic tattoos of anthropomorphic foodstuffs). The Brits seem finally to have caught on to the quasi-religious experience that is Mexican food—there are now burrito chains everywhere, including Chipotle—but good luck finding a corn tortilla. Local breweries are experiencing a welcome resurgence, much like in the United States. We didn’t find the prices to be that ridiculous, which was a surprise. The bulk of the expense was airfare (especially because we could only go at the peak travel time of late June-early July). For me, the highlights of the trip were: Wimbledon (I’ve been watching for 30 years, and had never gone, despite living 20 miles away for three years); Lindisfarne (though we were only allotted one hour by our tour!); and taking Eric on a pub crawl in York. It was also wonderful to see so many old friends, including the fine folks with whom I used to work at Ottakar’s book store in Chelmsford, Essex.

Okay, grab a snack and get comfortable. Here goes.

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Upon arrival: espresso and Pan di Stelle. It should be noted that our hosts, Tess and Alex, lived in Bologna, Italy, for a while in the late 1990s. Lucky us.

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We wandered through the Saturday market at the Southbank Centre, stopping to grab some Polish sausage and sauerkraut sandwiches and beers. You can’t tell from this picture, but this sandwich was huge. Eric and I could barely finish it between the two of us.

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Southbank market pierogi stand. Eric tried one of these and reported favorably on its flavor profile. Ha ha.

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First stop: the Royal Festival Hall’s Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden, where we enjoyed some Curious Brew English lager and a view of the Thames, Westminster, and London Eye.

After that “snack,” we walked across Waterloo Bridge, down the Strand, and into Soho. Guess where we went first? It was kind of an accident. But maybe not really.

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Eric and Tess having some beer at the Dog and Duck Pub, Soho.

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Alex and me, being silly.

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Tess waiting for her tai yaki.

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Cream-filled fried dough in the shape of a fish. Yeah. Ha.

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Tess made us this warm and hearty baked sausage dish, with pork, caramelized onions, tomatoes, and herbs, baked in a tomato sauce. I’ve gotta try this!

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Served with green beans and a buttered jacket (baked) potato. Mmm.

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A proper fish and chip shop on the seafront, Brighton.

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Your friendly local fish and chip seller.

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Eric gets his first (hot) taste of authentic fish and chips. “Dog and Duck is just as good.”

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While in Brighton, we met up with my friend Andrea, whom I used to work with at Ottakar’s, in her native Essex. She moved to Brighton, but she’s still making movies! Bill’s is a small chain, and a pretty hip place. This is their own beer. We liked it.

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I liked this lemon drizzle cake that Alex ordered even better. That’s sour cream on top. If you know me, you know how I love sour cream. Delish!

With some time to kill before our 5:00pm train back to London, we decided to pop into a pub. The corner where we stood provided a view of no less than three pubs, all traditional in appearance.

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“Hey, let’s go to that pub!”

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Since Eric and I are suckers for anything with a whiff of history, we decided to check out the Battle of Trafalgar.

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Turned out, the Battle of Trafalgar was on the CAMRA 2013 Sussex Downs Ale Trail, and had a nice selection of real ales. Jackpot!

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This one was especially good.

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Back in London, I went full Essex and enjoyed a tall Stella, bag of cheese and onion crisps, and a Gavin and Stacey marathon. British television programming is still a thousand times better than ours, despite the infiltration of “reality” programming.

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I stayed up late into the night to make a batch of midnight sandwiches for our trip to Wimbledon. We knew we’d have to “queue up” for hours (we didn’t anticipate five and a half hours), and we wanted tasty but cheap food. So Alex bought some fixins, and I made a variety of sandwiches, cut into halves for easy grabbing and sharing: salami and provolone; cheese, onion, and chutney; ham and cheese; turkey and mayo. I made ten sandwiches and we ended up eating every single one! Sadly, we weren’t aware that both The Queue and Wimbledon itself were BYOB. You can take a six-pack or bottle of wine/champagne per person! People around us were popping open bottles of bubbly, and we only had blackcurrant squash and water.

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I made up for this oversight immediately upon entering the venue, by getting a Pimm’s! Believe it or not, I had never had Pimm’s before.

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And, of course, we also had to have strawberries and cream on Henman Hill.

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Well, that covers the foods of days one through three. Check out the second post: York. And then read the third post: Edinburgh.

3 thoughts on “The Great British Food Series: Part One, London and Brighton

  1. Pingback: The Great British Food Series: Part Three, Edinburgh | STELLA COOKS

  2. Pingback: The Great British Food Series: Part Four, Northumberland and Liverpool | STELLA COOKS

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