British Food - Better than Reputation?
The UK, England in partiuclar, has a pretty bad food reputation that is pretty old now. It's a pretty common butt of American jokes, actually...I'm wondering how justified the reputation is. Is London on the rise as a restaurant town? How does it compare to Paris, Rome and New York? I bet the Indian food is good at least!
You need to say "has had a pretty bad reputation", past tense. It is now one of the top food destinations and I am countng the days (l1 to go before I am there) off to my next trip and having a hard time deciding just where our food $$$ will go.
Anyone believeing that food in the UK is poor or bad is living in the past.
Even back in the 60's, England had some great places to eat. I particularly recall the Hole in the Wall in Bath, The Bell Inn near Cambridge, and Terrazza's (sp?) in London.
I'm a New Yorker who's been living near London for 2+ years. Take my word for it, the restaurant food (not to mention the supermarkets) is as good as almost anything you can find around the world. There are top places for every cuisine. It's a far cry from my first visit here in the 80's. I do miss good corned beef sandwiches and Trader Joe's but nothing in life is perfect. :-) The EU has had some negative effects on the UK but it certainly improved the food situation. Spread the word!!
SO and I spent July in London and were absolutely awed by the variety of foods available in local markets (locals were Waitrose, M&S). We had lunch out almost every day, taking advantage of set-price menus in some terrific restaurants, and had great meals even in museum dining rooms (especially the National Gallery--regional menus every week, superb scrambled eggs and salmon with country bread and piles of yummy butter on the weekend). In the evenings we brought in ham or chicken, baguettes, salads, and LOTS of double cream! Oh the dairy, oh the vegetables!!! Oh the ham! Oh the salmon!!
As a Londoner living in the US for the past 3 years, and traveling around the US a lot, I am still desperately missing food from home. You can't beat a trip to Waitrose to fill your kitchen with fabulous food! Trader Joe's is good, but includes a 3 hour drive for me.
Indian food is wonderful in the U.K. And NY and London do still have trendsetting restaurants. Take Hakkasan and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon as recent examples.
There is a stupid joke to the effect that the British accents were developed as the various regions tried to find ways to talk whilst preventing British food entering their mouths.
I remember the food being reasonably good (for your standard takeaway), but bloody expensive for someone used to the ridiculously cheap food in the U.S. I found it to be significantly more expensive than the Continent, though that could have been the exchange.
The school food hadn't improved from the reputation as of my interviews at Oxford, though. Overcooked meat, insipid bread, and "sainted vegetables" -- produce that's had the Hell boiled out of it for three days.
I'd say that London is certainly a world food city, and that you are likely to eat as well in smaller cities (Bristol, Barnsley) as comparable cities in the U.S. For smaller towns, I think the food choice is probably better in the U.K., but that's personal preference and the fact that much of my small-town experience is in the upper Midwest (chicken baskets, anyone?).
re: Das Ubergeek
I like that joke and will be using it this evening!
As a New Yorker who's been living in England for 3 years, I agree with you about the expensive-ness of the food. It's partially the exchange, but many of the restaurants that helped rehabilitate the British food reputation are unbelievably expensive. I have yet to find many places comparable to some of my cheap favorites back home, though I have found a couple.
That said, Indian is like the British equivalent of Chinese in America--even the tiniest villages have curry houses, and lots of them are very good. But you'll also find a lot of mediocre Thai and inedible fish and chips. Almost every High Street has a Pizza Express (surprisingly decent pizza), and a Zizzi's if you're lucky (even better pizza). Pubs range from excellent gastro-pub fare to decent Sunday roasts to horrid and bland wilted veggies and gravy from a box. I guess the point is that you can easily eat well for lots and lots of money, but if you want to eat cheaply, you have to work a lot harder.
If there is any doubt that the UK, especially London, is a now a destination for wonderfully fresh food with a population that truly appreciates it, then all you have to do is visit the Borough Market in Southwark on a Friday or Saturday.
Great Britain's bad reputation for this is hackneyed and has been for a long time. Any place whose department stores (from Harvey Nichols to Selfridges) have these amazing food halls never deserved the reputation in the first place. Try finding that in Macy's or Bloomingdales. Even the churches have good cafes.
As a New Yorker, I am sad my local little supermarket chains don't offer what Marks & Spencer, Waitrose or even Sainsbury's do as far as convenience items. It's a great way to eat cheaply because, as other posters have said, it can be very expensive and there aren't as many cheap options as in the U.S.
Please allow me to echo what has already been stated, namely that those who talk about "bad English food" have either:
*Never been to the UK
*Not been to the UK for 20 years or so
*Not educated themselves about food in general
Without question, food in the UK is more expensive than in the US, but then, we in the US tend to enjoy cheaper gasoline and cheaper electricity, in addition to cheap food. Our food in this country may be abundant, and it may be cheap, but that does not make it better than what is found in other nations.
In addition to the high-end English restaurant that serve sophisticated cuisine, even the typical pub nowadays can be counted on to have an interesting diversity of the dishes that are offered, and frequently, they are well-prepared.
Is it possible to get a bad meal in the UK? Sure.
However, it is no more likely than it is in the US, and in my experience over the past 20 years, it is probably less likely.
I suspect the "British food is bad" joke started during WWII, when there were lots of US troops stationed in the UK. Of course, the island nation was practically encircled by enemies and much of the food was dire--no imports, and whatever they could grow went toward the troops. While we had rationing in the US, it was nowhere near as awful as the rationing in England--they still rationed sugar well into the 'Fifties (hence the national sweet tooth). There was a great book called Bombers and Mash about English food during the war, wartime recipes, etc., that sent shivers down my spine--lots of ersatz food, lots of cabbage, lots of dreadful privation. There just was nothing to eat--the island was blockaded, and had been dependent on European imports prior to the war.
The non-wartime English food was about as good or bad as American food prior to the war: lots of roasts, chops, fluffy roasted potatoes, yorkshire pudding, sausages, trifle, excellent cheeses. Even now, the quality of the English-raised, grass fed meats that you'll find in, say, a Sainsbury (a big, not-particularly-gourmet English supermarket) is far better than the meat you get at any American supermarket, plus you can get creamline milk at the supermarket, 48% milkfat double cream (not ultrapasteurized, like in the US), organic sausages, better yogurt, lovely frozen food, more organic and biodynamic products. British cheesemongers are not forced to refrigerate their cheeses and wrap them in plastic, as they are in the US by the health department, This means that the cheese can breathe and ripen naturally, as it has done for literally centuries. I think English food (at the supermarket level) is far, far better than American food at the supermarket level.
That being said, I think the London restaurant scene is not as vibrant or dynamic (and it doesn't hit the real highs) of the New York scene. However--excellent South Asian food, that we (in New York, anyway) can't come near. There are subtle cultural differences between , say, NY and London that effect the restaurant scene. For one thing, New Yorkers depend far more heavily on take out and cheap eats than Londoners--consequently, the cheap food scene in NY is incredible good and vibrant. Londoners tend to cook simple meals at home instead of getting take out 4 nights a week (as many do in NY)--things like simple fry ups wiith those great sausages--so the suopermarkets might be better.
The food offering in England is much improved... they are even starting to craft very decent Sparkling Wines. The Indian, Pakistani & Chinese food are very good.... a Gourmet magazine recently rated about a dozen or so London restaurants among the Top 50 in the world (now doubt a bit of Anglo American bias there)... but they have some of the world's top Chefs today.
With that said, I still don't think that I would find Brum Fish Cakes or Sheepherd's Pie all that compelling etc.,