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That one English thing

I've been over here for a few months and have been amazed at the creativity that chefs here employ when it comes completely destroying a dish--never terrible the same way twice. It's high comedy that is slowly turning to tragedy. But I can't believe that everything here is inedible. Though I'm learning that everything is absurdly expensive (and I'm coming from New York). Anyway, enough griping. San Francisco has burritos, New York had Shopsins, LA has Mexican food and Korean BBQ and Langer’s pastrami and well, a lot of things. But I’m hoping you all can help me figure out what London has. What is that one exceptional thing you can get here that just isn’t the same anywhere else, and where does one find it?

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  1. uh.....doner kebab?


    saveloy and chips?

    1. sticky toffee pudding?
      banofie pie?
      lots of curries

      1. I'm from the NY area, too, and have lived over here 3 years. I think it takes awhile, but there are many enjoyable food possibilities and some that rival what one finds in Manhattan. It takes some experimenting and trying to find places that suit your palate. I don't think I'll ever get used to the high prices, but we don't have any ice storms at present.

        1. A modern invention, but the ploughman's lunch you can find in any pub...hard to screw up a hunk of cheese with Branston pickle.
          Sausage rolls
          Meat pies
          Cornish Pasties (although maybe one should really go to Cornwall for those)
          Maybe it's only for tourists, but I've always loved the "Full English breakfast." I don't know who decided to have baked beans with breakfast, but it was a great idea.

          1. Fantastic cheeses from the north country (e.g. Wenslydale, Stilton), pickled onions (spicy style from Saintsbury is also delicious with cheese and charcuterie, delightfully light scones; clotted cream (fresh and oh so lovely on warm scones); really good PIMS cups at Ascot; strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, sticky toffee pudding, summer pudding, conserves.

            For the budget conscious, Indian cuisine is typically the "affordable" dining out choice, pub cuisine can be affordable; Chinese restaurants are typically expensive.

            1. Thanks for the suggestions. I'll have to give some of those a shot. The full English fry-up is a pretty remarkable invention. I'm finding that eating here is more of a surgical exercise. Randomly walk into a place and you're likely to be sorely disappointed but do a little homework (thank God for Chowhound) and you can come out unscathed, maybe even happy.

              For my part, the best thing I've found so far is the almond croissant at the Islington farmer's market from the baker in the far corner in the rasta hat. They are unreal and have become my Sunday ritual.

              1 Reply
              1. re: hungry1

                I have been here for 6 months too, and think that a nice Sunday roast in a good gastropub or atmospheric/cosy London pub on a winter's day is quintessential and something England does brilliantly.

                I have a newfound weekend-morning-almond croissant love affair also, bit still looking fpr the perfect source. I can reccommend Broadway markets (stall in the middle) near London Fields', and recently have been enjoying Emporium (Chapel Market/Upper Street) but inconsistent - when fresh, they are pretty good, and are at least fresh almond paste, rather than the hideous hard packet-type stuff that some of the Pret-like chains churn out. But I'll try your man!

              2. we really enjoyed that you can get pasties just about anywhere, even on the platform of a tube station. my husband had a cheese and onion one from a vendor at kensington-high street that was actually very good. flaky pastry, pungent cheese and sweet onions.


                CASK ALE! check out CAMRA the Campaign for Real Ales... they have a website with a guide to pubs (trad and modern) serving great ales or having a good selection of beer. For sheer weird fun, we loved the Pride of Spitalfields, down an alley off Brick Lane. Rather like drinking in your granny's parlor with the velvet couches and what not, but an nice little nook to visit on an especially dreary day.

                1. Chip butties-sandwiches made from soft white buttered bread with chip shop chips inside(The Best)

                  And local London I suppose would be 'Pie,Mash & Liquer' or jellied eels.

                  These are all very cheap dishes

                  1. Many posters on this board will say that London is great for Middle Eastern food. Obviously this isn't an English thing, but as you were comparing London to cities in the US which have Mexican, Korean etc, I figured you wanted to know what types of food London does well.

                    1. There is still a real pie and eel shop in Leyton High Road (or there was a year ago).

                      There's nothing like meat pie, mash and liquor. Unless you add some stewed eels!

                      Don't forget to turn the pie upside down or you will look like a tourist.

                      1. Spotted Dick, of course!

                        1. I love butty sandwiches, as referenced above.

                          I can't believe no one has mentioned Yorkshire pudding! I am strangely addicted to those little puffs, especially with some delicious roasted beef and brown gravy.

                          Above all else though, there is no Chicken Tikka Masala like the stuff you can pick up at any Indian takeaway joint in London.

                          Barley candies, mint cake, clotted cream and red currant jam. Yum..... (not altogether of course)

                          1. Sorry, but I have to add my tuppence worth: Yes, to Yorkshire pudding IF properly done. But is NOT proper if it is a "little puff". A real Yorkshire pudding (we are from Yorkshire) is a large square, circle or rectangle that traditionally was cooked under the meat and therefore basted in the drippings of the roast/joint of beef. Nowadays, it is still large but more likely the (runny) dough is ladled into hot pan drippings and cooked in a very hot oven after the roast comes out.

                            It should rise not-too-high and golden and when cut at the table into squares, fold into itself with a "puddingy" consistency in the middle.You then pour gravy over (and reach for the Lipitor or cholesterol lowering drug of choice). It does NOT resemble a popover IF it is traditionally cooked and properly served.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: LJS

                              oh gosh, that sounds wonderful. your description makes me hungry, well done, i am now craving something i wasn't before.

                              1. re: LJS

                                Yes it does sound wonderful. I also grew up in Yorkshire and used to enjoy this as a kid but haven't been able to find really good Yorkshire puds for some time now (I have been living in London and now New York for the longest time which might explain that). Outside of people's houses, do you know anywhere in London (or the UK for that matter) that still does a good and faithful rendition?

                                1. re: LJS

                                  Don't forget it's equally delicious spread with jam!

                                2. I've probably never had proper Yorkshire pudding then. I just remember it being delightful regardless. :-)

                                  1. When I visited London for the first (and so far only) time, my sister and I would have "Gateaux with heavy cream". Gateaux is like a cake. The cream is poured over. It's to die for, but the calories will kill you - I'm still trying to work them off!! : )

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: aurora50

                                      Without wanting to mock, your comment about gateaux being like a cake reminds me of the superb urban myth about the time that George Bush supposedly told Tony Blair that "the problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur"!

                                      Gateau is the French word for cake. Gateaux is the plural.

                                    2. That's the way they had it on the menu!!! Sorry I don't know French.

                                      1. that does seem to be an english thing we indians inherited - thats why all the five star restaurants in india invariably had 'strawberry gateaux' for dessert (the 'x' is there to re-assure you its french) and thats why you still get strawberry gateaux on air india.

                                        either that or black forest cake.

                                        air india has easily the best food of any airline i've been on, but thats another thread.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: howler

                                          Howler, that would be a good thread. I haven't flown Air India for a long time so can't remember the quality of their food although I remember some other aspects of their service which unfortunately left plenty to be desired!

                                          What I do know is that the last time I flew long haul (in January with American from NYC to Tokyo), the meals on the outbound were such a disgrace that on the return I had made sure to stock up in a big way from one of the Tokyo department store food halls which meant that I ate like a prince whilst everyone else ate like a pauper. I thought about selling some of my extra supplies to fellow passengers, would have been a nice little earner!

                                        2. There is a famous fish and chip shop in Muswell Hill, Toff's, that I still have dreams about to this very day, and it's been many years since I've found myself in Muswell Hill. I grew up in London, currently live in New York, and don't get back to the UK as often as I'd like. Other things I miss: sausage rolls, cornish pasties, pork pies and really really good roast beef with roast potatoes. OH! And oddly enough, for an American kid growing up in the UK I used to really miss pizza, and then I somehow learned to love Pizza Express. I still love their pepperoni and hot pepper (jalapeno or serrano or some skinny, green Italian hot pepper) pie. It's more of an Italian style pizza that you'd get in Rome, individually sized, the crust is kind of appealing floppy, and I think they use little balls of fresh mozarella instead of shredded cheese.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: ballulah

                                            Mmmm.....Pizza Express!!! Now that is a chain I wish we had in the US. The pizza you mention is the American Hot, isn't it? Pepperoni was the American and pepperoni with peppers was the American Hot. I always got the Veneziana. Sultanas and pine nuts, along with spinach (I think) - and 20 p went to the Save Venice Fund (or something like that). And a bottle or two of house red, and maybe the house salad (and garlic dough balls) as a starter....

                                            1. re: cackalackie

                                              YES YES!!! The American Hot was the one!! Oh wow, I'm having a serious tastebud flashback. The only pepperonis I've found that come even close to being as good as the pepperoni there are on the pies at Lombardi's, and I think that's why I love Lombardi's as much as I do, even though there is so much heated debate over NYC's best pizza.

                                              1. re: ballulah

                                                You won't be all that pleased to hear then that Pizza Express have starting selling pre-made pizzas (including American Hot) through most of our supermarkets! And I'm sorry to say that Toffs has gone down hill over the past 15 years, it's still good just not as good as it used to be.

                                                1. re: ali patts

                                                  My absolute favorite chippy is long gone, so it's nice that Toffs is even still around. There used to be an almost literal hole in the wall next to the Victoria Coach Station, right across the street from the library on Elizabeth Street, their haddock and chips were a truly transcendent experience.

                                                  I'd be pleased as a pig in s*** about the pre-made pizzas if I could get them in New York!!

                                          2. AND CHOCOLATE!! Cadbury's and Yorkie bars are leaps and bounds better than Hersheys. And TWIGLETS!!!

                                            1. I'd stick with British breakfasts, fish and chips, curry particularly in the form of a balti (soupy chicken tikka masala, sort of), shepherd's pie. Avoid all British desserts, favoring something imported from France. That should keep you in good stead.

                                              Actually, there's always the chunnel.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Cinnamon

                                                Why avoid all British desserts? The traditional ones (crumbles, tarts, sponge/steam puds, custards etc) when well done are excellent especially during the wintertime. Admittedly it's getting harder to find quality renditions of them but they are still out there.

                                                The continentals certainly do pastries better than us but once again I wouldn't dismiss British pastries out-of-hand, I've certainly sampled some excellent items over the years.

                                                1. re: oonth

                                                  Let's not forget a good trifle!

                                                  And people in the States may SAY they love scones, but they haven't tried a real one I'll warrant. They are delicate and flakey/crumbly, more like Southern buttermilk biscuits but better, and full of juicy sultanas. A real scone with clotted cream and strawberry preserves is a little bit of heaven on a plate.

                                                  1. re: oonth

                                                    Well, personally I'm not a fan... though oonth below mentioned scones. I have had excellent scones (there aren't many good replications of those in the U.S.), and if I can eat them for dessert, I'll give you that!

                                                    (British desserts suit some, I'm sure - and there's much to love about the place and people - but the desserts just don't strike a chord with me personally.)

                                                2. Kippers for breakfast!

                                                  1. Sorry, folks, you don't really need that much smoked fish to start your day...I have not idea why this just posted multiple times!

                                                    1. I've never been a fan of sultanas, but I could go for a good sultana free British scone with clotted cream and preserves. Gee, thanks, now I am hungry again. Does anyone know how to make clotted cream or know of something simialr to it here in the States? I have yet to come across clotted cream in any of my local supermarkets.

                                                      8 Replies
                                                      1. re: Nestra

                                                        We now have clotted cream in our supermarket (Harris Teeter). It's in the specialty cheese section, if I'm not mistaken.

                                                        1. re: cackalackie

                                                          I went to a Tesco's in England and was left a little wide-eyed seeing as they had nearly an entire aisle (OK, not really - half an aisle) of cream. Single cream, double cream, long-keeping cream, cream that'll spoil soon, Devonshire cream which might be one of the aforementioned, triple cream, Philadelphia cream cheese (finally found that, took me ages), etc. I think the butters took up the other half of the aisle.

                                                          1. re: Cinnamon

                                                            Recently, thank goodness, Tesco and Waitrose have begun selling a pouring cream one can use with coffee. After 3 years here, I still miss my Coffemate cream, especially the ones with flavors! I think the British are purists and that would never catch on here but I live in hope.

                                                            1. re: zuriga1

                                                              Coffeemate? Cream? Never in a million years! It's chemical goo. A danger to health on a par with Sunny Delight :-)

                                                              1. re: magiric

                                                                Coffemate seemed better than using milk. My arteries seem OK - I even had an angiogram last year. :-)

                                                                1. re: zuriga1

                                                                  I used evaporated milk (can) for my coffee when I lived there.

                                                              2. re: zuriga1

                                                                Yikes. But if you like it, glad you found it.

                                                          2. re: Nestra

                                                            Where are you based Nestra? In NYC I've seen it at Whole Foods (which you might have luck with nationally), and specific to NYC at Fairway, Citarella, Myer's of Keswick, Dean & DeLuca, and all the usual gourmet suspects. As cackalackie says, it's usually with the high end cheeses in little glass jars.

                                                          3. You can use bottled Devonshire Cream too: check dairy (duh!) section.

                                                            1. I've checked many a dairy section. :-)

                                                              I live in Dallas, TX and the closest Whole Foods is 15 miles from where I live, but if I am ever on that side of the city, I will certainly check for it. I use to live in Atlanta and shopped at Harris Teeter (before it was bought out by Kroger), but I never did find it there either.

                                                              I appreciate the advice!

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Nestra

                                                                If you're seriously desperate for British things Myer's of Keswick does a mail order service, and they do stock bottled clotted cream. http://www.myersofkeswick.com/

                                                              2. Oohhh! I thought of one more thing I miss terribly. JAFFA CAKES!!!! Maybe those aren't strictly British, but they are quite hard to come by on this side of the pond.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Nestra

                                                                  I find LU Pims in ordinary supermarkets in the US (definitely at Safeways in Northern California). They are very close to Jaffa Cakes. They also do flavors other than orange, but the orange are the best.

                                                                2. As a former ex-pat who knew a lot of other ex-pats, I suspect a touch of homesickness may be making things taste not so good. If so, that will pass. What I loved most about food in Britain was heading out into the country to a nice pub for Sunday lunch, with a nice walk before or after (or both). The Good Pub Guide will steer you right in selecting your pub. I can't tell you how many great weekends friends and I built around pubs chosen from this book -- it never let us down over the years. (Worth buying new edition each year.) Link http://www.goodguides.co.uk/index.asp

                                                                  1. We lived there until a couple years ago, and the Sunday dim sum in London's tiny Chinatown beat the socks off what we could get back in Middle America. The Sausage & Mash cafe in Notting Hill was really English, and really good. I think it's under the Westway (memory is failing three years after we left.) The cheese is wonderful -- the cheese shop in Covent Garden has a Welsh cheese called Tiefi that is just the best thing I've ever eaten. Dairy products! Don't forget dairy products. Hordes of them that don't exist in the States. Sugar varieties -- ditto. Potato crisps -- Walkers had some Great British Flavors a few years back that were brilliant. Fresh produce is better in Britain -- the berries and apples are more local, there are more and better varieties of potatoes and mushrooms. Butchers -- I lived in Cambridge, so maybe it's different, but the meat was gorgeous, and still often hand-cut. Hard cider -- I know it's thuggish to drink it, but I loved the stuff. We're going back for a couple of weeks and I am taking an extra suitcase for goodies!
                                                                    That's more than "one thing" but I hope it helps.

                                                                    1. You septics (http://www.cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk/...) who come over here and complain about the food don't know how lucky ya are :


                                                                      If you really want a true taste of England I would highly recommend The Easton pub in Farringdon. They do they finest Sunday roast in the capital - (here's a pic http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimmy_la...) - it really is great and I've had many!

                                                                      If you're the type that acquaints England with Curry then skip Brick Lane (do go shopping there though - uber trendy) and try Geetas on Willesden Lane (http://www.london-eating.co.uk/3030.htm) - it is the most authentic Indian I've had in London - the masal dossas are just as good as those I've had in Delhi.


                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: jimmytee

                                                                        jimmytee, I think that you are a newcomer to this board but I like your tips already. I totally agree about Geetas and I have recommended it before on this board (along with other South Indian places on Willesden Lane and Dudden Hill Road). It feels like you're sitting in someone's front room circa 1975 but the food delivers and it's as cheap as you like.

                                                                        1. re: oonth

                                                                          *front room circa 1975* absolutely! Geeta is so friendly and you don't get the usual beered-up curry lads in there frightening away the clientel!