Is British food really that bad?

I hear this stereotype all of the time, and while I’m sure it had some basis in fact somewhere, but how true is it?

I’ve never been to the UK, so my only experience in the matter is watching BBC America where several shows highlight local restaurants which seem to serve excellent food. I know that Gordon Ramsay serves excellent food, but I have seen him visit local eateries who also serve quality food.


Nowadays it’s great. The reputation the UK has for awful food comes from:

the 19th and early 20th centuries, when food was boiled until it was good and tasteless, and

most of the 20th century, when Britain had serious food rationing going for decades. Rationing continued well into the 1950’s, and you can’t cook well like that.

Since then, they’ve been practicing, and British food IME is just fine and great. If rather on the greasy side with some old-fashioned dishes.

My experience in London was some excellent Indian restaurants, and lousy pub food. I was starving one night in a pub after drinking for a few hours so I decided to order some food. I don’t remember why, but I got a baked potato slathered in what seemed like Thousand Island dressing, topped with teensy shrimp (which reminded me of Sea Monkeys.)

I do think the food scene has improved in the last 10 - 15 years, however.

It used to be true. English club food was designed for…well, it was designed so that if one of the members forgot his teeth, he wouldn’t have any problems. But you could always find good food at the pubs or out in the country. Same as any country, really. Citified food was garp, country food was nirvana. In the last 30 years, however, there has been a bit of a tranformation. What with all the members of the former Empire moving to London and opening kebab shops and all. Garp, but different garp.

I hold that the above is a generality that applies to every civilized country on the planet. To get really good food, leave the big cities and go eat in the countryside.

Well, bless her heart, my MIL cooks her roast beef until it’s well past well done, and boils her vegetables until they’re nearly mush.

There’s a reason we always have Christmas dinner at my folks’ house. :wink:

Traditionally, British sausage are supposed to be at least 1/4 sawdust. I remember some controversy when EU food standards would have forced this to change.

Man, I love me some British food.

I made a shepherd’s pie this week. Right now in the fridge, I’ve got Cornish pasties, pork pies, meat pies, and if sodding Fiesta stocked them like they used to, I’d have sausage rolls, too. I do have bangers, though. I have to go to Mom’s for Yorkshire pudding 'cos I don’t know how to make it myself.

And nobody does brekky like the Brits. Chewy bacon, bangers, buttered toast, and a tomato. (I skip the egg.) Fast food, I’ll take a piece of plaice wrapped in paper with chips saturated in malt vinegar over McDonald’s any day. Plus the Brits have been really good at bringing in other influences, especially Indian, in the past two generations or so.

Just don’t ever, ever go to a Wimpy for a “beefburger.” I have no idea what that is, but it doesn’t come close to approximating what we in America call a hamburger.

At any time you’ll find McVitie’s HobNob biscuits, Penguin chocolate bars, real Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, and Horlicks malted drink in my pantry. I’d make trifle for dessert if I had access to jelly roll.

There’s some good stuff over there. Avoid the mushy peas and you’re money. Personally, I think they should have marketed Shreddies and Lilt soft drink here in America. Lilt especially - it’s ten times better than Fresca.

You can definitely get good food in the UK. In fact most restaurant food is pretty good over there. Indian restaurants can be very good too, even in small towns.

The more “rustic” snack foods tend to be fairly fatty and meaty - pork pies and Cornish pasties come to mind - but as long as you don’t eat to much of them they’re great. If there’s one thing the English can do right it’s meat (especially roasts). I’m not too fond of the mushy peas, though.

I also love the full fried breakfast with black & white pudding, but that’s probably an acquired taste

I’m free next Thursday. Can I come round? Say around six? :wink:

Naw, you need the mushy peas to make it True Brit! :slight_smile: Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with mushy peas, served to accompany a steak and mushroom pie (or better yet, a Steak and Guinness pie).

I’ve had two experiences with British food, both of them great. The first was when I stayed with some friends in Coventry for a couple of weeks. Sheilagh could cook, and her husband and I ate like kings: one week, she served roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings, the next week it was a beautiful ham; and even the late afternoon daily “tea” was more like a meal than a break for a cup of tea, with sandwiches and fresh veg and so on. I gained weight on that holiday, and I missed Sheilagh’s cooking when I returned home.

Then, I lucked upon a British pub in Toronto, where I was living at the time. It was run by two expat Brits; she was English, he was Scottish. And on their menu were curries and pies and all kinds of wonderful things. Since I was not a great cook myself, and in fact, hated cooking for myself, I’d often stop into their pub and have a pie of some sort (with mushy peas), or a curry. On special occasions, they’d do a roast beef and Yorkshire puddings or something else typically British; and of course, around the Christmas holidays, you could get a traditional Christmas pudding. Great food, in both cases, and it certainly demonstrated to me that “British food is bad” is just a myth.

Hey, you can’t throw a place that sounds so wonderful into the conversation without sharing the name of the pub! It sounds amazing. I sure hope it’s still here.

I just want to visit England to try some Pot Noodle.

Sadly, it’s not. Her father (a publican in the UK) became quite aged and ill, and she and her Scotsman returned to the UK to look after his pub. Their Toronto pub was closed and sold. The name, BTW, if anybody knows and/or remembers it, was “The Flying Scot.” It was located at Morningside and Ellesmere, in Scarborough. It was a loss to Canada, for sure. That was about ten years ago that it closed; I haven’t yet found anywhere else like that in Canada yet, though I’m sure places like that do exist.

Daffyd, thinking of your neighbourhood, you might find the same thing if the “Jack Russell” is still on Wellesley Street in Toronto (across from Wellesley Subway). I would often hit the JR if I was downtown and wanting a nice imported pint and/or some fine British fare. No idea if it’s still there, but if it is, it might fit the bill for you.

This is why I find the Dope so amazing… No matter what the topic, I’m always finding out something new… or maybe I should say my ignorance is being fought!

I’ll check out the Jack Russell for sure. Thanks Spoons!

“In Defence of English Cooking.”

After many years, I’ve finally educated my mother in the use of a meat thermometer.

Funny, that, because I can a huge variety of sausages made to traditional recipes by various local butchers, and they’re all stuffed full of top-notch pig.

If you skip the egg, you can’t dunk black pudding into it! (Yes, it’s blood sausage. Ignore the name, and try it, it tastes gooood.)

Apart from Southern Yankee’s unfortunate experience, nobody seems to have mentioned seafood. We’re on an Atlantic archipelago, ferchrissake! Sadly, a lot of it is underappreciated at home. The majority of East Anglian oysters, for example, are exported to the people who best appreciate them. The French. You can’t argue with that endorsement.

It’s the same with the West Coast catch, except all those lovely langoustines and scallops seem to go to Spain.

A subject close to my heart.

While there’s ovbiously a great range of quality, as there is everywhere, our overall food quality is significantly higher than the stereotypes claim.

Yes, in the past - from the 40s through to the 70s - there was a reason for the stereotype. IMO since then the influence of foreign restaurants has not only changed our palate, but has caused our own caterers to buck their ideas up and increase standards. Immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, China, Italy and France have made us care about food again.

Sometimes the stereotype cites some of our traditional offal-based dishes… in this we are not unique - chittlins anyone? However, these do not represent the majority of our traditional dishes.

So, eating out. We’ve got all the ethnic restaurants, which are usually fantastic.

Pub grub isn’t universally good, but the standard has risen amazingly across the board, and has led to the phenomenon of the “gastro pub”, which is usually a medium-to-high-end bistro that has been situated in a pub. Here’s the menu of one near me. That’s representative of fairly high-end pub food these days - and it’s prepared to an astonishingly high standard.

In the mainstream, sadly, there has been something of a decline in standard pub food: first, because of brewery-owned pubs, and chains like Wetherspoons, which have centralized catering distribution and uniform menus, just like a fast food chain; secondly because there’s a bizarre trend for replacing the English food menu with a Thai one. Sometimes it’s authentic, and sometimes it’s Brits trying to cook Thai food. I love Thai food, but I don’t want to have to eat it every time I go out. But it’s still way better than it was.

Our top-end restaurants are equally good - world class, in fact, with Michelin stars falling out of their arses, and chefs as celebrities.

At the middle end, our home-cooked junk food can still be quite reasonable, thanks to the “ready-meal” phenomenon. Rather than frozen or heavily processed stuff, the supermarkets do fresh-cooked, chilled, ready-to-eat food that you zap in the microwave or in the oven, that can be quite good. Though the quality varies depending on supermarket or price.

At the lower end, we’re as bad as anywhere. Iceland, for example, is a supermarket chain that specializes in crappy frozen foods that have little to no nutritional or gustatory benefit.

And our fast food - the high-end fish and chip shops do really stunningly tasty food. The low-end ones… if you gave me a choice between McD’s and a bad British fish and chip shop, I’d go for the standardised American fare.

(Southern Yankee the “thousand island” dressing you cite is actually sauce Marie Rose (see recipe halfway down the page) - or a version thereof. The prawns were probably shitty frozen ones from a catering pack, and maybe the dressing was out of a jar, but the dressing is, or used to be, standard for seafood. So, by all means criticize the quality of the food, but the fact you didn’t understand what the dressing doesn’t necessarily reflect on the intelligence of those preparing the dish. Prawns in sauce Marie Rose was a 1970s staple, and is nowadays often served as an ironic “retro” dish.)

Or with fish and chips. Mushy peas are fantastic - it’s the name that puts many people off (Ok, maybe the colour too). If people stopped thinking of them as peas and accepted them as our culinary analogue to dahl or hummous (which, really, is what they are), they’d earn a bit more respect.

When we lived in London Mrs P and I used to base our long weekends off the Good Pub Guide (then in book form but now…). Choose an area to explore, find the pubs listed as having good food, beer and if possible accommodation as well and base ourselves there.

Suffice to say that as someone who (largely for business) has eaten at top class restaurants in a great variety of countries and places, those meals rate as some of my best dining experiences ever.