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.)