Saturday, May 16, 2009


Eat, Drink and Be Merry

So many times, whenever a friend is embarking on a first trip to Britain, the inevitable question arises...”what about the food??”. It seems to be an untruth universally acknowledged that all British food is somehow lacking - in taste, nutrition and style. Perhaps that thought held some validity in decades past, but I can certainly argue empirically against it now. Some of the most deliciously satisfying meals of my memory were enjoyed in the UK.

Walking into Loch Bay Seafood, an unassuming whitewashed building by the sea on the Isle of Skye one windy day, I sat down to the best fish soup I had ever tasted. The incredibly delicious breakfast at Holbeck Ghyll high in the Lake District, which was served with a side of achingly beautiful view from my sunlit table. Lunch at The Witchery in Edinburgh, where I do have to admit I paid much more attention to the wickedly creative decor than to the dining, but which remains a indelible and most charming luncheon memory.

One of the best meals of my whole life was created by the proprietress of Ladyburn, an idyllic Bed and Breakfast on a greenly picturesque estate outside Maybole, Scotland. In a candlelit dining room of graceful proportions, with playful strains of Mozart coming from the kitchen, I sat beside a flickering fire and enjoyed the most delicate cheese souffle ever conceived - cooked to perfection, freshly caught Scottish salmon, sweet seasonal vegetables straight from the house garden, and a blissfully decadent chocolate torte. True culinary bliss. Afterwards we sat by a roaring library fire, with Bertie, the family’s warmth seeking Jack Russell, and slowly sipped a warm brandy before making our way to bed, where a piping hot water bottle had been thoughtfully tucked between our crisp cotton sheets. No hobbit could have been more fat and happy.

The bracing tea we had after a windblown hike around Buttermere, the savory dinner brought to our room at The Torridon, the inviting little Italian cafe we found one misty night near Harrods, the opulent dinner at Inverlochy Castle, the luscious grilled salmon at a friendly restaurant beside Loch Linnhe, even the quintessential fish and chips we enjoyed near Covent Garden.... all mouth-watering memories to treasure, and not a fried Mars Bar or blood pudding to be found! If you’re planning a trip across the pond, feel free to look forward to the food, you’re sure to enjoy it.

However, um...well...you will perhaps notice I did not mention Haggis!

35 comments:

  1. I think Britain lost the plot with food around the Victorian era, with their love of boiling everything and then rationing during two world wars compunded the problem! But of course, the BEST British meal has to be either a darned good curry or fish and chips!

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  2. I am glad you found good eating places, I unfortunately recall some execrable food we ate out of deperation and even the fish and chips we hoped were a safe bet, turned out to be soggy with,I suspect, mutton fat. In Cornwall though we once had a delicious plain meal.

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  3. I was on a garden center tour in England a few years ago and we ate all over. I found the food to be good, comforting- only a bit heavier than I usually eat. Loved going on your little gastronomical tour.

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  4. I think we are getting better at providing places to dine although I think we could do more to encourage restaurants to provide locally grown produce. Chefs like Rick Stein have done much to improve things.

    I grew up in Lancashire and so was familiar with Lancashire Hot Pot, Shepherds pie and roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and other home made culinary delights. The problem is these dishes are not usually served in restaurants, you are more likely to get good Italian or Indian food than traditional fare.

    I had to smile about your mention of blood pudding. The town where I was born and raised is famous for it's black pudding. (Bury). Actually Bury Black pudding is rather nice but I do draw the line at honeycomb tripe!

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  5. BBC had a story last week about the expense and low quality of food in London, compared to the rest of Europe.

    Having never been, I can't offer a story, but the reputation of British food is abysmal. Almost like they are proud of doing so much on such awful meals.

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  6. You should pay a visit to the Gleeful & Greedy Restaurant over here, Pamela! Vegetarian only, but - oh - Girth's inspired recipes defy description and have to be tasted.

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  7. Yum! You're making me hungry!

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  8. Sounds wonderful, but no haggis:)

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  9. What a yummy post! (I totally want to travel with you). Actually, in some ways, it feels as though I have as I've just spent a delightful evening catching back up on your blog. Your images are always inspired paired with your text. Gretel Parker is one of my favorite people. And I just put 'The Ghost in Love' on hold at my library! :-)

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  10. I'm drooling - each description presents a gourmet treat!

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  11. weird...i just made some fish chowder. i never make it , but was craving it.

    my sister lives in london for over 30 yrs,
    and one thing i came away with (regarding food) was, breakfast is always delicious. always.

    actually, i can always find something to eat....anywhere i go. if i was never told that
    "the food is awful in england" ,
    i never would have come away with that feeling on my own.

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  12. Hello P&E,

    The food in Britain can be WONDERFUL or very mediochre but we have far more of the former than the latter these days. And I would even suggest to acornmoon that traditional fayre (with a modern twist) is much more common these days, especially in the upper eschelon restaurants.

    And haggis and black (blood) pudding are great! You are just a feardie! :0)

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  13. I was raised to eat what was served and also a member of the "clean plate club" at an early age.
    As one of seven, we never went hungry, but when we were fed or shared a meal - we always knew the importance of trying new things and enjoying other cultures.... knowing that some cultures do not have enough. To this day, we still speak of this. We enjoy many cuisines and give thanks.
    pve

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  14. Food memories are among the best - there isn't a place I've been that isn't saved in the memory of the meal, the table, the smells....

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  15. I must say I don't find British food very attractive - mushy peas, ugh! But a good roast, gravy and Yorkshire pud or scones and cream are classics. I also had some good breakfasts in Scotland and loved the oatcakes.

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  16. Ah, like everything, there is always two sides! How can fried mars bar and blood pudding compare to tea, and scones with jam and clotted cream?

    And I have to agree with PG, nothing beats fresh fish and chips. On the sea front!

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  17. I have to agree with Gretel, that we definitely lost the plot at some point, but are trying to make up for it now. However, I LOVE haggis and blood pudding, especially for breakfast, mmmm... Be warned though, some eateries are still dire, with the belief that 'that will do'!!!

    Saying that, I had a very bad and greasy meal in Canada once, so everywhere has it's low spots :)

    Kim x

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  18. I'm reminded of a childhood saying something like 'when she's good, she's very, very, good but when she's bad she's awful' - I guess the same could be said of our food over here in the UK. Things are getting better I think. By coincidence I've just written a post about a wonderful lunch I had recently in a lovely place where the food was excellent - I'm also reading a very funny book by Nigel Slater called 'Eating for England' in which he highlights the highs, lows and idiosyncracies of our food:)

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  19. O,I don't like haggis...We are going to france for three weeks..I am looking forward to the food in france...:))Happy Monday Dear.

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  20. You've certainly got a gift for making folk hungry. You're right about Scottish seafood. If you're ever back here again try the Holly Tree Hotel at Kentallen near Glencoe. Beautiful place, beautiful food.

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  21. Hia Pamela, I am a fan of pearl barley and black pepper so I like haggis.

    Even English people find middle priced eating-out very hit and miss. I have yet to have a consistant eating experience. One thing can be good on a menu, yet another cooked badly. Sometimes the service is fast, sometimes the staff prefer to talk to one another rather than take your order.

    As for takeaways, you can order the same curry e.g. a pathia, and it will be very different not just from another place but even from the same place.

    I think this is why there are so many on-line food guides where people can rate their experiences. In these hardeer times, if the food isn't good then the place will shut. British people don't like to make a scene and complain but they do vote with their feet. Hopefully this will lead to a better standard of cuisine throughout the country.

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  22. I think there is good food and bad food here Pamela. The same is true of Canada and the US where we have just been. The clam chowder in one restaurant was divine but when we ordered it somewhere else we were very disappointed. The salads were lovely but we were always disappointed with the desserts. One thing I would like to improve in US is the tea - why do they always give you a pot of hot (never boiling) water and only one teabag?

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  23. I was often asked the same question about the food in Ireland, and I found their tradition foods delicious! The brown bread and delightful thick stews and soups made with fresh ingredients were wonderful, and the traditional Irish breakfast was filling enough to fill me for an entire day. I've never tasted better scones and topped with rich creamy Irish butter...oh my! One surprise was the plethora of Thai Restaurants especially in Dublin, and many Irish have become wine connoisseurs since they travel often to Spain and Italy.

    I would hate to think that Europeans think all the USA's cuisine is hotdogs and hamburgers....we all have to be careful about stereotypes!

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  24. Yes, British food got a bad rap post WW2 when the Americans were over and the veggies were boiled to death. YES!
    It is much improved with wonderful ingredients....
    yes, well, haggis is another story......

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  25. I was so lucky to have home made meals of friends in England, so I don't know much yet about the restaurants.

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  26. Sometimes its the little out of the way places that have the best food in a foreign land.

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  27. What a fabulously descriptive post Pamela. I have always loved the food in the UK and can always recommend a good eating place wherever I go. Maybe people don't eat in the right places, but you obviously did.

    Now I'm in Ireland it's more difficult. We have found some good eateries but the hotels we stayed in when we were looking for our home had pretty dreadful food!

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  28. I'm so glad you have had good meals in our country, Pamela (and as The Witchery is just up the hill from here you've eaten very locally, too)!
    It is a fact that British restaurants and hotels range - even now - from the indifferent to the excellent (I speak as a hotelier's daughter and a confirmed foodie), but we do have marvellous food (and I'll include the much maligned haggis in that assertion) and great hospitality.
    Come and visit again, and for those who have never been, take the plunge!

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  29. English restaurant food has improved greatly in recent years but I must say that there is still a lot of unpleasantness out there.

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  30. Pamela...I'm hungry now! Something I haven't been for days! I need to find something to eat!

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  31. Abbey Road – I used to cross it every day when we lived in London. You bring back good memories. I’ve had some good food in the UK too. I think you capture well that it is often the setting that is the best spice. I’m with you on Haggis – yuck!

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  32. Another great post. I will add my little tuppence worth. Here in the UK it is hard to turn on the TV without seeing a cooking programme. I think we are a country with a handful of fabulous chefs and a population who spend more time watching cookery than doing it. It is very much swings and roundabouts though. I ate one of the best meals I have ever tasted in Cumbria and one of the worst in Paris, home of fine cuisine. Never heard of fried Mars bars though.

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  33. Here here! So important to go back to our inner skin...and laugh and giggle and be a bit irreverent...well the last one just for a little bit ONCE in awhile. blush.

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I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!