The days when British food was the laughing stock of Europe are long gone. London's newest chefs are earning as many Michelin stars those in the foodie capitals of the world. But, when made well, many old-fashioned British classics can hold their own in the increasingly experimental and international food scene.
Fish and Chips
Fish and chips is an iconic British classic that's hard to beat. Cod or haddock is battered and fried until the fish is tender and the coating golden and crispy, making for a delicious crunch on every bite. But wait too long after frying and it can be limp and greasy. That’s why frying times are usually posted in the shop. You can find a solid fish and chip shop almost anywhere in the U.K. but if you want the best, the winner of the 2020 National Fish & Chip Awards is The Cod’s Scallops in Nottingham.
Indulge, at least once, in an extravagant afternoon tea or cream tea. Sit down for a meal of freshly-brewed tea, finger sandwiches, cakes, cream cakes, and scones with jam and clotted cream (a dense, rich cream from Cornwall or Devon unlike anything else). The best place in London to linger over a cream tea is Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair. They even serve a healthy gluten- and lactose-free version.
Every long road trip should include a stop at a roadside cafeteria for a bacon sandwich. It’s not complicated but all the ingredients should be top-notch. That includes high-quality white bread, lightly toasted and buttered, piles of smoked back bacon (delicious and very different to the bacon served in the U.S.), and a touch of ketchup or brown sauce. That’s the way they serve it a Hawksmoor Guildhall. They say it’s a great hangover cure too.
Chicken Tikka Masala
It may sound Indian, but chicken tikka masala regularly tops the polls as Britain's favorite dish. The dish is simple enough, just mix chicken tikka (poultry marinated in yogurt and spices then cooked in a tandoor oven) with a creamy, tomato curry. You can find it on takeaway menus and Indian restaurants everywhere. Or pop into an M&S Simply Food—there are hundreds around the country—for a chicken tikka sandwich or wrap.
Full English Breakfast
If you are on a budget, a full English is a great way to start the day since you'll have enough food to keep you full until dinner time. The basic is two fried eggs, baked beans, sausages, bacon, sauteed mushrooms, and a grilled tomato. Add a potato farl and you have an Irish breakfast, while the addition of oatmeal gives you a Scottish breakfast. Add a cup of milky tea and, as they say in Britain, “Bob’s your uncle.” Try it for yourself at 33 in Norwich
According to the stories, this popular dessert was served for parents' day at Eton, the posh boys school that educates Princes. It's now spread all over the country and you'll find it on all kinds of menus—fancy and cheap—when English strawberries are in season. It's a streaky combination of crushed and sliced strawberries and whipped cream with broken meringues folded in at the last minute. Look for it in country house hotel restaurants, National Trust cafes, and department store restaurants from May onward.
Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding
The British love for this dish is so well known that a French slang expression for an Englishman is le rosbif. You can find it on the menu in expensive and clubby traditional restaurants like Rules or Simpson's on the Strand. But really, the best place to have this traditional Sunday lunch is in a pub. Expect it to come with potatoes—baked and mashed, a selection of vegetables and, of course, Yorkshire pudding with gravy. We like the Red Lion in Barnes, west of London.
The Scotch egg, a picnic staple, was invented by 300-year-old grocer to the gentry, Fortnum & Mason. It's a boiled egg, wrapped in sausage meat, breadcrumbs, and deep fried. Avoid the orange breadcrumbed packaged horrors available from supermarkets and try one where it was created, Fortnums. They serve it with piccalilli in The Gallery, their mezzanine restaurant on Piccadilly.
An English fish pie is more of a casserole than a pie. While it is baked, there's no crust, but there is a creamy melange of fish and seafood topped with cheesy mashed potatoes. When made well, this is a luxury dish with chunks of halibut, salmon, prawns, scallops, and sometimes langoustines hiding beneath the topping. It is the most popular dish at J Sheekey, a more than 100-year-old fish and seafood restaurant in London's Theatreland. They even published the recipe so you can make it yourself.
Cullen Skink is a hearty Scottish fish soup that resembles New England fish chowder, except that it is made with smoked haddock instead of fresh fish as well as leeks, potatoes, and whole milk. You can find Cullen skink in fish and seafood restaurants all over Scotland. They serve it at the highly-rated Gandolfi Fish in Glasgow. But why not try it in the village of Cullen, a village on the Moray Firth, about 20 miles east of Elgin? It was invented there and it's on the menu of the Rockpool Cafe.