Flavors of England
The New Food Scene
England has never lacked a treasure store of nature's bounty: lush green pastures, fruitful orchards, and the encompassing sea. Over the past few decades, dowdy images of English cooking have been sloughed off, and a new focus on the land and a new culinary confidence and expertise are exemplified by the popularity of celebrity chefs such as Rick Stein, Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsay, and Jamie Oliver. The chefs are only one indicator of change: all over the country, artisanal food producers and talented cooks are indulging their passion for high-quality, locally sourced ingredients.
Food festivals, farmers' markets (some organic), and farm shops have sprung up in more cities and towns. Alongside the infiltration of supermarkets, much opposed by some people, comes a more discriminating attitude to food supplies. Outdoor-reared cows, sheep, and pigs; freshly caught fish; and seasonal fruits and vegetables provide a bedrock upon which traditional recipes are tempered with cosmopolitan influences. The contemporary English menu takes the best of Mediterranean and Asian cuisine and reinterprets it with new enthusiasm.
Meat. Peacefully grazing cattle, including Aberdeen Angus, Herefordshire, and Welsh Black varieties, are an iconic symbol of the English countryside. When hung and dry-aged for up to 28 days, this beef is at its most flavorsome. Spring lamb is succulent, and salt-marsh lamb from Wales and the Lake District, fed on wild grasses and herbs, makes for a unique taste. Outdoor-reared and rare breeds of pig, such as Gloucester Old Spot, often provide the breakfast bacon.
Game. In the fall and winter, pheasant, grouse, partridge, and venison are prominent on restaurant menus, served either roasted, in rich casseroles, or in pies. Duck (particularly the Gressingham and Aylesbury breeds), rabbit, and hare are available all year round.
Seafood. The traditional trio of cod, haddock, and plaice is still in evidence, but declining fishing stocks have brought other varieties to prominence. Hake, bream, freshwater trout, wild salmon, sardines, pilchards, and mackerel are on the restaurant table, along with crab, mussels, and oysters. The east and Cornish coasts are favored fishing grounds.
Dairy produce. The stalwart Cheddar, Cheshire, Double Gloucester, and Stilton cheeses are complemented by traditional and experimental cheeses from small, local makers. Some cheeses come wrapped in nettles or vine leaves, others stuffed with apricots, cranberries, or herbs. Dairies are producing more sheep and goat cheeses, yogurts, and ice creams.
Preserved foods. Marmalade is a fixed item on the breakfast menu, and a wide variety of jams, including the less usual quince, find their place to the teashop table. Chutneys made from apples or tomatoes mixed with onions and spices are served as an accompaniment to cheese, either at the end of a meal or as part of a pub lunch.
Cask ales. The increased interest in the provenance of food extends to beer, encouraging microbreweries to develop real or cask ales: beer that is unfiltered and unpasteurized, and that contains live brewer's yeast. The ales can be from kegs or bottles as well as casks, and they range from the pale amber, through fruity, to the full-bodied. The Casque Mark outside pubs signals their availability.
Good modern and international fare is available, and you shouldn't miss the Indian food in England. But do try some classics.
Fish and chips. This number-one seaside favorite not only turns up in every seaside resort, but in fish-and-chip shops and restaurants throughout the land. Fish, usually cod, haddock, or plaice, is deep-fried in a crispy batter and served with thick french fries (chips) and, if eaten out, wrapped up in paper. The liberal sprinkling of salt and vinegar and "mushy" (processed) peas are optional.
Meat pies and pasties. Pies and pasties make a filling lunch. Perhaps the most popular is steak and kidney pie, combining chunks of lean beef and kidneys mixed with braised onions and mushrooms in a thick gravy, topped with a light puff- or short-pastry crust. Other combinations are chicken with mushrooms or leek and beef slow-cooked in ale (often Guinness). Cornish pasties are filled with beef, potato, rutabaga, and onions, all enveloped in a circle of pastry folded in half.
Shepherd's and cottage pie. Instead of a pastry crust, these classic pub dishes have a lightly browned mashed-potato topping over stewed minced meat and onions in a rich gravy. Shepherd's pie uses lamb, cottage pie beef.
Sausages. "Bangers and mash" are sausages with mashed potatoes and onion gravy; they are most commonly made with pork, but sometimes beef or lamb. The original Lincolnshire sausage consists of pork flavored with sage. Cumberland sausage comes in a long coil and has a peppery taste.
Black pudding. In this dish, associated with Lancashire, Yorkshire, and the Midlands, onions, pork fat, oatmeal, herbs and spices are blended with the blood from a pig. At its best this dish has a delicate, crumbly texture and can be served at breakfast or as a starter to a meal.
Meals Not to Be MIssed
Full English breakfast. Setting you up for the rest of the day, the "full English" is a three-course affair. Starting with orange juice, cereals, porridge, yogurt or stewed fruit, it's followed by any combination of sausages, eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding, baked beans, and fried bread. The feast finishes with toast and marmalade and tea or coffee. Less fattening alternatives to the fry-up are kippers, smoked haddock, or boiled eggs. Some cafés serve an all-day breakfast.
Ploughman's lunch. Crusty bread, English cheese (perhaps farmhouse Cheddar, blue Stilton, crumbly Cheshire, or waxy red Leicester), and tangy pickles with a side salad garnish make up a delicious light lunch, found in almost every pub.
Tea in the afternoon. Tea, ideally served in a country garden on a summer afternoon, ranks high in the list of England's must-have experiences. You may simply have a scone with your tea, or you can opt for a more ample feast: sandwiches made with wafer-thin slices of ham, smoked salmon or cucumber, scones with jam and clotted cream, and an array of homemade cakes served with properly brewed tea.
Roast dinners. On Sunday, the traditional roast dinner is still popular. The meat, either beef, pork, lamb, or chicken, is served with roast potatoes, carrots, seasonal green vegetables, and Yorkshire pudding, a savory batter baked in the oven until crisp, and then topped with a rich, dark, meaty gravy. Horseradish sauce and English mustard are on hand for beef; a mint sauce accompanies lamb.
Free Fodor's Newsletter
Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Go List: Fodor's Top 25 Places to Go in 2013
- Hotel Awards 2012: Fodor's 100 Top Hotels
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe
- London and Paris Experience IExplore
- $1799 -- British Isles: 7-Night Windstar Cruise, 70% Off Windstar Cruises
- London Experience — $2,857 IExplore
- $1799 & up -- 'World's Best': Luxe European Cruises, 70% Off — $1,799 Windstar Cruises