It all began, as some things do, with a cheese sandwich. This particular beginning wasn’t related to permanent intestinal damage the likes of which would make a Bupa shareholder cry, which is indeed something that can begin with a cheese sandwich. That was in India. This beginning was a determination to persuade as many people as possible that British food ought not to be dismissed, as many people – mostly Brits – seem to think. “Aah, British food, fish and chips, roast beef, terrible bread”. Yes, we do have terrible bread, but only if you buy it in [insert name of litigious supermarket chain here].
I wish I could say exactly where this sarnie epiphany was created but it’s been lost to the depths of time. I clearly remember it visually but, other than probably being in the north of England, can’t narrow it down any more than that. What I do remember though, is the cheese sandwich. A simple cheddar buttie, salad and crisps, exactly like you’d get in any little independent tearoom that had a bit of pride in what it served – but this was different. A level above. The cheese paired perfectly with the bread. The bread was made in the same village. The salad was the exact right blend of sweet, bitter and crispy to counter the flavours and textures of the sandwich.
Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it isn’t good food. In fact, it can mean just the opposite – simple dishes have less fiddly bits, less distractions, to hide behind if something’s not right. Picture being somewhere that advertises a “dining experience”; the decor, the waiters that spang into existence exactly, and only, when they’re needed, the extremely high china-to-food-coverage ratio of the plates, actually being able to get a parking spot. One detail being not 100% perfect might be noticed but is just one tiny detail out of the whole experience. With fish and chips in a bag, if it’s not right then it’s not right.
I call it my “standard candle” test, a phrase stolen from astrophysics. If I’m somewhere that prides itself on it’s food and likely to eat there more than once, I’ll typically order the house burger. The heathen option, the last thing on the menu, added especially and grudgingly for people who balk at eating anything they’ve not personally microwaved in the past. Why? Because a burger gives you no place to hide. If a kitchen, a chef, can make the simple, globally-served, no-thought-required burger into something special then they’ve really mastered their art. Too many trimmings? Fail. Can’t taste the beef? Fail. Too thick to actually pick up? Fail. (Probably). Brioche buns? Those are a sweet breakfast or dessert item for chrissakes. Basic mistake. Fail.
So back to the cheese sandwich. Britain really does produce world-class food, in a distinctive style. Just like the French, Italians, Spanish, Indian, Chinese, Thai and so on – not necessarily better, but different and just as worthy of attention. We need to be able to persuade the rest of the world of that. Hell, we need to persuade most British of that, especially those that have only ever really experienced chain-pub and supermarket food.
These short posts are simply listing places we’ve been, food we’ve had, real cider and ale, places we’ve stayed in a few cases, that have been outstanding. Few if any will be for “twiddly” food. Most will be for the simple, honest, dare I say rustic food that Britain does – or can do – spectacularly well. There’s a few overseas places listed too but in the main we’re showcasing British produce.