By Bailey Andress
My heart races with anticipation as the server ascends the pub’s mahogany stairs. Ecstatic to finally experience authentic London fish and chips, I clear the table in preparation and sip my lemonade as I receive my meal. Suddenly, my iron focus is broken by a surprise on my plate. The substance is green and foreign. My mind floods with distant memories of meals I have had in the past as I reunite with a long-lost legume. On the final night of my week in England, I am served my first vegetable: peas.
Well aware of British food’s poor reputation, I began my culinary adventures that week cautiously, opting for a French café near the London Eye the first morning. British chain Le Pain Quotidien contained a wide display of breads and pastries, elegantly framed by a scenic view of the London Eye. The wide street next to the seating area led directly to a footbridge over the Thames River, where the sun danced upon frothy waves and clumps of debris. The sights and sounds of London’s rush hour nearly diverted my attention away from a grumbling stomach, as I grew impatient during the 45-minute wait. Unfortunately, Le Pain Quotidien’s aesthetic failed to conceal the quality of both its service and its food. Draped with salmon and garnished with herbs, the miniature skillets held far overcooked poached eggs. The borderline stale rye bread offered no relief, and I left the café feeling unsatisfied. Slowly but surely, my confidence in finding decent food in England began to decline.
The following day, I found myself at an all-time low. After a two-hour boat tour in the infamous English rain, I stepped off of the Greenwich docks only to discover a pickpocket’s hand rustling through my backpack. Luckily, the man only encountered my pocket devoted to snacks and quickly disappeared into the crowd. Cold, wet, and hungry, I was in a dismal mood. As my enthusiasm and blood sugar levels dropped, I approached a small, family-operated restaurant. At first, Goddard’s at Greenwich failed to entice me. Next to the street, a small sign read “Pies, Mash, and Jellied Eels.” I feared the worst as I sat down at a wobbly table.
Goddard’s began to redeem itself after the plates arrived within five minutes of ordering. Moderately priced, with gargantuan portions, the traditional eatery was a great value. The chicken and ham pie was warm and satisfying, while the side of potatoes and gravy added a sense of comfort. Even more impressive was the dessert. Feeling hopeful, I ordered chocolate sponge pudding, which did not disappoint. The sponge pudding was similar to a chocolate lava cake and lay nestled between two scoops of vanilla ice cream capped with chocolate topping. The dessert served as a conclusion to a meal that set high standards for the rest of the trip.
The glimmer of hope provided by Goddard’s continued into the next evening, when I took a seat in the basement level of Da Mario’s, a pizza joint once frequented by Princess Diana. The walls were lined with numerous paintings, family photographs, and pictures of Diana enjoying various dishes. The service was surprisingly quick, given the sheer number of customers, and the staff was incredibly welcoming. I enjoyed a margherita pizza, which was supported by a thin and crispy crust toasted to perfection. The meal’s finale was an incredible cannoli, which the waitress insisted was the last available in the kitchen. After accidentally eating one of the orange garnishes, I took a bite of the actual cannoli and was immediately impressed. The filling was creamy and rich, complimented by a flaky shell. Although this was much more expensive than the Goddard’s meal, Da Mario’s was equal in value due to the service, food quality, and historic atmosphere.
The most disappointing meal of the trip by far occurred on my last night in England. I ordered fish and chips, a staple of British food, and instantly regretted my choice. With the exception of lemon and vinegar, the meal had no flavor. The fish was incredibly greasy, and the chips (British for “steak fries”) were soggy. Even the peas were unpleasant, as their mushy texture mirrored that of baby food. I regretted saving the famed meal for last and was disappointed to have my worst meal as the trip came to an end.
Although England is not an epicurean’s utopia, it isn’t quite as terrible as I was led to believe. Similar to the United States, English food is not necessarily its own genre. The country’s wide spectrum of cultures lends itself to its culinary diversity. To conclude that British food is inherently disgusting or delicious would be equally false. Some traditional dishes made my stomach churn, while others were surprisingly enjoyable. By the end of the week, I found myself reflecting upon the British meals on the flight back to Newark and concluded that exploring England’s cuisine along with typical tourist hotspots helped create a more complete perspective of the country. By comparing British and American dining, I was able to experience England in a relatable fashion and expand my knowledge of British culture in the most delicious way possible.
Featured image credit: Bailey Andress.