It was enough to make me choke on my cucumber sandwiches. I almost dropped my umbrella, spilled my Earl Grey and lost my place in the queue.
Most of the Thirteen Awesome Things You Totally Have to Do in England were perfectly sensible, if a tad predictable. But what made me as irate as a retired colonel dashing off a letter to The Telegraph was the section on English [sic] food.
Fish and chips were bound to be there. They always are. There is a culinary cliché for every country, and that one is ours. Fair enough. But the exhortation to eat at a carvery? No! Definitely not. Please, please, please don’t eat at a carvery. That is British food circa 1975, when people drove Morris Marinas and Roger Moore played James Bond.
All you had to do, back then, if you wanted to eat well was to go down to your local high street and book a holiday in France. Things have moved on.
There is a lot more to modern British food than platefuls of fat, overdone meat and soggy, under-seasoned vegetables. That is still easy enough to find, if it is really what you want. But try, instead, a poached Scottish trout with English asparagus, Jersey Royal potatoes and a smear of hollandaise. Or a pot roast pheasant with cider and bacon. Or just a plate of Colchester natives, or a dressed Cornish crab.
Go to the St John in Clerkenwell, where the chef, Fergus Henderson, is famous for dishes like roasted bone marrow with parsley salad. Anthony Bourdain wants that for his last meal. Go to Corrigan’s Mayfair for the farmhouse terrine and pickled courgette, the small boat haddock with peas and cockle and lemon dressing, and Elwy Valley lamb with glazed sweetbreads. Go to one of Anthony Demetre’s Central London restaurants. If it is winter, and it is on the menu, order smoked eel, Cheltenham beetroot and horseradish.
London has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other European city, except Paris. It had the first Indian and the first Thai restaurants with Michelin stars anywhere in the world. It is not just London, either. The village of Bray in Berkshire, with a population of around 8,000, has two restaurants with three Michelin stars; and there are 70 starred restaurants scattered about the English provinces, 16 in Scotland and 5 in Wales.
Nor is it just fine-dining. There is a whole lot in between a Toby Carvery and the three-Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road. In the wintertime in the countryside, you can pull up close to a crackling fire in a fourteenth century inn with a twenty-first century menu and eat nicely-cooked meat and hearty root vegetables delicately flavoured with thyme. On long summer evenings in old city pubs, you can sit on the mismatched furniture and order pan-fried fish and steamed samphire off the menu chalked up on the board. There are venerable seafood restaurants with wood panelled walls and bright modern cafes attached to museums and gourmet burgers and noodle shops and tapas bars and curry houses; there are stalls at famous markets grilling scallops, shucking oysters and stuffing slices of rare rib of beef into baguettes with rocket and horseradish.
There are, in short, any number of reasons why no one should ever have to eat at a carvery.
© Richard Senior 2015