While some things, like toad in the hole and Lancashire hotpot, are generally best left to the home cook, London sports some good restaurants exhibiting the dishes Britain’s best known for.
Shepherd’s Pie – Puritans, look away – The Ivy’s shepherd’s pie is actually a cottage pie-shepherd’s pie hybrid (as both lamb and beef mince is in the recipe). Alright, it’s not 100% authentic, but The Ivy’s take on this classic dish has over time become a classic in and of itself.
Welsh Rarebit – ‘Quite gloomy’ is how the legendary Fergus Henderson once described Britons’ growing aloofness with their own culinary heritage. Accordingly, for those who need a proper introduction to what British food really is, head to Henderson’s St John in Smithfield. Rarebit – a very British take on the grilled cheese sandwich – is just one dish St John is keeping popular among Clerkenwellians.
Sunday Roast – The 300 year-old tradition of the Sunday roast harks back to the days of Sunday-morning fasting before church. To see what 300 years of collective refinement can get you, observe Blacklock’s 55 day-aged rump roasted over oak chips, with duck fat potatoes and bone marrow gravy.
Steak and Kidney Pie – The steak and kidney (or Kate and Sydney, if you’re into your rhyming slang) was, like pie in general, once a popular lunch among the poor and the travelling. Especially at sea, where a parcelled portable meal was much needed. The Guinea’s take on it elevates the humble steak and kidney to luxurious heights.
Chicken Tikka Masala – Britain’s so-called national dish is found in just about every curry house in the country. For those seeking a version elevated beyond bottled curry sauce however, check into Mayfair’s Tamarind.
Fish and Chips – Shamefully, Britain’s chip shops tend to forgo fresh fish for cheaper, higher-yield alternatives. Your best bet for good fish n’ chips is rather somewhere such as such as Golden Union in Soho, where sustainably-sourced fish are caught, fried and served the same day.
Jellied Eels – What was once a staple London dish from the 18th century has fallen into decline more recently. Given the Thames’ murky waters, coupled with the dish’s gelatinous nature, you can probably guess why. For the bravely curious, London’s oldest restaurant Rules will dish you up some of the city’s best jellied eel.
Haggis – Perhaps haggis’ combination of sheep’s heart, liver, lungs, fat, tongue and stomach isn’t its best advertisement, but that’s only before you’ve tried it. Should you be looking to fall for its mellow and earthy allures, Boisdale’s Dumfriesshire Blackface haggis should be on your list.
Full English – Britain’s best alchemic contribution to breaking one’s fast comes in the form of bacon, sausages, beans, eggs tomatoes, and toast. Easily attainable at any greasy spoon lining the country’s high-streets, but for an amped-up version of this weekend British classic, look no further than Hawksmoor Guildhall.
Jugged Hare – ‘Jugging’, in case you didn’t know, is the stewing of a whole animal, be it small game or fish – a principle commonly adopted by British housewives from the 18th to the 20th century. Not so much now, but Grade-II listed pub The Jugged Hare is keeping the old tradition going.
Bangers and Mash – The workman’s lunch of sausage, mash and onion gravy rarely – if ever – has a place in eating establishments which don’t constitute a pub or greasy spoon. At Heap’s in Greenwich, they use their own award-winning sausages to provide a reliable option to this simple dish other places so often get wrong.
Beef Wellington – Panic struck among traditionalists when the almost 190 year-old Simpson’s-in-the-Strand was set to close in 2015. But the restaurant, along with many of its anachronistic dishes, is still going strong. Most notably, perhaps, is Simpson’s 28-day dry aged beef wellington, with rainbow chard and hasselback potatoes.
This is a guest post from freelance food journalist Hugh Thomas. He’s contributed to Foodism, Time Out, Great British Chefs, and is part of British Street Food’s small team of vigilant writers. Find him on twitter @hughwrites.