Eating Our Way Across the UK

Posted by Brette in Food | Travel

On our recent trip to England and Scotland we tried to sample local specialties, because that is what Martha would do. When she travels, she seeks out local specialties and good things that can only be found in the place she is visiting. I thought I would share some of the things we enjoyed with you.

Afternoon tea (generally called Cream Tea in the UK) was at the top of my list of must-haves. Prices in the UK tend to be outrageous and a full cream tea at Harrods or the Ritz will run you at least 40 pounds per person (about $60).  And that’s for something that isn’t even a real meal! I found a great alternative. We had tea at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens. Tea here is a reasonable 14 pounds.

Pouring the tea

Pouring the tea

First, the tea. We ordered the standard type of tea and did not deviate (later in Scotland I had some Scottish breakfast tea I liked).

the family drinking tea

the family drinking tea

The first course with the tea was cucumber sandwiches, which were served on poppy seed bread. They were good, but as I recall, the bread had lots of butter (we encountered this a lot – an egg salad sandwich

Sandwiches

Sandwiches

had butter on the bread somewhere else). The sandwiches came with a small sausage roll and a little chicken salad roll, with pineapple on a skewer.

Next up was the scone with clotted cream and

Scone with Jam and Clotted Cream

Scone with Jam and Clotted Cream

jam. To die for.

After we finished sucking that down, the dessert came. Some of us has Belgian chocolate cake with clotted cream (possibly the best cake I have ever, ever had in my life) while

Belgian chocolate cake

Belgian chocolate cake

others had an orange cream cake which was also very, very good.  As you can see, we got a little enthusiastic about this and sampled it before we took the photo!

Orange cake

Orange cake

That was one of our most memorable meals. What about pub food, you might be asking? Well we had that too, even though we aren’t drinkers and were not interested in having ale at the pubs. One of the first nights, we had fish and chips at a pub and it was good, but a bit too greasy for my tastes. I don’t eat a lot of fried food and it was a

Fish and chips

Fish and chips

bit much for me to handle!

We had another pub meal in London at Porter’s. The fisherman’s pie was good. The steak pie was also good. Teen Martha had a lamb and apricot pie which she enjoyed. The salad dressing in London was abominable though. Almost every salad we had was served with a horrible

Fisherman's pie

Fisherman's pie

vinegary dressing that was practically inedible.  A little oil would go a long way in helping it!

Chocolate pudding

Chocolate pudding

At Porter’s we also had dessert – “pudding” as the Brits call it. We had a fab chocolate pudding (which was like a warm chocolate melted center cake) and the traditional sticky toffee pudding. Both were quite good and had us licking the

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding

plates (once again giving Americans a bad name).

Also in London we had a full English breakfast, which consisted of thick bacon (not crisp), sausages, eggs, mushrooms, and tomato.  We struggled to find normal breakfast food that was beyond a croissant. Pancakes were impossible to find. I couldn’t even find oatmeal on the menu, even in Scotland.

Cullen skink

Cullen skink

We found that in general, the food improved as we got to Scotland. One of our first meals involved cullen skink, which sounds awful, but is actually a very nice soup made of haddock and potatoes, kind of like a fish chowder. We had a bowl of this at a pub in Edinburgh and enjoyed it a lot. At that same pub we sampled an Arbroath smokie fish cake, a salmon fish cake, and a smoked salmon and prawn sandwich. These were ok, but the skink was the hands down winner at that meal. At another restaurant, Teen Martha had potted shrimp, which grossed her out. I had some grilled smoked salmon, but it proved too salty to eat.

By this point in our journey, we had become tired of chips (fries) and peas served with every meal. We had whole peas, mashed peas, and smashed peas. Don’t these people eat any other vegetables, we wondered?

Well that question was answered at a wonderful pub in Aberfoyle, Scotland.

Steak pie

Steak pie

Mr. MarthaAndMe ordered the steak pie, I had the chicken mushroom pie, and Teen Martha had the Ploughman’s Lunch (Dude Martha had his usual fish and chips which I think he ate

Chicken pie

Chicken pie

almost every day). Every single thing was wonderful. The photos do not do this meal justice at all. The steak pie was like a wonderful, tender stew. The chicken mushroom

Ploughman's Lunch

Ploughman's Lunch

pie was like a fabulous pot pie. The ploughman’s lunch had me in ecstasy over the local cheese, delicious bread and wonderful salad.

A few other memorable items include a fabulous roast chicken with mushroom sauce I had in a tiny spot in Pitlochry Scotland. It tasted like something I would make at home which I desperately needed after about 12 days of restaurant food. At the Mountain Cafe in Aviemore, Scotland, which we went to because it was recommended by our wonderful fly fishing guide Jamie from Rothiemurchus Fishery (whom we failed to tip because we didn’t think of it in advance and had nothing smaller than a 20 pound bill on us – again, giving Americans a bad name), I had the best item of the entire trip. I am still dreaming of this at night. And I didn’t take a photo (smacking myself). It was called a quiche, but really it was like a savory Napoleon. Picture this – sweet potato, caramelized onion and spinach layered with what must have been a very small amount of egg. It had a crust, but was cut into a rectangle and had crust on one short side. It was served with a salad with a nice dijon dressing and cole slaw. I am going to attempt to replicate it because it was the stuff that dreams are made of.

Some other things of interest – we sampled some ginger beer, not realizing it has a small alcohol content. I don’t quite understand ginger beer. Is it meant to be beer or a soft drink? It was always listed under soft drinks on the menu, not alcoholic drinks. Dude Martha enjoyed Irn Bru, an orange soda that is sickeningly sweet and tastes of bubble gum.

Mr.  MarthaAndMe may move to England because they seem to like white chocolate there and it is his favorite. Every rest stop (called “services”) on the thruway (“carriageway”) carried white chocolate ice cream on a stick. He was in heaven.

Almost every restaurant has lasagna on the menu, but they tend to have  a cream sauce and not much cheese. Not typical lasagna like you find here.

All in all, the food was much better than expected. I regret not having a Cornish pasty (which a dear departed friend used to serve at his restaurant in New Orleans) and I was hoping for at least an oatcake in Scotland. The shortbread was superb everywhere I tried it. The only reason we can still fit into our pants is because we burned off so many calories by walking all day, every day.

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11 Responses

  • Laura says:

    Hello from the UK!

    I love your blog (we don’t get Martha here but I do love the website) and it was nice to hear that you had a lovely time in England. I am glad to hear that the food did not live up to its generally awful reputation. Only commenting to let you know that Ginger Beer doesn’t have any alcohol in it – it is a soft drink that you can give to children and for alcohol-free adults. And butter in the in sandwiches…I think we use it like some Americans use mayo or salad cream (I think you call it Dressing over there…?) as a spread. But, oh, it does get heavy, doesn’t it?! My husband and I are heading to the States (New York!) in just a few days. What a holiday! Is there anything very American that we should look out for in the Big Apple?

  • Hi Laura. The ginger beer we had listed alcohol content on the label – a very, very small amount, but present nonetheless. I actually have a photo of the bottle we tried – maybe they don’t all have alcohol? Very strange.

    Oh, how fun that you’re coming here! We’ve got a little exchange program going! I don’t live in New York City, but have visited a few times. Try a Gray’s Papaya hot dog – there are several locations throughout the city. A street pretzel is also yummy. You can get great Korean dumplings on a street near Macy’s. You might enjoy shopping at Macy’s. If you can, visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are breathtaking experiences. I think you need to reserve in advance for that, but check and see. Times Square is a must see. One of my favorite restaurants is a Brazilian BBQ place called Churrascaria Plataforma. You should probably go to traditional NY deli, like Katz’s where you need to have corned beef sandwiches and matzo ball soup. Lots of people like to see the 911 space which is under construction. When we were there a couple of years ago you couldn’t really see anything since it was fenced in, but that probably has changed. One thing I wanted to do was visit the UN, but our son was too young at that point. The subway system is not as good as the one in London (New Yorkers will hate me for saying that) – we thought the London Underground was the best one we’ve ever been on, but you will find the NY subway will get you where you want to go pretty well. If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll try to answer them!

  • Sounds like a fun trip, and a great experience for your kids. I think it was great that you tried out so much food.

  • It was fun. I like to eat local specialties wherever we go. This was our first trip outside the US and Canada and it was so very different.

  • But what about haggis? Tell me you didn’t pass that up in Scotland. I’m a picky eater, and I loved it.

    Tell Dude Martha that if he liked Irn Bru, his next big “get” is Inca Cola in Peru. Liquified bubble gum. The Peruvians love it. Many Americans take a swig … and then it’s hysterical to watch them try not to spit it out all over the table.

  • We couldn’t do it!! I fully intended to try it but neither Mr. MarthaAndMe nor I was willing to sacrifice an entree we really wanted just so we could say we had had it! I know you like it, but we just couldn’t do it!

    Will tell Dude Martha. He wants to go to S. America anyhow, this will just cement it.

  • Naomi says:

    I love reading your blog. The Belgian choc cake looked heavenly! The ploughman’s lunch looked good too. There are so many different sorts of food in England. What a wonderful experience!! Thanks for sharing!

  • That Belgian chocolate cake was amazing. I still dream of it.

  • I am so envious of the clotted cream! It sounds like most of the food you had was good. I would love to be able to sample the food you did! I’m thinking about Googling to see if I can find a recipe for cullen skink – I love seafood chowders.

  • The cullen skink was delicious, despite how horrid the name makes it sound! It can’t be hard to make. I would say to start with some onions and then add flour and maybe some seafood stock. Cook the potatoes in it and add milk and some parsley and then haddock or cod. It was very simple, but very good.