Spring break was a month ago but I just haven’t found the time to write about my food experiences in the UK until now. In 9 days, we managed to hit up some major cities (London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow) and some countryside towns (Salisbury, Bath, and Roslin outside of Edinburgh). We spent most of our time chowing down in London, our base for exploring other areas, where, as you can imagine, the food possibilities are endless.
Overall, it was a fun trip for a foodie. British food doesn’t quite have the kind of robust appeal to me as Mexican food, but there is something to be said about partaking in a greasy meal at a smoky pub or having full, proper English tea. Onto the journey!
We arrived at London-Gatwick late morning after a long “overnight” flight on Northwest Airlines and what seemed like an equally long line at customs. By the way, it’s worth noting that Northwest provides complimentary beer and wine to their coach class passengers. My small bottle of Dona Dominga Cabernet helped me sleep through most of the flight, and we all know what a challenge that is in the cramped economy class seats.
Upon arrival, we were whisked away in a van by our London resident hosts to Stonehenge. We were running short on time (Stonehenge is scheduled to close at 4:00pm), so we darted in and out of a travel stop along the highway to grab some quick lunch to go. There weren’t too many food options at the travel stop, so I ordered a twister at the KFC. This marks my first experience with sticker shock on the trip (the twister was the equivalent of $6 with the 2 dollar to 1 pound exchange rate), and I never quite got over it. A twister is a twister, with the exception of the peppered mayo tasting a lot like Miracle Whip, this is the exact same thing you get in the States.
We arrived at Stonehenge 15 minutes before 4:00pm (the scheduled closing time), but the monument was already closed (not sure why). You can still see the stones from fairly close without going into the site, though.
We headed to a pub in the nearby town of Salisbury (where we spent the night at a Bed & Breakfast) for dinner. But between the jet lag, the off-track eating schedule (they feed you way too often on those flights!), and a general sense of exhaustion, I just wanted to head for bed. My dinner consisted of a few fries (sorry, chips) off of my companion’s plate.
I woke up the next morning starved. Thank goodness the B&B had a full English breakfast waiting for me.
My first real meal in England also marked the beginning of my obsession with English tea. It’s not a long stretch seeing as how I love sweet tea, green tea, jasmine tea, black tea, chai lattes… The English tradition of adding sugar and milk to tea really grew on me (and I’m now renergizing with afternoon Earl Grey tea with milk and sugar at work in place of my old Diet Coke habit). This full traditional breakfast came with bacon (more like Canadian bacon than American bacon), Lincolnshire sausage which has a very mild flavor and semi-mushy texture (mushy is a word that describes practically all British food), steamed mushrooms, baked beans, fried tomatoes, toast (not pictured), orange juice, and of course, fragrant English breakfast tea. I skipped the egg option with breakfast since I’m not a big fan (except for deviled eggs, oh how I love deviled eggs). It was a meal that was familiar but different. Nothing was quite like a Denny’s breakfast (except for maybe the toast), yet nothing was truly exotic. Despite the surprising and somewhat unfamiliar texture of the Lincolnshire sausage, I really enjoyed the mild flavor and its relative low grease factor compared to American breakfast sausage.
We did some more driving in the beautiful English countryside before reaching Bath. The grass is truly greener here. Along with the daffodils abloom in early spring, the countryside was picturesque, serene perfection.
Onto a day of touring in Bath! Bath is a charming town most famous for its historic Roman baths.
Around lunch time, the group of us searched hard for traditional pub fare. But as there was six in our group, it was impossible to find sufficient seating in these small, smoky joints. Instead, we headed to Wagamama for a late lunch, a pan-Asian chain that originated in London and is now all over Europe and Australia. Wagamama also has 2 locations in the Boston area (only US locations).
Wagamama in Bath:
Wagamama reminded me a lot of Pei Wei (except Pei Wei’s are never in buildings of any historic magnitude). It’s trendy fast food that’s tasty enough to draw a large crowd and consistent enough to keep them coming back. The menu has a few rice dishes but the main focus is clearly on noodles: ramen, soba, udon, etc.
We started with an order of gyoza appetizers (dumplings). Just to note, I thought it was really amusing that an English waiter in Bath recommended these “awesome gyoza” to me, someone who obviously looks Asian.
The waiter wasn’t completely off, though. The chicken dumplings filled with napa cabbage and chestnuts were delicious with a quick dip in the soy garlic chili sauce. Not the best dumplings I’ve ever had (sorry waiter, I have been to a few Chinatowns in the US and a few places in China that have turned up better versions), but certainly not bad for a chain, fast food type place either. However, at £5 for the order, it translates into $2/dumpling… sticker shock sets in again.
I was actually more impressed with my entree, the yaki udon.
The menu describes this dish as “udon noodles with curry oil, fresh shiitake mushrooms, eggs, leeks, prawns, chicken, grilled salmon fishcake, beansprouts, red and green bell peppers, garnished with spicy ground fish powder, black and white sesame seeds, fried shallots, and red ginger.” That’s quite the mouthful! Everything in the description was fairly close to what actual came in the dish with the exception of the grilled salmon fishcake. I expected them to look like small crab cakes but with salmon. Instead, they were little chewy rings that had a fishy taste but no hint of salmon in the color, taste, or texture. Hmm… I guess frozen fish rings don’t sound as appetizing as salmon cakes. Nonetheless, it was a busy, but tasty dish. I loved the chewy texture of the fat udon noodles with the rich curry oil taste contrasting with the crunchy sprouts, shallots, and bell peppers.
My companion ordered the chicken tama rice, marinated and grilled chicken with fried courgettes (zucchini), fresh shiitake mushrooms, red and spring onions in a ginger oyster garlic wine sauce.
A wonderful, healthy dish (for a restaurant) that was just right in the lightness of flavor. A thinned, brothy oyster sauce complemented the tender chicken. A nice change of pace from the thick, viscous sauces we’re so used to in Americanized Asian cooking.
Sticker shock aside, Wagamama is a great value for UK prices. Entrees range from £6 to £9, and as much as I complain, that really is pretty fair for the quality of food.
Still exhausted from jet lag, I skipped dinner on Day 2 as well (we had a late lunch). I did snack on some addictive Walker’s Thai Sweet Chili chips (sorry, crisps) that I wish were available in the US! Interesting to note that Walkers is part of Fritolay and even has a similar logo. Now if only Fritolay would introduce this chip flavor to the US… I do have a friend who works for the Research & Development area at Fritolay in Plano…
That ends my food adventures for my first two exhausting, jet-lagged days in the UK. Tomorrow we explore culinary adventures in London!
Onto Day 3