Fine foods and wine
Belittled and overshadowed by other European gastronomic traditions for years, London cuisine has gradually come into its own, promoting the long-standing tradition of products and ingredients, rediscovering ancient regional traditions and cherishing the many ethnic contaminations at first deriving from the Empire’s colonies, then from immigration and, last but not least, from fashion.
From the 1960s onward, so-called Modern British cuisine assumed it rightful place in the world with local products and traditional dishes bolstered by other international cuisines that are now deeply rooted in London, such as Oriental cuisine and above all Indian cuisine, followed by French and Mediterranean cuisine.
Over recent years, a generation of British chefs have given further impetus to the cause and contributed by spreading the good local food both at home and abroad.
The most well-known are probably Gordon Ramsay, a true magnate of British cuisine, owner of several restaurants and advocate of creative dishes brimming with Mediterranean flavours and influences, and Jamie Oliver, whose aim is to valorise ingredients and traditional local recipes.
Thanks to advances in the food industry, to an ecologically sustainable approach that promotes local companies and products, to talented new generations of chefs and to the requirements of a clientele that is increasingly attentive to the quality of what they eat and drink, London can now boast a cuisine that in some cases even surpasses that of other world capitals.
Traditional British cuisine typically includes meat, which is served in a variety of ways. Meat pudding is a traditional dish consisting of meat that is generally steamed or cooked bain-marie in a double saucepan. Another popular meat dish is pie, a type of baked casserole topped with a pie crust made from flour, vegetable shortening, water and salt.
Then there is the classic roast beef and other types of roasts and stews. The Angus breed of cattle is highly rated and is known abroad above all for its excellent grilled ribs, however lamb and mutton are also British favourites and are often served with delicious mint sauces or other traditional meat dressings, such as Worcestershire sauce or wonderful mustards.
Horseradish is much used to flavour meat, and can be served as a sauce or grated raw, often served with pork.
Fresh fish can be found in many London market stalls every morning. Recipes go far beyond typical Fish & Chips: there are excellent Dublin prawns, a vast selection of molluscs (especially oysters, scallops, mussels and clams), fine Scottish salmon, Dover sole as well as crabs and lobsters, not to mention the vast Atlantic catch.
The green English countryside produces a large variety of vegetables. A quick look at any local market will suffice to appreciate the extraordinary variety of carrots, potatoes and Swiss chards that are available, as well as fennel, cauliflower and lettuce.
One vegetable that is rarely seen in other cuisines is rhubarb, is used to make biscuits and desserts.
Typically Mediterranean vegetables like tomatoes, peppers or aubergines are less common and practically excluded from traditional menus.
The jewel in the crown of British food is Britain’s wide range of cheese. Even if unable to compete with the sheer variety of Italian or French cheese, Britain ranks third in the world in terms of cheese production. The most common cheeses are Cheddar, a hard cheese with a sharp flavour, ranging from pale yellow to orange, and Stilton, a blue cheese similar to French Roquefort.
British cakes are unparalleled in terms of pies and puddings. Apple pie is a great classic of British cuisine.
The dry biscuits that are served with traditional tea are excellent, as are the plum cakes and muffins served at breakfast or as snacks since they are so tasty when dunked in milk.
British cakes often contain a wide variety of candied and dried fruits, such as citrus rind, figs, plums, almonds and walnuts.
As far as drinks are concerned, it is almost superfluous to mention tea, which in Great Britain is served at essentially any time of the day, even if nowadays it is only the most elegant tearooms in the most luxurious hotels that still celebrate this tradition with true Victorian aplomb, serving tea with biscuits, tartlets and sandwiches.
There are also many types of beer, ranging from pale and light lager to strong, robust ales, generally red or double malts. Stout, dark beers mostly from Scotland, are quite common, as is Irish Guinness.
Beer is generally served on draught. Pale beers are usually poured quickly, while pouring a draught beer should takes several minutes.
Wine consumption has increased considerably over recent years, and is now also available in pubs. Choice is generally somewhat limited to a few Italian and French wines, mostly Chianti, Prosecco, Bordeaux and Chablis. The situation is entirely different in restaurants, especially top high-end restaurants that boast impressive wine lists.
Even fortified wines like Port and Madera are popular, though mainly after meals.
Last but not least are the whiskies, especially Scottish whiskies and whiskies from the Orkney Islands, and the excellent gins.
Thanks to organic cultivations, cider, which is now produced with great care and by methods similar to those used for Champagne, has made a comeback.