Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Food That Put the Brits on the Map

A pint and a view at The Slug and Lettuce Pub in York

Streets were designed here long before cars

Notice no bar stools at the pub

Bars and restaurants throw me for a bit of a loop here in the UK. As a solo diner, I’m used to sitting at the bar and ordering. This really keeps you from feeling like you’re eating alone. Sitting at a table by myself is uncomfortable. I feel like the entire restaurant is staring at the guy by himself wondering WHY he’s all by himself. Is he a stalker? Perhaps just a weirdo? I know I’m not alone in this feeling because I’ve talked to plenty of folks who feel the same way. I’ve found that other business travelers in the states eat at the bar too. It gives us a chance to chat with each other and sort of commiserate. I didn’t know this unwritten tidbit before I began travelling for a living but I quite like it. Here in the UK though, that little bonus doesn’t work. No one really sits at the bar. There are no stools. People can stand at the bar and chat but sitting is not really an option. As far as eating there goes, there are a few rules as well. If you wish to eat in the bar area, that’s fine. You order at the bar, pay in advanced, and go find a seat where the bartender will bring your food. I see no real value in that. I might as well go the restaurant area and just sit for table service (which I did). From here I feel the eyes upon me. This is a complex I need to overcome because I know I’m not interesting enough for anyone to truly ponder but I hate the idea of being perceived as “creepy”.

So in lieu of being uncomfortable for EVERY meal, I decided to see what I could snack on from the local grocery. This was a brilliant idea. Obviously I cannot cook anything but if you ever decide to walk into the store and select things that can be eaten as is with no prep, you’d be surprised at the large number of options available to you. The Ox tongue from the deli was superb with English Stilton blue cheese and Scottish oatcakes. The smoked Scottish Salmon was like Salmon flavored butter; rich and delicate with a much milder flavor than the Salmon I’ve had in the states. I always thought Wild Alaskan King Salmon was my favorite but this Scottish version has overtaken it in my mind. The deep colored blackberries were quarter sized and perfectly sweet and the figs were the size of small apples. I have stumbled across a goldmine. I ate in my room on 3 different evenings after enjoying my shopping. What I don’t understand completely is that if I’m stuck eating the Ox tongue (which I found quite tasty), what happened to the rest of the Ox? Is someone sinking their teeth into a luscious and perfectly prepared Ox loin with elderberry sauce? I’ve not seen such a thing on a menu.

Wednesday, Neil (my UK colleague) and I visited a customer in the coastal community of Grimsby. Grimsby is a fishing village that sits at the mouth of the Humber River on the North Sea. It boasts a fishing industry that at one time was the worlds largest (although no one could tell me exactly WHEN it was the worlds largest). I was informed however that going to Grimsby without eating fish and chips would be heresy. It was along this coast that the British standard was invented. Who am I to be a heretic? Upon a recommendation from my local customer, we went to a place called Seaway Restaurant.

Don't go here for the atmosphere but their Fish and Chips is heaven

Calling this a restaurant is a stretch. Seaway is a greasy spoon at best with tattered upholstery, wobbly tables and poor service. The menu has a limited theme: Haddock and Chips, Cod and Chips, Prawns and chips etc. I have to honestly say, I was a bit nervous but we ordered none the less. I went with the Cod (and Chips, of course). I noticed the place became quite busy after we arrived. That is always a good sign. The fish came out quickly. OK, so it looked like fish and chips but little did I know what a treat I was in for. This was exquisite. Delicate, moist and not greasy, this epitomized what fish and chips should taste like. The flavor was perfectly mild and oh so fresh. Some conversation produced a bit of education for me as well. I learned that this place gets its fish fresh from the docks daily here. Their batter is a tried and true recipe that has been going strong for decades and I cannot say enough about it. I’ve had lots of Fish and Chips in my day and I’ve had a go at making them too (and I like my version) but these were clearly better than any I’ve had. A crisp crust that wasn’t too thick, not at all chewy or bready and didn’t flake into many small pieces with each bite. The fish inside was moist and buttery and just perfect. The portion was generous but I could have eaten much more.

These were the perfect example of how Fish and Chips should be

I am so pleased with this find. My trip was a bit out of the way but pleasant. The days in Scunthorpe that were marked with constant gray skies and rain have come to a close and I’m now in a hotel in York. The sun has wormed its way out in this marvelous and ancient city that I’ll be telling you about in the coming days. I’m so proud to have found food that intrigued me in a part of the world known for… well… not the best food.

Until next time… Cheerio

1 comment:

jennie said...

Hey Louis!

Hows you?

Eagerly awaiting your appraisal of York and The Blue Bicycle!

Love reading your blog! Keep it going!

Jennie- Physiologist- Scunthorpe