Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to British Cuisine

Categories: Here, Eat This

britishmosaic.jpg
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Half of the fun of visiting England is the food -- especially the fresh butter, bread, meat and sweets.
With acclaimed British restaurant Feast closing in August, now's the time to acquaint yourself with its excellent English menu before it's too late. Luckily, chef Richard Knight will be opening another restaurant in the Heights within a year, and there are plenty of other British restaurants in Houston with hearty pub fare on offer.

British food has been unfairly maligned for years as bland and starchy, but modern British cooking in restaurants such as The Fat Duck, The Three Fishes and, yes, even Restaurant Gordon Ramsay have done much to change that perception over the last decade. Current British cuisine embraces traditional cooking and regional specialties like Yorkshire pudding or Cornish pasties, framed with fresh, seasonal ingredients and modern kitchen techniques.

However progressive British cooking gets, however, the comforting old classics such as meat pies or Sunday roasts are still enormously popular. It's this base of English standards we'll examine in this week's Here, Eat This.

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Fish and chips at Foster's in England.
Fish and chips

Chips are a cross between steak fries and potato wedges, although in America they'll more typically be served as simply french fries. The fish is lightly battered, usually cod (although halibut, haddock and hake are popular choices, too) and always better with a few dashes of malt vinegar and lemon across the top before dipping into tartar sauce. In a pinch, fish finger sandwiches (frozen fish sticks with HP brown sauce and/or ketchup) will do.

Bangers and mash

Meat and potatoes are recurring themes in British cooking. And if one isn't there, the other will be present double to compensate. I once ate at a pub in Holmes Chapel that served me a winter root vegetable pie with two kinds of potatoes on the side. Bangers and mash are the best example of the meat-and-potatoes preference, being simply a plate of sausage (bangers) and mashed potatoes (mash).

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Brown sauce with ketchup and Colman's mustard at The Bull & Bear.
HP brown sauce / malt vinegar

HP brown sauce is the British version of ketchup, improving nearly everything it touches. Imagine ketchup with a tangier, maltier edge to it from the addition of Worcester sauce and malt vinegar. Speaking of malt vinegar, it goes on nearly everything too. You'll need to acidity of both the brown sauce and vinegar to cut through all the fat and starch of many dishes.

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Steak and kidney pie at Feast.
Meat pie / Cornish pasty

A meat pie is exactly what it sounds like: meat (and sometimes vegetables) and gravy baked into a pie crust. In its earliest incarnations, the tough "coffin lid" top of the pie was typically discarded or given to servants. These days, the buttery, flaky pastry dough is often the best part of a meat pie. My personal favorites in Houston are found in the frozen foods section of British Isles, the British necessities store in Rice Village, and crisp up nicely in the oven. There are specific versions of the meat pie such as a steak and kidney pie, although standard meat pies usually contain beef or lamb. A Cornish pasty (pronounced PASS-tee) is the portable version of a meat pie, sort of the equivalent of a British empanada, also filled with potatoes, swede (a.k.a. rutabaga) and onion.

Shepherd's pie / cottage pie

Unlike a meat pie, a shepherd's pie is distinguished by its crust of mashed potatoes rather than pastry dough. A true shepherd's pie will feature ground lamb in addition to peas and carrots, while a cottage pie usually features beef instead. The names, however, are interchangeable more often than not. Both are delicious.

Location Info

Venue

Map

British Isles

2366 Rice Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: General

King's Head Pub

1809 Eldridge Pkwy, Houston, TX

Category: Music

The Black Labrador Pub

4100 Montrose Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Richmond Arms

5920 Richmond, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Red Lion Pub

2316 S. Shepherd, Houston, TX

Category: Music

The Bull & Bear Tavern

11980 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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14 comments
sally.connolly
sally.connolly

The Black Labrador has the worst "British" food it's been my misfortune to encounter in Houston. I'm British born and raised and moved to Houston a few years ago. When by best friend from London visited we went to the Black Lab. The meal was appalling and only surpassed in its awfulness by the dessert, the aforementioned trifle. This bore so little resemblance to British trifle that we got the giggles. That was the only good bit about the whole experience.  

notdesperateexpat
notdesperateexpat

The closest thing Houston has to UK food is London Sizzler, all the ones you mentioned are laughable compared to the real thing. Those are the type of places clueless Americans searching for a real "English experience" go to, also extremely desperate expats.

Rudyard
Rudyard

It's great that I can get a lot of the things I miss at Kroger now. Even HEB has started stocking more goods from the UK. Does anyone know of anywhere, preferably on the South side of town around Clear Lake or Pearland, that sells bangers?

Jim Rassinier
Jim Rassinier

How could you forget Lamb chops with mint jelly???

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

Jelly Babies...


gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Mars bars, rowntrees fruitgums, pork pies, melton mobwray pork pies nom nom nom...

Megan
Megan

A coworker who lived in London for a few years swears by curry night at the Red Lion.  He said it reminded him of curries he would get in England.

CB22
CB22

The one thing you did not mention is British candy, specifically chocolate. Big difference between US and UK candy bars. How I miss Flakes, Galaxy bars, Lion bars, Star bars and so on... Luckily you can find most in Houston and you don't have to trek to Rice Village.. Specs in midtown has a good selection as do most Krogers and Central Market.

Oh, and the one thing I missed the most... Weetabix. Greatest cereal of all time. Ever. Thankfully Kroger moved it from the International isle to the regular cereal isle and halved the price of it!!

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@notdesperateexpat While I don't completely disagree with you, the entire point of this series is to get people interested in a cuisine and give them a few places to start familiarizing themselves with it. I can't very well provide a list of restaurants at the end that simply says, "Go eat at London Sizzler or sod off to England if you want to eat. Yanks don't know how to cook."

Rudesheim
Rudesheim

@Rudyard Spec's does, although not sure if they do in those Southside stores you mention

Rudyard
Rudyard

@Rudesheim @Rudyard Thanks very much. My wife's son works at a Specs on this side of town so I'll ask him if he knows if any of the ones down here sell them. 

Rudyard
Rudyard

@WestSideBob @Rudyard @Rudesheim Thanks for the suggestions. I like Brats, but there's a very minor difference (to my taste) that I can't put my finger on. I made the trip to the Specs on Smith Street this past weekend. I was in banger heaven! Prices were reasonable too.

WestSideBob
WestSideBob topcommenter

@Rudyard @Rudesheim Rudyard ... try Johnsonville brats and sausages.  A friend of mine from Wales swears by them and they are available at most markets.

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