This is true

Over the next 40 years, as Britain moved from being the nation with the reputation for the worst cooking in Europe to the most cosmopolitan food culture on earth,

It’s not necessarily true that the quality of food in Britain is higher than elsewhere, but it is true that the variety of it is.

33 thoughts on “This is true”

  1. Probably better to move the horse to before the cart, where it belongs.
    The British were probably the worst eaters in Europe. The least discerning. And if the standard of demand is small, the supply side is hardly going to strive to meet the challenge.

    And by & large, I wouldn’t say that’s changed overly much. Whether a restaurant is regarded as “good” or even pricing is little guide to food quality.

  2. Jamie Oliver once commented that for all the way that people talk about the traditions of Italian cookery, that also makes them very conservative. They want pasta like Mama used to make, where a Briton will try foods from anywhere.

  3. bis,

    I think it’s also that as we moved from physical to non-physical work, we had to change our cuisine.

    And yes, there’s a difference between “cosmopolitan” and “good”. Domino’s Pizza is cosmopolitan. Pubs selling Thai green curry, burgers and kleftico on the same menu probably don’t know how to do any of them very well (or it came in a packet).

  4. @The Stig
    “I think it’s also that as we moved from physical to non-physical work, we had to change our cuisine.”

    To the cuisine of third-world agricultural labourers?

  5. I am old enough to remember times when pubs served no food other than stale ham sandwiches and only the very best pub would serve all three types of wine (rose being the third sort).

    Now, most pubs serve either very good food or if not then cheap, hearty & plentiful food.

    It’s a shame we in the UK are stil tarnished with this image of boiling all our food to death (even bread) and having bad teeth. The image is a good 20 years out of date.

  6. @Ian B.

    A couple of years back, quietly and without prior annoucement, the fresh meat counter at the Leytonstone Tesco superstore became a halal butchers.

    I know becasue it was my local at the time. Probably other stores have done the same.

    No doubt they wlll soon have a ‘minority ethnic’ aisle where you can buy steak & kidney pie.

  7. “I am old enough to remember times when …only the very best pub would serve all three types of wine (rose being the third sort).”

    I knew one where rose was done as half & half red & white.

  8. I read this with a glow of patriotic pride and then I started to think….this is total hogwash.

    Go down any British high street and you will find:

    1/ MacDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Dominos
    2/ A Chinese/Indian/Thai place or some weird combination of all 3 (non-Asian family-run restaurants arre now as rare as hens’ teeth)
    3/ One or more of the following chains listed in a rough order of quality:

    Garfunkels
    Ben and Jerry’s
    Pizza Express
    Zizzi
    Prezzo
    Ask
    Nando’s
    Cafe Rouge.

    If this constitutes variety then you have a different definition from me. And as for quality, I would think that pizza was not possible to ruin but Pizza Express do it every day. Only Nando’s and Cafe Rouge in my experience come anywhere close to serving palatable food at a reasonable price.

    As for pubs, they are mostly parts of chains and serve up appalling stuff – “beer-battered” this, “rope-grown” that, and everything is “pan-fried” as if you would use anything other than a pan for frying – perhaps a bin, a pair of used underpants? They get their ingredients from the same suppliers and it is very low-grade swill sold at extortionate prices. And again, highly unvaried.

    Until 20 years ago, you could go to a pub and get decent, anything but fancy, stuff, such as pie and chips or a ploughman’s. These things no longer exist.

    Andy C may have had bad experiences with pub sandwiches in the past but the last time I had a pub sandwich was last year just by the Temple in London and it was foul. I look back to the 80s with nostalgia for decent pub grub.

    There was more variety on offer, at much better prices and significatly better quality when I stayed for a week on an intersection outside Plano, Texas a few years ago.

  9. The British always had great food. We just didn’t sell it. You could get wonderful cooking in someone’s house, but none of those excellent cooks were cooking for a living. But that means that there were at least plenty of discerning palates in the country, and therefore demand.

    I think a lot of the change may be down to social perceptions of whether preparing food is a decent job or not. Also, competition from immigrants: if there’s an excellent Chinese and an excellent Indian and an excellent Italian place up the road, some native cooks are bound to start thinking “I could do that.”

    My grandma was in service when she was young. Her cooking was phenomenal. And, as I write that, I wonder whether it was memories of being downstairs that made cooking for a living an undesirable profession?

  10. A big part of the improvement in pubs is down to Wetherspoons.

    The one near me serves a good range of decent beers, with regular rotation of breweries.

    Wines, while not too class, are consistently drinkable and served at the correct temperature.

    The food is also of a consistent quality.

    Staff are well trained and friendly, and the place is kept clean at all times.

    All for a reasonable price.

    As a result, the other local pubs are having to up their game and find a niche. Until the ‘spoons opened they were complacent, making do with selling cheap lager. I would say that they are all actually busier now.

  11. Posted before I saw Diogenes comment – we’ve obviously got completely different views on pub quality!

  12. > As for pubs, they are mostly parts of chains and serve up appalling stuff

    If this is generally true on the mainland, I’m more glad than ever to be living on the Ards Peninsula. The food in pretty much every pub anywhere near Strangford Lough is superb — it’s pretty much impossible to find somewhere that doesn’t do local mussels in cream and white wine, and do them well. Plus we have these guys.

    Although the food in my mum’s local in Suffolk is also superb. Well known for its tapas. And I’ve had reason to stop at The Land Of Liberty a couple of times and have been well impressed by their food. But I don’t really do pubs in London, so maybe they are mostly shite.

  13. I think a lot of the change may be down to social perceptions of whether preparing food is a decent job or not.

    That’s certainly the case with serving food. In Paris, waiting is a profession. In the UK, it is done by the least skilled in the entire workforce.

  14. @Diogenese

    Were I confronted with 9 pints of sick and a pint of real ale, I would choose the pint of real ale.

    Same goes for pubs & restaurants. If you want to talk about the bad ones, that’s fine but there are plenty of good ones. Down here on th edge of Southampton I am within 30 minutes drive of at least a dozen non-chain pubs doing great food.

    a steady flow of overseas friends and business contacts have always been impressed (except for the ones I hate who I might give a pint of sick to)

  15. When I moved from leafy Surrey to a grungier part of London, fresh food became cheap and varied. I recommend Seven Sisters Rd for really fresh veg, meat of all cuts unlike supermarkets and fish. Somali families eat better than Brits judging from watching black shrouds shop.

  16. As far as UK restaurants go, and with some exceptions, there is London and there’s the rest. We don’t do too badly in the Southwest but you have search them out. As for home cooking, my parents’ generation (Marguerite Pattern era) made the best of a bad job – wartime and rationing. I’m married to a cook so am fortunate, many are not – they say most women get the hang of cooking at the age of 55. I can manage to barbecue and formulate a decent bowl of chilli but that’s about my lot. Girls in their 20s and 30s are unlikely to cook well given they view food as the enemy (or conversely as a palliative). My nephews appear to have accepted the baton with variable results.

  17. “As far as UK restaurants go, and with some exceptions, there is London and there’s the rest.”

    Really?

  18. > there is London and there’s the rest

    There’s plenty of excellent food to be had in Belfast and Glasgow. And, like I said, all round Strangford Lough. And in Devon. And Suffolk.

    There’s a wider range of different ethnic things in London, and the top (stupidly expensive) restaurants conglomerate there for obvious reasons, but I’m not convinced the standard in general is any higher.

  19. The food in most places in the UK is a hundred times better than it was 40 years ago. Are our palates though?

  20. Bloke in Costa Rica

    When I was growing up in the Isle of Wight in the 70’s we stopped going out for meals because the chance of getting an absolute dud meal was too high. Anything ethnic was right out. Now in just my home town of 30,000 or so there’s a dozen really good restaurants, including a superb Indian and a really good Italian place. The chippie near my Mum’s place is top-notch, cheap and packed. Down on the seafront, a pub that used to be a watchword for spit’n’sawdust now specialises in seafood, especially locally-caught mussels. If you go out in the country the range of pubs selling great family meals is huge, and for the gourmets there’s a bunch of gastropubs. After falling into complete desuetude, local breweries have opened up selling excellent beer. They’re making wine that wins rosettes. And of course the availability of produce in the supermarkets has never been better.

  21. “In Paris, waiting is a profession. In the UK, it is done by the least skilled in the entire workforce.” – it occurs to me that only the ozzies can match the Brits at waiting at your table with the attitude of “I don’t really do this, its just a temporary job”.

    The ozzies bring a particular sneer to their lack of servility, though that’s perhaps because they are serving Brits. The Brits are just good at doing serving badly.

  22. @sq2 – “Somerset brie is better than French brie. So many people agree with that that it’s also more expensive than French brie these days.” – hmm, we may have to differ on that.

    1: Buy unpasteurised brie.
    2: Don’t put it in the fridge (or at least get it out hours before eating).
    3: Eat when runny and starting to properly stink but not yet like urine.

    The good French stuff is probably best. 🙂

  23. Surreptitious Evil

    The good French stuff is probably best. 🙂

    Isn’t that the usual problem? The best French stuff is absolutely excellent. But it is sold by one pensioner at one market, two days every other week, in season, in a tiny village three to ten communes away from where, by appellation, you’d expect him to be. And half way up the goat track down the back of a hill.

    And 90% of the rest of it might as well be brasso or supermarket cheddar. Which leaves you 9.some9s worth which is perfectly eatable or drinkable but not actually as good as the best New World, Italian or, even British stuff.

  24. I remember the ‘British restaurant’ food with some nostalgia.
    And we grew (I was six foot 2 by 1952) and prospered.
    Now you say the food is better but the population has fled.

  25. @SQ2
    “Although the food in my mum’s local in Suffolk is also superb. Well known for its tapas.”

    The fundamentally important thing about a tapa is you don’t pay for it. If it’s not free, it’s not a tapa.

  26. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Ever the iconoclast, Ian.

    Johnny bonk has the right of it. A room-temperature triple cream brie, at the gooey stage but before it smells like a Parisian pissoir, is one of the more sublime taste experiences thus far engineered by the human race.

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