I have been privileged, over many years, to have been accompanied on my travels by local colleagues who knew the best places to eat and the best recipes to choose in their native land.
I had dinner in the Bazaar in Cairo with Osman Mahmoud Osman and shared a Mansaf.
I ate Rouget In the Bec Rouge in Monaco with Paul Badin.
With a whole crew, I had a fabulous meal of Sea Bass in the Golfe de Naples in Menton.
I partook of Bouillabaisse at Fon Fon’s in Marseilles at the recommendation of Jacques Hubinet.
I had my first taste of Smoked Trout in Frankfurt with Gernot Anderle.
Henri Brzoska took me to a memorable dinner at Le Place de Theatre in Paris.
I had my first taste of Chinese food in Queen’s Park, Sydney with Mark MacDonald.
I was wined and dined by the House of Taittinger at Rouen and Epernay.
You cannot expect to do that as a tourist.
I have tried to provide recipes for those dishes that might be difficult to find in an average cook book. Some of them are very old, but they have a curiosity value. Of course, if one persists, one can find any recipe, but that’s hard work.
So, a rough chronology of over seventy years of eating and drinking comes to an end. What have I learned ?
I have learned that the food provided in England can be as good as any in the world. Few countries have got such a wide variety of dishes, and that is apart from the variety of exotic foods now available.
From time to time one hears, from so-called experts, that Britain, until a few years ago, was a place lacking in decent food. Greg Wallace of Masterchef fame, although he is not a chef, claimed that in the Fifties and Sixties, Britain was a “food wasteland”. What absolute drivel. Where do they get these ideas from? Almost all of the restaurants that I have referred to in Soho were there in the thirties, forties and fifties. In the early fifties one could find the following in Soho: Au Jardin des Gourmets, Café Royal, Cafe de Paris, Chez Auguste, Choy’s Chinese Restaurant, Escargot Bienvenue, Gay Hussar, Isow’s, Kettner’s, Quo Vadis (Leoni’s), Scott’s, Taj Mahal, and Wheeler’s.
Simpsons, Westminster Room, the Wig and Pen and Angus Steak House, all providing English and Scottish menus, were all operating during this period of “food wasteland” and they had been since the nineteenth century.
What of the home cook ? Well, they did have a few problems during and after the war with rationing. They also had a bit of a problem with money which would have been, for most people, in short supply. They could not afford to experiment. The “throw-away” society had not yet come into being. A failed experiment could be a disaster for their personal economy. At the beginning of this book, I recall our humble meals in Tottenham in the 1930s. My recollections might give an insight into why the average family kept to a fairly small number of well-tried recipes.
However, it is my opinion that few foreign recipes can beat the great roasts of Britain, such as, Baron of Beef, Saddle of Lamb, Rack of Lamb, Roast Pork with crackling, Roast Turkey and Chicken, roast Duck and roast Goose. There’s also roast saddle of venison.
Then there are the great pies, Cornish Pastie, Melton Mowbray Pies, Cottage Pie, the great soups and broths.
There are lesser known pies like Fidget Pie from Shropshire, Forfar Bridies from Scotland and Bedfordshire clangers and cockle and corn pie from Wales.
What about Steak and Kidney pie ?
What about Steak and Kidney Pudding ?
What about the cheeses – Cheddar, Stilton, Cheshire, Wensleydale and Red Leicester?.
All of these items would have been available a hundred years ago. Remember also that kebabs were on the menu of Richard the Second. Wasteland indeed.
A few years ago I had the need to write down a list of typically British recipes. It ran to two and a half pages and that was just the names.
Here are a few:
Hairst Bree from Scotland. A broth of cutlets of lamb with a large selection of vegetables.
London Particular – a soup of diced streaky bacon with onion carrots and peas.
Eel and Parsley Soup – a tasty soup popular in London along with jellied eels, eel pie and eel and mash.
Potted Tongue and chicken.
Pressed Beef – made with brisket of beef, pig’s trotters and vegetables.
Pork Brawn – Made from half a pig’s head, trotters and vegetables.
Then there is the unequalled variety of fish from around our seas. Dover Sole, Cod, Haddock, Halibut and Monkfish. A great range of recipes.
We have the smoked fish, kippers, mackerel, haddock, halibut, trout and salmon.
We have bloaters, herrings, pilchards and red mullet.
We have Fish and Chips.
We have Prawns. We have mussels. We have Oysters.
We have Kedgeree.
We have our roasts and stews. What about brisket of beef in cider, pot roast of beef made with topside of beef. Then there’s roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. There’s beef olives, small parcels of meat enclosing mashed anchovy and herbs.
Then there’s crown roast of lamb, a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.
Pork tenderloin with mushrooms.
Then there are the hams from around the country. Then there is jugged hare .
We have roast grouse, partridge and pheasant.
We have the old English sauces – Cheese Sauce, Wow-wow Sauce, Chestnut Sauce, Horseradish Sauce, Reform Sauce.
We have forcemeats and dumplings, like skirlie from Scotland, sage and onion stuffing and suet dumplings from Norfolk.
Then there are the breads, the scones, the biscuits and cakes.
What about Christmas Pudding ?
Most of these items of British fare date from the sixteenth century, or even earlier.
There are so many more, but there’s not enough room.
“Food Wasteland” indeed !
Today, on television programmes, such as “Masterchef”, the competitors are marked on presentation. Usually this means building up a small unstable column in the middle of the dinner plate with what little meat and vegetables have been prepared. A sauce, made with great trouble and cost, is then streaked across the plate. The only way to remove it is either to use the middle finger to wipe it up or to leave it to the dishwasher. Furthermore, having partaken of such a meal one has to find somewhere else to eat in order to be satisfied.
It is a bit like “Nouvelle Cuisine” of the 1980s making a come-back.
I have learned to try everything.
I have eaten basic food, I have eaten stodge, but, I have also eaten some of the finest foods that the world has to offer. I really do not understand people who will not try a food with which they are unfamiliar.
I agree that there are a few things that I have avoided eating, but, for me it is almost always a matter of taste.
I am an omnivore.
I am somewhat overweight. A week or so ago, I saw a story on the television news about a man who had weighed 21 stone (294 lbs) and who had reduced his weight to 16 stone (224lbs). When asked how he did it, he said “I stopped eating biscuits and cakes”.
I have never eaten biscuits and cakes, but I am still overweight.
Next chapter: Chapter 112: Extra helping.