Well before I came to England I was excited to try the English cuisine. The expectation of fish and chips, bangers and mash, pies, puddings, bacon rolls, English breakfast, crisps, sweets and of course the ales made those last few weeks in Canada a long wait. A week’s vacation in London England soon had me accustomed to nearly all the above and with a few surprises too. After a month in England and a couple of hard weeks spent digging I must admit that I’m becoming a bit of an expert in the subject. My ulterior purpose in England, beside all the Roman stuff, has indeed become a culinary journey and I hope to catch you all up. I believe it is absolutely necessary to begin with my favourite, pub dinner.
In my last post I mentioned the Mile Castle Inn, a delightful pub named after the nearby Hadrian Wall Mile Castle #42. Here it is.
Not now, of course, as it has been fine and sunny but in the month and year of my birth. After a day of hard work in the hot Northumberland sun (never thought I’d mean that) you’ve got to start with a nice cool pint of hand pumped ale and I suggest ‘Sunny Daze’ for days like these. Sunny Daze is best enjoyed in the garden in view of a fine stretch of Hadrian’s wall with the imprint of a Roman fortlet on a field across the street and the stone remains of Great Chesters fort next to a farm in the distance. Starters are of course optional, I abstain on behalf of the magnificent meal and dessert to come, or maybe my second pint is a substitution. For that you must try the Prince Bishop Ale, it’s locally brewed and more filling. Hand pumped ales are quite different from the everyday draft beer in Ontario, they are local and fresh so less carbonated giving a much smoother texture like a Guinness.
Choosing a dinner can be tough but I will suggest some favourites. The pies are always a good choice. I’ve only had the Game (pheasant, hare, and venison) and the Poachers (beef + venison) but I’m sure that they are all superb. They are a very hardy meal served with veggies and fries, mash or capers. The pies come as actual slices of pie in a triangle with crust and the whole lot, which was sort of surprising because usually if something has the same name here it ends up being entirely different than what you would expect. My favourite meal by far has been the slow roasted belly of pork. It’s somewhere between bacon and a pork roast, served swimming in gravy. The meat falls apart like pulled pork and there is a delicious layer of seasoned fat on top as you can see in the picture.
A classic done very well be the Miley is fish and chips. I could eat this one anytime, rain or shine.
Lemon and tartar sauce on a giant piece of beer battered haddock, vinegar on the fries, and mushy peas, it puts a smile on my face every time.
Bangers and mash are also a fine choice. The sausages here are unbelievably good and not surprisingly quite distinct from those in Canada. They have a softer consistency and are generally not spicy. The ones in the picture here are from The Twice Brewed Pub just off site at Vindolanda. The potatoes are called ‘mustard mash’ for their generously applied whole seed mustard which adds a zesty pop to an old favourite.
If you’re in the pub on a Sunday then the roast is an obvious choice. I and five other field school members finished off the beef roast at a pub in the Lakes District this Sunday at the misfortune of the few who ordered last. It’s as you may expect, delicious gravy and tender slices of beef with veggies and potatoes. The Yorkshire pudding was a fun new treat, as Robin, so often our English translator, described “it’s basically a vehicle to get the gravy to your mouth”. Indeed it was.
After dinner one can literally never resist the temptation of puddings – puds – dessert. I do declare that sticky toffee pudding is the most brilliant dessert that I have ever had. It’s like cake without icing swimming in hot custard and syrup. I don’t really know where the name comes from and I really don’t care. As you might imagine, sticky toffee pudding is as fun to play with as it is to eat, but it doesn’t last long. I rarely stray from sticky toffee pudding but the bread pudding and a variation of it with nutella are quite delicious as well.
I hope that I have stirred your appetites for more but that’s all for now. Check out soon for a word on sweets. Please leave any suggestions for food that I should try and I will do my best to find it!