Friday, January 23, 2009

Haute cuisine

Up until the last couple of days, I had somehow managed to avoid traditional British food. We'd been out to a number of restaurants, but none of them served British food, and we had yet to make a foray to a pub. Yesterday, however, I stopped for lunch in one of the cafes of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which is just around the corner from Birkbeck and has a reputation as being one of the better college cafes around. One nice feature about Birkbeck's location is that many of the other constituent campuses of the University of London - including the Institute of Education, School of Oriental and African Studies, University College, and Royal Academy - are right nearby.

One of the featured items on the menu at the RADA cafe was higgidy pie, which I of course had never heard of. My colleague Claire assured me it was a traditional British cuisine, so I ordered it, figuring it was time to jump in and eat like a native. They can best be described as round mounds of meat loaf, about the size of a large scoop of ice cream. They served two of them with mashed potatoes, gravy, and smashed peas. If you like meat loaf, then you would like the higgidy pie; if you're the kind of person who doesn't like lots of things mixed together into a dark brownish mass, without knowing the ingredients, then you should probably pass. I fall into the former category, and quite enjoyed them.

Today at lunch, Anne and I decided that it was time for our first trip to a pub. We opted for the Island Queen, which as Anne earlier posted about, is a mere 100 steps from our house. I approached it with a bit of trepidation, because pub fare doesn't have the best reputation for fine dining. I ordered the bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes over gravy, with sauteed cabbage on the side), and Anne ordered a beef bourguignon pie. This was a beef bourguignon served in a pastry casserole, also served with mash and sauteed cabbage (you see a pattern here?). Both were delicious, and certainly put to rest for us the bad reputation that pub food has. Just another block away is a gastropub, the Duke of Cambridge, which we're also going to try.*

After lunch, we made our daily (or sometimes every other day) food shopping trip. As some of you know, pretzels are one of Anne's favorite snack foods, though we had been warned that they are nearly impossible to find in England. Yet right there in the crisps aisle of Sainsbury's, we found not just pretzels, but Penn State pretzels!

* Contrary to what Anne posted, I don't think the Island Queen really qualifies as a gastropub

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