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Pub Fare in the United Kingdom and Ireland

Story ID:7893
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Travel
Location:Dublin Ireland
Year:2007
Person:Nancy Kopp
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Author's Note: This article was published a A Long Story Short ezine and The National Quarterly

Food in the United Kingdom gets a bum rap more often than not. In years past, returned travelers spread the word as soon as they hit their first American fast food joint. Totally tasteless. Keep ordering a pint of ale so you don’t have to taste the food. England was great, except for the food. Having recently returned from three weeks touring England, Scotland, and Ireland, I’d like to refute that mindset and give you reason to try pub fare. Perfect spot to socialize, squaff a pint of ale and cast off the cares of the day.

We selected pubs for our evening meals because the exchange rate was not in our favor, the pound being about double the dollar and the euro moving that direction. Our travel companions are South Africans, and the exchange rate of the rand to the pound and euro was many times worse for them. Try multiplying the pound by 14 or the euro by 8 to feel better about what our dollar buys overseas. The numbers vary but are always mind-boggling.

We didn’t eat many meals in large cities as we spent our time traversing two lane, narrow, no-shoulder, curving roads which led to smaller communities and offered more appealing scenery than main motorways. Sometimes we asked the hostess at our B&B for a recommendation, and most were happy to help. Occasionally, we picked a pub for the name or outside appeal--not very scientific, but adventurous.

Cozy is a good word to describe the interior of most pubs. Not large, not new, but radiating a genuine welcome to singles or groups, the bar always the focal point.
Tables and chairs are scattered hither and yon, with those by the fireplace being prime real estate on a chilly night. The furnishings are usually well-used but comfortable.

A pub we particularly enjoyed was the Howard’s Arms Hotel and Pub located in Ilmington, a small village on the edge of The Cotswolds. The term hotel may be misleading as it consists of three ensuite rooms for guests, but the pub on the ground level is a good-sized meeting place for locals and tourists alike. A chalkboard menu leans against a wall. We found many of the choices to be something you’d expect in a posh place, not a pub. Special sauces accompanied many entrees, some of the desserts
rivaled a French patisserie, and flavor-filled gravies lingered on the taste buds and memory.

Our friend, Mike, is an old hand at pub dining, and we soon learned the ropes from him. He advised we give our drink order directly to the barman and pay immediately, and often the food order, as well, tipping only 10%. The bill isn’t brought until requested in most places.

Once smoke-filled, the pubs are now smoke-free--a welcome change according to nonsmokers.

One thing I found not to my liking. I wasn’t offered a second cup of coffee, which is standard practice in America. I learned to savor the one cup.

At the more memorable pubs, we were treated to lamb prepared in several ways, each one delectable. Lamb properly cooked, covered in savory gravy, and accompanied by a balsamic vinegar mint sauce is top-notch eating. Many Americans claim they’ve never had lamb and never will. If so, they’re missing some good eating.

We sampled fresh fish like plaice, cod, scampi and salmon served with chips (the UK version of French fries), mashed or boiled new potatoes. The veggies were nearly always a bowl of fresh broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, which came without cheese or hollandaise sauces. Nevertheless, they were cooked, neither crunchy or mushy, just right in all cases, buttered and lightly seasoned. The combination proved colorful, a healthy choice, and tasty.

“Bangers and Mash” became a favorite, comfort food at its best. Fat, flavorful sausages served alongside creamy mashed potatoes made a simple but good meal. At
least one night, all travelers to this part of the world should order roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, often the Sunday dinner offering. It’s something my mother made, and the first bite at a Scots pub spiraled me back decades to Sunday afternoon in a small third floor apartment in a Chicago suburb.

The desserts ranged from cakes and cobblers to ice cream and banana cream pie to sweet, ripe strawberries served with clotted cream. I didn’t see a low-fat offering on any menu, unlike many restaurants in the USA. Coffee served with the desserts was strong, and rarely was decaf available.

In England, we ate an outstanding chicken sandwich at The Swan in Stratford-upon-Avon and superb lamb steaks at The Devonshire Arms near Chatsworth, palatial home of the Duke of Devonshire. In Ireland, we found ourselves in the midst of a 40th birthday celebration at The Mayfly Inn in Kesh while we dined on scampi and cod. The Estuary in Swords, a small town near Dublin, served a pork fillet with Calvados Brandy and apples that would rival a gourmet restaurant in the US. In Hawick, Scotland we devoured a Steamed Cranberry Pudding with Toffee Sauce at the pub in the Bruce Hotel.

Try the pub fare in England, Scotland, Wales, and both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. You’ll most likely have more good meals than bad and go home with some delectable memories and a taste of a different culture. And maybe an extra pound or two.