If you’ve been reading my nightlife guides, you already know that I love a good pub. Even more so if said pub has a solid menu to accompany those frothy drinks. That’s why I’m really into the pubs here in Britain. I know that traditional British food hasn’t always enjoyed the best reputation, and has long been a punchline among my fellow American foodies. Well you can put the jokes aside, because I have had nothing but stellar meals at the pubs here in Britain, some of which go back centuries. Here’s the skinny on British pub food.
A Time-Honored Tradition
Pubs and food have always gone hand-in-hand here in the UK. In fact, “pub” stands for “public house,” a laid-back (if occasionally rowdy) place where locals would gather for food and drink. These were neighborhood (or “neighbourhood,” if we’re going full Brit) spots that served as a second home for many residents. And the tradition goes all the way back to the Roman era.
That’s right, add to the list of Roman innovations the British tavern. In 43 CE, when the Romans invaded Britain, they set up wine/shops – called tabernae – along newly built Roman roads. While the tabernae were meant to serve wine to Roman troops, they quickly adapted to local customs and started serving ale. You know what they say: when in Britain, do as the British do. The tabernae evolved into our more familiar tavern, or public house. And while the Roman troops are long gone, that tradition lives on, though it has become decidedly British.
British Pub Food Is Very Flexible
One of the things I love most about pub food in Britain is that it encompasses so many dishes. Sure, there is the traditional pub grub that we are all familiar with: foods like fish and chips (see my previous article for more on this iconic dish), bangers and mash, and shepherd’s pie. But contemporary British gastropubs offer so much more than this. Indian food, for instance, is popular throughout Great Britain, and you’re about as likely to see a tongue-tingling chicken curry on a pub menu as you are a shepherd’s pie.
Based on my “research” (i.e., downing a few pints of Guinness while blasting Taylor Swift songs on the jukebox), I noticed that hearty Italian dishes like lasagna and regional British dishes are also well-represented. Examples of the latter include Yorkshire pudding (not the custard-like dessert you might be picturing, but a fluffy batter souffle often smothered in gravy), and Lancashire hot pot–a mutton, potato, and onion stew popular in northwest England. There are even, I’m happy to report, plenty of pubs serving up vegan and vegetarian versions of classic British fare. And I assure you, they go just as well with a cold pint.
Top 5 Gastropubs In London
In London, you can hardly go a block without seeing a half dozen pubs, most of which serve food. While this makes for an epic pub crawl, it makes any Top 5 list rather hard to narrow down. Still, I was up for the challenge, hangovers be damned. Here are my Top 5 gastropubs in London:
The Tamil Prince
As I said, British gastropubs represent a variety of cultures, and The Tamil Prince is a reflection of that diversity. Named for a state in southern India, this pub in the hip Islington neighborhood serves dishes like dal makhani and grilled tiger prawns in garlic masala alongside its ales and stouts. If you’re looking for a little heat to go with that cold beer, this is the pub for you.
Another testament to London’s diversity, this is a classic British pub with a surprisingly eclectic menu, which changes often. Some of the dishes that caught my eye included salt cod houmous (the British spelling of “hummus”); a peach, gorgonzola, radicchio, and sage salad; and blistered runner beans with tahini and dukkah (a fragrant, nutty Middle Eastern spice mix). This is creative, ever-evolving pub food. If I lived in London, I would definitely be a regular here.
The Audley House
Located in a restored Victorian building, this stately-but-cozy Mayfair pub gets major points for atmosphere. Of course, it’s on this list because it also gets major points for food. In keeping with the Victorian decor, the food here is traditional, though certainly not stale. The menu features gastropub classics like fish & chips; mushy peas; and Scotch eggs, with an emphasis on seasonal produce and sourcing from regional, independent farms. The Audley House even offers clever vegetarian twists on traditional pub food, like bangers & mash made with beetroot sausage.
The Princess Victoria
Another beautiful Victorian space, this pub in the Shepherd’s Bush neighborhood was a beloved gin joint, dating back to 1829. While it closed down a few years ago, it recently came roaring back after an immaculate restoration. The restored Princess Victoria offers over 100 gins, as well as a wide variety of the frothy stuff. But if you’re reading this article, you’re coming here for the food, which runs the gamut from pizza, to jerk chicken, to good ol’ sticky toffee pudding. Added bonus, like many of the pubs of yore, The Princess Victoria is also an inn. If you’ve imbibed a bit too much to brave the London streets, see if you can stay in one of the five boutique rooms upstairs.
This popular pub in South London is a true neighborhood spot, featuring weekly events like salsa dancing, pilates classes, and pub quizzes. It also has a creative, chef-driven menu with dishes like gnocchi, pulled pork burgers, and halloumi fries. This is another pub where I could easily see myself becoming a regular. Actually, I’m starting to feel that way about most of the pubs I visited. They’re just so welcoming.
Cozy Up to the Bar for Some of London’s Best Foods
London is a world-class food city where thousands of restaurants serve every type of cuisine. But you would be missing out if you came here without eating at the city’s renowned gastropubs. Here, a pub is more than a place to grab a pint: it’s a place to build community, a place to get to know the city’s many distinct neighborhoods, and – increasingly – a place to sample some of the most creative menus in England. And, if you’re me, it’s apparently a place to come in dead last in pub trivia. All the more reason to study up and come back.
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