British cuisine seems to have a bad rap in America. When I tell my friends I’m making some traditional English fare for dinner, there tends to be a collective nervous glance around the room followed by, “we could just order pizza.” Britain is really a nation of comfort food eaters. Butter, cheese and meats are the main component of our diet. It’s a miracle the Empire lasted as long as it did considering how sleepy we all must have been after lunch. As an English transplant in Brooklyn, I often find myself craving the traditional foods from home: scones and tea, Marmite on toast, a big old Sunday roast. Also, some of our dishes have fantastic names, such as toad in the hole, spotted dick and Eton mess (don’t worry, I will provide a glossary at the end of this article). In desperate need of a decent cup of tea last week, I began a one woman quest to find the Best of British in Brooklyn. Here are the results.
129 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn Heights
“Get your laughing-gear around this,” our waiter said as he plonked down two heaving plates filled with fish, chips and mushy peas. Laughing-gear is of course British slang for ‘your mouth.’ The Chip Shop on Atlantic Ave. is like a local English “chippy” (as they’re known in Britain), with a menu offering many varieties of battered fish along with that Anglo-Indian staple curry and chips, and even Haggis (if you can handle this, you are a stronger woman than I!). To accompany your heart-stopping dinner, choose from a variety of beers, ciders and stouts all from the UK. They also have a small store contained within the restaurant where you can pick up tea, Marmite, condiments and crisps (those are potato chips for you unenlightened.) It’s basically heaven on Atlantic Ave.
Black Swan Pub
1048 Bedford Ave., Bed-Stuy
I had just met a friend for coffee in Clinton Hill and was waiting for the bus back up to Bushwick when I spotted a Union Jack flag billowing in the breeze outside of a pub. I immediately went to investigate. The Black Swan is a British pub serving some seriously traditional Brit food. I highly recommend the Ploughmans Cheese Plate – it’s kind of like a deconstructed cheese and pickle sandwich served on a wooden board. Also, if you’ve never sampled one, now is your chance to taste the meaty delight that is a Scotch Egg. This spherical treat is made up of a hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried. If this doesn’t cure your hangover, see a doctor immediately.
Blue Apron Foods
814 Union St., Park Slope
If you think the French are obsessed with their fromage, just ask a Brit how many cheeses they currently have nestled in their fridge. As an example, I just counted seven in mine. Cheese is eaten at all times of day in England, with almost anything to accompany it. What passes for cheddar in the US will not do for a Brit: to us, cheddar must make your mouth tingle and your eyes water. Blue Apron Foods is both a charcuterie and specialty cheese shop. They carry British brie, camembert, cheddar and butter. They also carry a large selection of British chocolates and sweets. Decadent.
193 Bedford Ave., Williamsburg
Okay, the don’t sell food, but Dr. Marten’s is the shoe brand that defines British style. Founded in 1947, Dr. Marten’s punk-influenced boots have never been out of style in the UK. Now you can pick up yours in Williamsburg. Perfect for walking off those lunches.
7316 3rd Ave., Bay Ridge
The Longbow Pub and Pantry in Bay Ridge is one of the only Welsh restaurants in NYC (there’s also Sunken Hundred in Carroll Gardens). Not only that, but this Anglo establishment has created a mash-up of a Ploughman’s Lunch and a burger, the Ploughman’s Burger. A beef patty topped with proper cheddar and Branston pickle. Are you drooling yet?
These are the foods currently waiting to be eaten at Casa Darling. There’s Marmite (to spread on hot buttered toast), a Scotch egg, a pork pie topped with Stilton cheese, a large traditional pork pie topped with pork jelly and Wensleydale cheese with cranberry. If you want to know more about these artery-clogging afternoon treats, feel free to ask in the comments!
Right, time to put the kettle on and have a proper cuppa.
Glossary of terms:
Marmite – A yeast based spread eaten on toast or in a cheese sandwich. Marmite is very high in B vitamins and became popular after World War I when it was sent to soldiers to enhance their diets. Marmite has also been used to treat anemia. Oh, and if you’re about to ask if it’s the same as Vegemite, you’re dead to me.
Toad in the hole – Sausages baked into Yorkshire pudding batter. This dish became popular in the 18th Century. Yorkshire pudding is basically a pop-over. Incidentally, it’s what I’m making for dinner tonight.
Spotted dick – Take your minds out of the gutter, Spotted dick is an English pudding (pudding in England refers to all desserts). It’s made from suet and dried fruit. The “spotted” part refers to the pattern the fruit makes in the pudding, not sure why the “dick” is there though, maybe just to embarrass you as you order it in a restaurant.
Eton mess – A simple dessert made from chopped strawberries, crushed meringue and heavy cream. It’s so easy to make that whenever my mother serves it to us, my brother and I love to mock her for how long she must have spent preparing it.