London may be a thriving world-class metropolis, complete with all the shiny things that cities do best, but rest assured that it’s also a great city to enjoy a traditional British pub lunch as the misty-grey prevails outside and the football and ale cheer indoors.
To help you navigate your cultural introduction in London pub lunches, here is a list of some classic British fare that you just can’t miss.
Bangers and Mash
Probably one of the best known dishes of basic pub fare, British bangers and mash, which is essentially a meal of potatoes and fried sausages, is the perfect comfort-lunch on a drizzly London day.
The mash is made from a mixture of boiled potatoes, butter, milk and pepper, which is stirred into a stiff slosh (and is much tastier than it appears). On top of the mash you will find the bangers, or sausages, which are commonly made with lamb or pork in England, although this varies from pub to pub. A thick gravy is usually poured over the plate to serve diners a floundering pile of starchy, meaty goodness that will warm their belly before venturing onto the London streets.
Faggots and Peas
With an equally intriguing name as their banger pals above, faggots are traditional British meat balls made from offal, herbs and breadcrumbs. While eating offal (the internal organs and entrails of an animal) may not sound appetising, rest assured that if you’re going to try offal anywhere in the world, it may as well be in the United Kingdom, where it is part of the everyday, hearty cuisine. Pub lunches of faggots are often served with peas and gravy, sometimes with mash, and with a bit of English mustard on the side.
The Brits are hard to beat when it comes to pork pie. Just ask them. But how can you argue with short crust pastry filled with minced pork, smoked ham, pork jelly, herbs and onions? Although it can be served hot, traditionally pork pies are a cold dish, a bit like the French terrine, and eaten at lunch or as a snack. Extra flavours such as garlic and thyme can usually be found within the yummy pork mix.
Pork pies are said to have originated in the borough of Leicestershire, in the Midlands of England, and the town known for making the best pork pies is called Melton Mowbray. That said, the pork pie is loved and has been reinvented all over the United Kingdom, including in cosy dark wood pubs in Londontown.
Chilli Con Carne
With origins tracing back to Spain and the American Southwest, this red stew of beef mince, beans and chilli is also highly regarded as an English classic (in it’s own sans-actual-spicy-chilli kind of way). It seems almost every London pub serves chilli con carne as part of their lunch time specials, presumably because it’s cheap to make, warming and can be prepared in bulk.
Unlike the spicy red flavours of it’s American and Spanish cousins, English chilli con carne focuses on tomato, beef, kidney beans and chickpeas to make up the bulk of the meal, and is usually served with boiled white rice, and perhaps some sour cream and a garnish of coriander.
Sunday Roast with Yorkshire Pudding
If you only have opportunity for one pub meal in London, try to make it a Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding. This mother-of-all-pub-lunches rarely disappoints, instead living up to it’s heritage of being the big family meal of the week.
A Sunday roast will vary between pubs and boroughs, meaning you could be served roast beef, pork or maybe even chicken, all cooked with tender-loving goodness that comes with tradition. Yorkshire pudding also varies, but you can generally expect some sort of puffy pastry thingy that can cup your gravy as it slowly leeks over your steaming meal. Keep your tongue tuned for hints of wine in your gravy if you’ve opted for the fancier end of the Sunday roast scale too. Served with your meat, you will traditional have roast vegetables; peas, carrots and potatoes seem to be the classics.
The most consistent joy of ordering a pub curry is the element of surprise involved, closely followed by the consistent lack of spicy heat (to suit the British tongue). Often simply listed as a ‘curry’ with rice, this pub lunch could be made of Indian-ish spices, Keen’s mustard curry powder or almost anything in between. Rest assured though, it will be warm and filling.
Among my favourite London pub meals is the Ploughman’s Lunch, a selection of British deli treats served on a wooden board. It is widely believed that the name ‘Ploughman’s Lunch’ originated as a description of just that, a lunch served to workers. On your board you could find all manner of delicious things, including English cheeses (Red Leicester, Double Gloucester or vintage cheddar perhaps), pickled delights (maybe gerkins and onions), mild cold meats and some bread to pull it all together. This lunch is best enjoyed with a pint of ale in hand.