slow blog — Eating when travelling in England

Introduction

Britain has justifiably got a reputation for poor food. This mainly due to the chain cafes and restaurants. They actually manage to be worse than American chains, which is an achievement. Only use them if you alternative is starvation, and then think carefully about it. I suggest you use or buy a copy of the Michelin Red Guide & follow their advice; but there’ll be times when you can’t do that.

If you’re staying somewhere for a while, ask the locals. You’ll soon find out the places worth visiting. Make sure you ask about local cafés as well as restaurants; a good one can give you a superb breakfast & set you up well for the day.

If you can’t follow Michelin, and you can’t ask, then your only hope of having a chance of finding edible food is to follow my advice on finding a village pub. Otherwise, you might as well have your tastebuds extracted before you visit.

The points in this guide will be useful for most of the rest of the UK too.

Chains

Avoid them. Almost all offer drivel. Chains are responsible for the appalling reputation of British food.

Little Chef

Overpriced appalling tasteless rubbish. These food is these restaurants is dire. They charge for quality, and deliver the opposite.

Hamburger chains

Low priced appalling rubbish.

KFC

Smelly low priced appalling rubbish.

Pizza Express

If there’s nothing else around, go here. These places can be worth a visit. If you’re lucky, really lucky, a jazz band might be performing.

Other Pizza chains

Not really.

Frankie & Jerry

No

Motorway Service Stations

Utterly overpriced. Not always rubbish, but never worth what you pay.

Supermarkets Cafés

If you have to eat while travelling, and don't have time to look, most towns will have a supermarket with a café.

Tesco

Avoid. They used to be cheap and cheerful, they’re now disgusting. Of course, if you like the idea of eating an egg fried three hours ago and left out on a warmer for the public to bend over…

Sainsbury’s, Morrisons

Not quite so cheap, but still cheerful. Only visit to refuel the stomach. Sainsbury’s breakfasts can be good.

Waitrose

If you can find one, you’re in luck. They can serve food that’s worth eating. It’s still mass–produced, mind, so don’t get excited.

Sandwiches etc.

Sandwiches in the UK are expensive.

Tesco

Avoid. Their sandwiches are as enjoyable as a mild headache.

Sainsbury

Avoid. Not as bad as Tesco, but not as cheap.

Morrisons

Generally avoid, but they do spring the occasionally tasty surprise, like their Bean Wrap.

Marks & Spencer

These are the guys to visit for sandwiches. They’re still mass–produced, mind, so don’t get excited.

Subway

Have their cheese salad roll (they give it some idiotic name), but hold the cheese. The cheese is inedible muck, don’t touch it. The bread is desperate and will turn to dough at the slightest opportunity, but you can’t avoid it. Their salad is crunchy and cool and the only thing worth eating.

Waitrose

Not as good as Marks & Spencer, but good. I used to love their Mozzarella Tomato and Basil sandwich, because the contents were fresh, and I like Basil, but they stopped selling them. They use interesting breads too.

Small & family run stores

Ranging from excellent to inedible. Usually inedible.

Pubs & Inns

You have two sources of information to follow: the CAMRA good beer guide, and Michelin. Both are produced without payment from publicans. Both are reliable for their specialisation: if you want good beer, follow CAMRA; if you want good food, follow Michelin. If you’ve found somewhere in both guides, stay there for at least a week. Otherwise…

New pubs

A new pub will usually be put up by a chain, and will often be full of advertising telling you how special their food is. Don’t believe a word of it. Most of their food is a packet shoved in a microwave, or is carefully prepared to taste like that. If the pub looks like it was built in the last ten years, avoid it.

Other pubs

With rare exceptions, if it’s in a town, the food won’t be worth the bother. The problem is, there's no way to tell which pubs serve good food, and which serves rubbish.

However, villages are different. Village inns can only survive by bringing people in from elsewhere. They can't sell extra drink, because of the drink driving laws, so they often have to attract people with food. If you are on a minor road, and you see a pub in a village with a fairly full car park at lunchtime, stop immediately and eat there; the chances are good the food is good. This approach doesn’t guaranteed success, but it can give you interesting discoveries, and repeating the exercise for a week with a different pub each time is the only way you can be confident that’ll you’ll eat a good meal in England.

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