IS British food really as bad as the rumors make it out to be?
July 12, 2011 10:08 PM   Subscribe

IS British food really as bad as the rumors make it out to be?

This is really a bit of a fractured question, and yes I do realize that we are talking about subjective taste and not objective fact.

So then...

A. Is British food really as bad as they say?

B. If I was to go shopping at a supermarket there and cook things I like would the foodstuffs themselves prevent success?

C. We were watching the hilarious new Steve Coogan film The Trip last night (the genesis of this askme) and the restaurants they toured in Northern England served incredible looking food. Would this food also be not very good?

A naive and provincial question this is, believe me I know, but I'm very curious.
posted by Senor Cardgage to Food & Drink (73 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
A. It's just they don't use many spices or succulent flavorings. People from areas that use more (ie; all not british people) find the food bland because of this.

B. No issues here, though fruits that grow well in warm weather ( citrus, peppers, etc) are harder to find in fresh and delicious form.

C. See A, it's not bad though
posted by oblio_one at 10:20 PM on July 12, 2011

No. This is a tired old stereotype spouted by xenophobes who haven't experienced English food in years.

It's true that food in Britain was pretty damned awful until the seventies (at least). This was, in large part, due to the hangover from the cold, bleak years of WWII and the years of austerity that followed. During WWII Britain's food was heavily rationed and the palette was extremely limited. My parents' generation grew up with a very restricted and Spartan outlook on food and this, leavened with some isolationist island xenophobia (garlic is funny foreign muck, etc)created a culture in which food was little more than bland sustenance. Eating out was a shameful extravagance.

Things started to improve in the eighties as a younger generation started to travel routinely, especially to Europe, and as wealth increased. The influx and improvement in foreign cuisine (especially Indian) also improved matters and heightened expectations. By the nineties, serious improvements were underway. Nowadays, people who actually know what they're talking about know that Britain (especially, but by no means exclusively, London) is one of the best foodie destinations in the world and we have more than our share of Michelin-starred chefs.

This is a brief summary of a much longer and more comprehensive post I could write but I have to dash off to work. It's a hot button of mine, though, so I needed to get something down! So, in summary:

A. No

B. No

c: No
posted by Decani at 10:20 PM on July 12, 2011 [32 favorites]

A. No

B. Yes, depending on the market. Just like in the US there are some markets with sub-par foods, but they're pretty much the same overall as the US.

C. I have not seen the film, but I have eaten amazing food all over the UK. The stereotypical "bad" British food is being reinterpreted by modern chefs with more flavor and seasoning now, and there's tons of variety in restaurants there.
posted by bedhead at 10:21 PM on July 12, 2011

Er, my answer to B was wrong because I read your question wrong. No, the foodstuffs would not prevent you creating delicious meals.
posted by bedhead at 10:23 PM on July 12, 2011

It used to be true. When I frat visited the UK in early 1980s, the only decent food was still pub dishes, Indian, and high tea. But that is far from true these days. The UK went through a foodie revolution and is now a fabulous place to shop for food, and eat out. It is also much more ethnically diverse, which enhances the wonderfully varied and delicious food choices.
posted by bearwife at 10:23 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can find very good food in London, but what I would consider a pretty nice 40/per person meal in N.y.c came out to about 65pounds! per person in the Bermondsy neighborhood.(as with any city, you can find deals, but I did find that if you walked in expecting US style service and quality for equivalent prices you would be sorely dissapointed. Extremely dissapointed. Also they had commercials for non-spicy mexican food- food was definitely milder overall.) If you have an expense account, hit up Joel Robuchon (L'altelier, best meal of my life!)

Supermarkets are subsidized, and my god the butter is marvelous(and cheap! So cheap!). I found supermarkets to be pretty well stocked with good quality produce and meat. I cooked for myself while on business there- as it was a fraction of the cost of eating out.

If you want good hearty pubfood, I preferred it in the countryside (fresh crisp country air makes a roast and ale infinitely better), but in the countryside, that was really your only option(so I could see how I can get boring). In london city proper I never found an *awesome* place for traditional food.
posted by larthegreat at 10:24 PM on July 12, 2011

Paul Krugman: "And then things changed". A life-long Londoner, I think Krugman's perspective is fairly good. The transformation in the last 15-20 years is extraordinary and that applies to the supermarkets too. Visiting USian friends and relatives are always surprised by the quality and variety in a branch of Waitrose etc.
posted by Dan Brilliant at 10:25 PM on July 12, 2011

Yes and no. Every British household I've been in boils veggies to mush, but I think that's more to do with age bracket than being British. Young, urban types probably have kitchens stocked with Nigella Lawson cookbooks, and do quite well and "good" food.

Supermarkets there have roughly the same selection as everywhere in the 1st world; global economy and all that.

The typically-British dishes are on the bland side, but they're still tasty. Disclaimer: Me mum's British (and turns veggies to mush....)
posted by amoeba syndrome at 10:25 PM on July 12, 2011

No, British food is great. You can't beat traditional British meals when you're actually hungry and British puddings reign supreme. There's also a huge range of foreign food which has been adopted by the natives, not least the excellent Indian restaurants everywhere. British supermarkets have a huge selection of everything as well and there's dedicated shops for anything you could wish for. Steve Coogan is a comedian by the way.
posted by joannemullen at 10:25 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I mean I'm a life-long Londoner. You know what I mean...
posted by Dan Brilliant at 10:26 PM on July 12, 2011

Pub food still betrays a deep lack of understanding of what food is about, though. "This thing vaguely resembles a soup. What could I do with it? I know, let's just throw in a pound of butter!"
posted by dhoe at 10:34 PM on July 12, 2011

On the contrary, British food is generally very good. Where I live, Shropshire ( a predominantly rural county), there is no shortage of good places to eat out, even in small towns and villages. British supermarkets may not be as good as say, French supermarkets, but it's possible to buy quality ingredients with which to cook your own meals. And there are delicatessens, farm shops and other places to buy quality ingredients in most of the smallest towns round here. Obviously I may just be particularly lucky and perhaps other parts if the country are not so well served.
I think it was always possible to eat well in Britain but it's definitely become easier - my family always ate well, so I don't know how far back it goes, but there's been a real upsurge of interest in food in recent years. There's still plenty of poor quality food around too, but in my experience the key thing is choice.
posted by kumonoi at 10:39 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites] really depends...there's good food to be had in england (keyword to look for: gastro pub), but also, yeah, some downright horrors. particularly in the breakfast arena. unless you like your sausage, eggs, and toast with half a can of nice, vomity baked beans poured on top. also, they will put parts of animals in a pie that you did not even want to know existed.
but england only takes 2nd place for worst food i've had overseas...the winner would have to be amsterdam...imagine 1000 years of 'fusion cuisine' allowed to get really incestuous and inbred. deep-fried gravy, anyone? no? it comes with yellow mustard....
posted by sexyrobot at 10:44 PM on July 12, 2011

A. No.
B. No.
C. Maybe.

Food quality is relative. I'd say the UK has better food than the US or Northern or Central Europe in general but worse than Italy, Spain or France.

Presuming you're an American you might want to see what foreigners think of American food, which is often not good. US food is not that bad though and is improving.
posted by sien at 10:46 PM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

No, there is tonnes of great british food in restaurants, and tonnes of great produce in british groceries stores imported from just about everywhere. This doesn't preclude bad food; bad food is everywhere, but it's not higher in the UK.

It is expensive, however. At least for an American, or an Australian. Both restaurant food, meat, and fresh produce. Noticeably more expensive for the quality comparably.
posted by smoke at 10:48 PM on July 12, 2011

A truly flippant answer: given that the national dish of Britain is now curry, the answer to A. is no.
posted by Hactar at 10:48 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Assuming English breakfasts and meat pies are English, than I have nothing bad to say about English food. The English breakfast is a wonder.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:52 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

What everyone else said about the quality of British food, and the diversity beyond "traditional" -- not that there's anything wrong with Shepherd's pie, but then I'm a meat n potatoes girl myself -- but when I lived in England there was this amazing thing. You could buy boneless skin-on chicken breasts! Here in the US it seems we have either the whole shebang with chicken, or boneless skinless. With boneless skin on, you can cook up your chicken simply, remove the skin and it's still juicy.

Sorry for the essay but I still miss that chicken!
posted by sweetkid at 10:52 PM on July 12, 2011

A) Well, I cook a lot of English food at home, and I think it's quite good. However, eating at restaurants in England was, for me, a mixed bag. I had mostly wonderful English food; and rarely really heavy, bland, unlovely English food. Places friends pointed us to were always good. The disappointing meals were in hotels (where I ate exclusively fried bread and stewed tomatoes at breakfast), or places we ate in desperation.

B) You'll be able to cook well shopping in supermarkets. The staples are all as good or better than we get here, except perhaps if you are used to a California selection of fruit and veg.

C) I doubt it. Awesome English restaurants are awesome. Really, there's nothing inherently wrong with ingredients there. There are plenty of Americans I've known that cook vegetables to mush* and use nothing but salt as seasoning and eat everything out of cans. Nothing makes me sadder than having to eat food from an American chain restaurant because it is all so crappy. I'm a picky Californian who has pretty high thresholds of edibility, yet on the whole I ate very well in England.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:54 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

The British food tradition is also built around home cooking, particularly slow-cooking, and things that may have worked well in the old chop-house, or to some degree in the greasy spoon, weren't really suited for restaurants. Or most pubs.

The French have long lunches in bistros which are like opening up one's kitchen to the neighbours; the British have the Pret sandwich -- or worse, the Ginsters pastie -- because taking time over lunch is considered a bit dirty.

But anyway: three noes. And L'Enclume in Cartmel, one of the places where Coogan and Brydon ate, is truly glorious.
posted by holgate at 10:56 PM on July 12, 2011

I used to live in the Uk. Fresh vegetables and fruit were relatively expensive, but the quality was alright - good lamb and yummy back bacon were cheap and better quality than in Canada.

Cheese is substantially better in the UK than in the US and Canada - the cheapest store brand Chedder (Sainsbury's Basics) was the same quality medium-expensive cheddar here.

The sausages were so good - and the pastys, and sausage rolls, and pork pies. Black pudding, haggis, Scotch meat pies - oh, they are all so good! And there is this ham you can only get in Lincolnshire called "chine" that has been stuffed with parsley - heavenly, and I'm not even that fond of parsley.

I haven't even started thinking about the fish and chips, or chips and curry.

Or sticky toffee pudding with warm custard.

Or the best strawberries I have ever eaten, or elderflower cordial (better known as the preferred drink of fairy queens and gods), made from elderflowers we picked ourselves.

tea, scones, clotted cream.

even the store brand coffee was better than here.

If I had stayed in Britain, I would be as huge as a house, but so very, very happy about it.
posted by jb at 11:00 PM on July 12, 2011 [10 favorites]

That said, the donuts were usually pretty bad, and they couldn't make a decent poutine (runny gravy is just all wrong). So there are a few foods that are better in Canada.
posted by jb at 11:01 PM on July 12, 2011

I've also had shepherd's pie and beef wellington. Both utterly delicious.

I've heard jokes about boiled eel and eel pie. How do they taste? I like Japanese eel.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:02 PM on July 12, 2011

English mum and grandparents, and I grew up with some pretty dull traditional food, especially when my mum went low fat. The comfort food was awesome though, cauliflower cheese anyone?

I was in England a couple of years ago, and had consistently awesome food. There's a noticeable emphasis on local food ("Those sausages were from a pig down the road"), the pubs we went to had great meals, and the times we ate at people's houses we generally were served incredible roasts, followed by cheese. Mmmm.... wensleydale:)
posted by kjs4 at 11:05 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

The worst food I had in the UK last year was at an Indian restaurant. To be fair, it was on a tiny island in Scotland. But on the same island I had one of the best dishes I ate while we were there - a smoked haddock chowder that was sublime. We had a meetup at a gastro pub in London where the food was great.

I loved in England for a while when I was a kid, in the 70s, and yes, the food has vastly, vastly improved.
posted by rtha at 11:13 PM on July 12, 2011

I spent three weeks in Sligo (NW Repub of Ireland) in the mid-1990s, and I'm sure the food there was extremely similar to English food. It was, as others have said, a mixed bag. Desserts and cream teas were fantastic--apple tart with clotted cream, scones with jam, etc. Breakfasts were great (minus the baked beans--I just don't get the baked beans on toast, but I've been broiling tomatoes with my fryups at home ever since). Pub food was great--just don't order a hamburger (mad cow disease was rampant, and hamburgers were cardboardlike frozen patties imported from who knew where). Some of the best butter and cheese I've ever had, and fried fish and smoked salmon on brown bread were delicious.

But I had dinner in a few of the "good" restaurants in town and was disappointed by how overcooked and tasteless the food was. The Irish and the British know how to make tea properly, but I could never seem to get a decent cup of coffee. But I'll bet things have vastly improved.

Then again, there are some parts of the U.S. where restaurant food is similarly awful, such as poor, rural areas where everything is deep-fried and served with fries and canned vegetables floating in margarine, and pretentious restaurants where atmosphere takes precedence over cuisine. And American cooking of the 50s and 60s was probably just as bad as British cooking, maybe worse, as it relied so heavily on processed foods.
posted by tully_monster at 11:14 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

First man announces "I'm British." Second man asks "What are you boiling for dinner?"

When I lived in London, I observed Britain as unfortunately as depressingly modern as any other country when it comes to food. (No small thanks to the EU.) With exception for the name on the milk and a few other items, the shelves at Sainsbury and Waitrose and Asda and Tesco - and the local greengrocer - are filled with the same stuff you find everywhere else in the world. Of restaurants and specialty food shops the choice and variety was endless. The best and worst of everything.
posted by three blind mice at 11:48 PM on July 12, 2011

"British supermarkets are subsidized"

They are? I grew up in the UK and never heard any mention of that. Can someone clarify if it's true and if so how?
posted by crabintheocean at 11:52 PM on July 12, 2011

A relevant aside:

I was listening to a radio programme on multiculturalism the other day, and an Asian immigrant was describing the reaction to cooking smells from his kitchen. In the 1970s when he arrived English neighbours would complain of the stink, and now they compliment him on the lovely aroma.
posted by nja at 12:04 AM on July 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

When I lived in London I found supermarkets to be fine but eating out to be really disappointing. Admittedly we didn't have a lot of money to spend but even take away was much worse than what I was used to and comparitively expensive. For example, I love fish and chips. In Australia, from my local chippery I would expect a range of fish and methods of buying it (raw, grilled, battered etc), fresh chips made in store (from potatoes and to order, not out of a freezer bag or warmer) and burgers with the lot made from fresh ingredients and store-made fresh meat patties. Thats pretty much standard even from the not fantastic local I go to now. Every single fish and chip place I went to in London (and Edinburgh, to be fair) had frozen batttered fish, frozen chips and bought frozen 'meat' patties. They all used warmers to keep the food for longer as well.

I live in Melbourne though and we are spoilt for eating out for the whole range of prices and styles.
posted by Wantok at 12:08 AM on July 13, 2011

British supermarkets are subsidized

No they aren't. He might be referring to supermarkets using loss-leaders to get people in the doors (e.g. bread sold for less than it costs to make).
posted by devnull at 12:18 AM on July 13, 2011

I grew up eating English working class food in the 1970s and 1980s, and with hindsight I can say it was pretty poor overall (sorry mum) - very bland, with a limited variety of very overcooked vegetables. It must have been even worse in the 1950s and 1960s. It would not have been unfair to criticise British food. Thinking about it has just put me off my breakfast.

However, some things such as cheese, beer and bread, were almost certainly better than typical American equivalents even then. I'm amused by how many British people visit America and return to mention how great the food was except for the cheese.

Nowadays things are much better but not great, although I've become a vegan food snob so my perspective is a bit skewed... There's a general lack of enthusiasm for food quality rather than food cheapness. We have some truly excellent curry though.

Ingredients in supermarkets are fine. Most of us don't know how to cook with it, but the raw food itself is not to blame. There are many small Indian, Middle-eastern, Chinese and African grocery shops.

British agriculture is heavily subsidised and supermarkets use loss-leaders, but supermarkets themselves are not directly subsidised.
posted by BinaryApe at 12:50 AM on July 13, 2011

I also don't have much time this morning but I'd like to say that I'm a bit food-obsessed. I moved from San Francisco to London three years ago. A quick answer to your questions:

A. Is British food really as bad as they say?

No, absolutely not. Food in the UK is amazing. Fresh, tasty, local.
You can get horrible meals in London if you don't know what you are doing but thats true of many places.

B. If I was to go shopping at a supermarket there and cook things I like would the foodstuffs themselves prevent success?

If anything, the ingredients at supermarkets are far above what I was used to in the US. Especially the Waitrose supermarket chain.

C. We were watching the hilarious new Steve Coogan film The Trip last night (the genesis of this askme) and the restaurants they toured in Northern England served incredible looking food. Would this food also be not very good?

One of the best meals I've had in my life was at a pub in the UK. Its called The Sportsman.
Mind you, my wife and I have planned eating vacations in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
posted by vacapinta at 1:19 AM on July 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

1. No

But to expand a bit on a personal theory....

I think that British food to Americans (and American food to Brits) falls into a culinary uncanny valley. Just different enough to be outside the comfort zone, but too similar to be considered a completely new experience.
posted by primer_dimer at 1:22 AM on July 13, 2011 [9 favorites]

I moved to the UK a few years ago from a place where all food is still seasonal. I've also lived in the US. Also, I live in London and have no intention of living elsewhere. I plan many of my holidays around great food.

A. Is British food really as bad as they say?

Depends. If you ate at my inlaws you would say no, but they are cosmopolitan Londoners who do not do the meat and two veg thing. Most people - yes. You still get boiled leeks (why? why? why?), but on the whole I understand things have improved dramatically. Very boiled carrots are well on their way out, just as jelly salads are no longer a staple on US tables (I hope).

B. If I was to go shopping at a supermarket there and cook things I like would the foodstuffs themselves prevent success?

No. On the whole the quality of produce tends to be better than that which I found in US supermarkets. The meat, fish and cheese are all better. The local and seasonal produce is also better. The non-seasonal and exotic stuff is about the same (but at least my local supermarket, Waitrose, is good about labelling origins). Nothing I find in the supermarket, except the intensely local, is as flavoursome as in Pakistan. Bananas in the UK and US alike make me cry.

This quality of produce means that native British cooking can be superb if done well. If the elements are perfectly cooked, the quality of local meats and vegetables really stand on their own.

C. We were watching the hilarious new Steve Coogan film The Trip last night (the genesis of this askme) and the restaurants they toured in Northern England served incredible looking food. Would this food also be not very good?

Yes and no. There are a scattering of superb restaurants, gastropubs, etc, many of which do brilliant things with local ingredients, modern techniques, etc. Just this weekend I had something I thought was not possible: a delicious lamb suet pudding -- previously the stuff of Enid Blyton inspired nightmares.

However, you will not find delicious food everywhere or even in most places. This is unlike in Pakistan, for instance, where even trucker rest stops will have a delicious daal with naan cooked to order. I think this difference between the US/UK and Pakistan is partly (though not completely) the result of industrialisation. Nothing has done more damage to Pakistani tea (for instance) than the introduction of UHT milk and Lipton tea bags and I fear the decline is imminent.
posted by tavegyl at 1:24 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's possible to find horrible food in Britain if you try hard.

In particular, many fish and chip shops, local "Chinese" takeaways and downmarket pubs sell terrible food. In the supermarket, visiting the ready meal section or the "turkey twizzler" section in the freezer aisle will nearly guarantee awful results.

Also, many people who grew up during the war are still cooking like they did in the war, and that isn't pleasant. But you don't get any of that in restaurants.

Current British food trends are also a bit recession-based - lots of emphasis on local food and "nose to tail" eating - but this time we haven't sacrificed the food quality or the flavour along the way.

Here's a menu from my local trendy eatery.
posted by emilyw at 1:29 AM on July 13, 2011

A. Is British food really as bad as they say?

It depends what you are looking at. Based on my (limited) experience and 2nd hand experience of fellow Brits who travel a lot:
* Our beef is pretty rubbish compared to Aussie or Kiwi beef, and probably US beef. Our lamb is fantastic.
* The Mexican food you'll find here is nothing like American Mexican (but possibly close to Mexican Mexican), but our Indian food is an order of magnitude hotter than anything in the states.
* Cheese is fantastic.
* We believe that mustard should contain more than just yellow.
* Imported veggies are often a poor imitation, but that's not a British thing, that's an importing thing. If you're going to ship things a long way, you want resilience, not perfect flavour. I challenge anyone to find a ripe avocado in a supermarket over here. Smaller specialist stores do quite nicely though. I'm sure it's the same elsewhere.

The point is that LocationX isn't the same as LocationY, and food will be different there. Not better or worse automatically, but it will be different.

Yes, in the distant past, English food was heavy, energy rich and bland. The same is true of everywhere at this lattitude.

Yes, in the more recent past (WW2-1980s), we had a strange mentality that said you had to enjoy eating scrappy food.

Both of these are gone. Prawn cocktail is no longer the height of cool food, and you don't need to go to a chemist to buy olive oil any more.

Food habits change faster than stereotypes.

B. If I was to go shopping at a supermarket there and cook things I like would the foodstuffs themselves prevent success?

If you buy crap ingredients, you get crap food. Buy good stuff, you get good food.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 1:56 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Our beef is pretty rubbish compared to Aussie or Kiwi beef

Then you're buying the wrong beef. British beef is generally grass-fed and reared to far higher welfare and quality standards than in the US and most other places. Buy your beef from a supermarket and you're buying the bare-minimum-quality beef the chain can negotiate from their suppliers. Buy your beef from a decent farm shop (I have at least three of these nearby, and I'm on the edge of a major city) and you'll pay more, but they'll be able to tell you the breed of cattle, how long the beef was aged, and probably even suggest a few recipes. And the good, local, traditionally smoked bacon is world-class. Don't get me started on how good the sausages are or I'll write an essay.

Like any country, you have to look to its strengths. In the UK, there's almost no good Mexican food. On the other hand, you won't find better Indian/Pakistani food outside those countries than you will in the UK. Chinese food, like most Chinese food outside China, isn't really Chinese food. As others have implied, the UK has seen a resurgence of interest in fine cooking in the last 20 years, and even traditionally bland foods (roast dinners, mashed potato, sausages, pies) have been refined and improved to the point where very talented chefs can construct menus of British food that compare favourably with anything in Europe. You only have to consider the popularity of MasterChef on British television to see how important good food has become in the UK.

But don't, whatever you do, shop at Iceland.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:44 AM on July 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

Jeez, what a cliched stereotype. You forgot to ask about the teeth.

A.As bad as who says? People who think Austin Powers was a documentary?

B. Depends what you like, if you do your shopping in a supermarket then to be honest you probably don't understand all that much about buying food anyway.

C. No, in restaurants here (I'm English) presentation enhances well prepared quality ingredients, it is not a subsititute for those things.

Apologies for the tone but this kind of question deserves a flippant answer.
posted by epo at 2:46 AM on July 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

you may find some answers here, here, and here, courtesy of Anthony Bourdain.
posted by frmrpreztaft at 2:58 AM on July 13, 2011

I'm an American who has lived in London for 8 years now, and I think Primer_dimer's uncanny valley theory is spot on.

Just to expand on it: you can get most of the same foods in the US and the UK. But the foods that the US does well are often different from the ones the UK does well. If you grow up in the US, you get used to having delicious bagels and ice cream; when you come to the UK, and try randomly selected examples of those food, you get disappointed, and you conclude the Brits have bad food.

Britain, meanwhile, produces better tea, cheese, and beer. It's very common for Brits to express astonishment at how bad Americans are at the simple act of making tea.

As a personal example: when I first moved here, I would buy a pan au chocolat whenever I went into a pastry shop, because in my head, that was a "European" pastry. I was usually disappointed. I finally got it through my thick skull that it wasn't an English pastry, and I made millionaire's shortbread my default purchase instead. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Much, much better.
posted by yankeefog at 3:19 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

During the time I lived there (03-05) my take always was that at the very highest end the food was better than in the US, and that if you were willing to spend money at the Ginger Pigs and Jack O'Sheas of the world there were some really superlative products you don't have a shot in hell of finding in the US. When people go over there to visit quite reasonably that's what they mostly experience - and I miss that stuff a lot. Same goes with easy access to european charcuterie & cheeses - the like of which Americans generally have no idea about. Same goes for Beer. Higher-end grocery stores are also as good or better than what we have here. (Considering Waitrose vs Whole Foods)

That's the good news. Once you get out of the high-end though the whole thing pretty much falls apart. Much much harder to find good casual places, 3 years of consistently mediocre work lunches. Pre-packaged pre-made sandwiches that come in aseptic containers from huge commissaries made days ago, etc, etc. Really its pretty horrible. (yes, yes there are exceptions - but really there is a lot more required knowledge to eat reasonably then there is in the US). I mean Pret-A-Manger is a step up in terms of freshness over there!!

Casual restaurants - London just doesn't compare to big cities in the US - its what the US does incredibly well. This is also partially because of the approach to socializing there as well. Much much more likely to go out for a bunch of beers at the pub (and maybe a boozy dinner after) then you would be to meet friends for a meal. Ugh I had so many overpriced average- meals.

Sainsbury - the upper middle supermarket pales in comparison to what its competition in the US looks like (To be far some of this is due to real estate limitations)

American Tourists love to talk about "The glories of the english breakfast" - I used to live around the corner from a Caf that was fetishized by the sort that is nostalgic for that sort of thing. They always managed to produce gray ham and bacon. It was quite an accomplishment. Its a lot of grease and fat to line the stomach post binge. Don't get me wrong - I love a good binge as much as the next guy - but good lord - the cheap green bacon . This is the country that almost had to stop calling its mass produced sausages "Sausages" because of the % of filler.

So basically if you are rich, "The Trip" rings true, if you are on any sort of a budget at well its much more grim than that.
posted by JPD at 4:04 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Then you're buying the wrong beef. British beef is generally grass-fed and reared to far higher welfare and quality standards than in the US and most other places.

I can't argue with you on the raising or the welfare because I have no experience of either in any location.

But for flavour and texture, from supermarkets and from restaurants, I'm sticking firmly with Kiwi or Aussie beef over UK beef. And, yes, I'm a country lad who prefers muying meat direct from the farms. I can recommend pork and sheep (lamb or mutton) farms in my area. I've never been able to do that with any of the beef farms.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 4:08 AM on July 13, 2011

Brit here-
No, no, and no. By contrast, I always associate the US with not very good food. Re-inforced by a recent question on here that seemed to indicate you don't know how to make muffins that are clearly distinguishable from cupcakes. And I love muffins. So I suppose it depends what you like to eat. You might miss good bagels and particularly American foods, whereas if I was in the US I'd miss muffins, good cheddar (I hate plastic cheese), scones, self-raising flour, and various other things I take for granted here.

Yes, some takeaways and cafes will be horrible. But cheap takeaways everywhere are horrible!

Short Answer: It's no worse than food in the US, but other european countries probably have better.
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:24 AM on July 13, 2011

that's hilarious. I really like British baked goods and desserts - but I find the muffins absolutely terrible.

(you do know self-raising flour is nothing more than flour + baking powder? Also we have it in the US, the south especially)
posted by JPD at 4:36 AM on July 13, 2011

But cheap takeaways everywhere are horrible!

nope. English takeaways are another level of horror from any place I have ever been.
posted by JPD at 4:37 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Casual restaurants - London just doesn't compare to big cities in the US - its what the US does incredibly well.

This is a good example of what yankeefog talked about in terms of looking for things that don't really exist. I had never even heard the term 'casual dining' until a couple of years ago and I still have only the faintest idea of what it means. It just isn't a category in the UK, but there are different foodie slots that probably overlap.

The curry: if pre-pub there are superb options in every city I've visited (some remarkably cheap) and if post-pub then the cheapo curry factories are often surprisingly good.

The pub: Most just microwave Brake Bros packets, but there are plenty of excellent gastropubs (along with some overpriced chancers) and also a decent number of pubs that do some home-cooking or specialise in a particular local product.

Various ethnic options: See here
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:38 AM on July 13, 2011

Of course if you go to random cheap nasty takeaways you'll get bad food. But try going to a cheap Indian restaurant or a fish and chip place that you've read reviews of online or had a person recommendation for and you will definitely get great food.

I'm an American living in Britain. The food here is really good and I find the produce to be fresher and consequently better-tasting than what you get in the US. There are many fabulous restaurants here as well. Jay Rayner is very good at ferreting them out so look through his reviews for guidance.

I do enjoy going back to the States to eat just because I enjoy the higher fat content in the food there as an occasional treat - southwestern cheese dip and the like from my favourite southwestern restaurant, to give one example, is unheard of in the UK.

British food is far better for vegetarians like me than American food is in general, though.
posted by hazyjane at 4:40 AM on July 13, 2011

The only one I will go against the grain about is the availability of foodstuffs. If you're coming from America like me, I have had difficulty procuring the following, which has made me very sad at times:

- Really good avocados, but I was spoiled growing up in California
- Fire roasted tomato
- Orzo pasta (seriously, I had a friend bring me a bag when she came to visit)
- Italian sausage (you know, the hot kind. It's very weird to me that I can't find this and it's really had on my meatball game.)
- Basically any Mexican food ingredients (poblano chillis, tomatillos, *good* flour tortillas, *good* corn tortillas)
- French's fried onions, which I only miss at Thanksgiving

But it's totally fine because "British" food (which is SOOO broad it's kind of hard to even say what that is) is more than palatable. Roast dinners, trifle, bannoffee pie, cockaleekie soup, black pudding, square sausages, baps, it's all gooooooood. It's just like any other food, there are definitely bad executions being served all around but they are not inherently "not good".

Besides, it's all relative. If I moved back to the states, I would moan the unavailability of Tetley's tea and good cheap cheddar cheese.

On preview: I LOVE a takeaway from here, particularly Indian and Chinese. You just gotta find your go-to neighborhood joint.
posted by like_neon at 4:41 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're missing the point of the naive stereotype in the first place: British food isn't supposed to be crap, British cuisine is. There you have more of a point but it instantly rules out 2 and 3 - the ingredients are fine, it depends what you do with them and quality British restaurants rarely cook British cuisine.
posted by turkeyphant at 4:54 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Casual restaurants - London just doesn't compare to big cities in the US - its what the US does incredibly well.

This is a good example of what yankeefog talked about in terms of looking for things that don't really exist.

Casual dining = seated restaurants that aren't aiming at michelin stars. Its the term you are unfamiliar with, not that the concept doesn't exists. And in this category London is hands town at the bottom of the table of global cities.
posted by JPD at 5:08 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I traveled around some of the big European cities a few years ago, I was really only disappointed with food in London. In my low-end/student price range, I though food in London was overpriced and unappetizing. Now Paris on the other hand...
posted by Durin's Bane at 5:27 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Its the term you are unfamiliar with, not that the concept doesn't exists.

Yeah, the concept exists to some degree: Beefeater, Harvester, Frankie and Benny's, even Nando's, instead of the scarily-popular Olive Garden, Applebee's, Ryan's and TGIF. But I really like the uncanny-valley theory here: it's not a like-for-like in terms of function and clientele.
posted by holgate at 5:33 AM on July 13, 2011

like_neon - they have Tetley's Tea in the states - but you want to pay extra for the British Blend (the regular is more like Lipton's).
posted by jb at 5:50 AM on July 13, 2011

New Zealander living in London. Lived here 97-01 and 08-now. Some thoughts:

*The top end is fine, but very expensive. All English restuarant food is more expensive than in the US, but the US is generally cheap for restaurant food (it's cheaper than NZ, for example).

*The middle is improving. There are plenty of places to get good quality meals at a reasonable price - gastropubs, casual restaurants. Again, more expensive than the US, but not bad and getting better.

* Takeaways and very casual food aren't great. I'm thinking things like kebabs, pizzas, fish and chips. Much, much better in NZ or Australia. There are exceptions, but the majority of random takeaway places are not good. Also, the English don't really get cafes. This is thankfully changing due to the influence of Australian and New Zealand cafe owners (seriously: Time Out's 'Best cafes in London' guide was 25% Aussie/Kiwi). The full English breakfast is a great idea that can be amazing, or terrible. Most places that you go to will charge you £3-4 for beans on toast and a few mangy sausages, but there are better options out there. The US, I think, does low-end/street food better (think po'boys, philly cheesesteaks, etc).

* Tourists are likely to encounter the worst of English food: most of the food places near tourist attractions are rubbish (this applies in most cities, as far as I can tell). There are plenty of good places to eat where I live, but tourists have no reason to go there.

* Overall, food here probably isn't as good as say Barcelona or Melbourne or Italy - certainly for low-end food.
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:50 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to find spectacularly bad British food these days then you will have to search for it. Some possible places to look:

1. The sticks: Somewhere like the extreme north of Scotland is remote enough to be beyond the reach of the mainstream food supply network. Yes there may be some fantastic fish and game - but there are many locals who seem to subsist on things in cans.
2. *Cheap* restaurants and work canteens: Bonus point if you can order the carbo ultimate mix of pasta with chips and cheese.
3. The old: Sometimes. As others have mentioned things have changed a lot in the last 30 years. When I was very young the only place where one could buy olive oil locally was the chemist - as a means of cleaning our your ears.
4. The poor: filling up with sugar and cheap carbs is just as popular in the UK as it is in other western countries.

Each country has its own prejudices about what comprises a good meal and that makes an objective judgement hard. My American wife criticises many British restaurants for poor customer service and my French neighbours completely fail to see the point of eating anything other than an espresso and a tartine for breakfast.
posted by rongorongo at 6:23 AM on July 13, 2011

I think David Mitchell has a good take on British food.
posted by klausness at 7:51 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Lived in London and spent a year just reading about British food and cuisine. British food was once renowned in Europe during the Renaissance and even into the 18th century. Of special note was the dairy and meat preparations.

The reputation for bad food occurred during the Industrialization period and Britain being in the forefront of canned foods and other industrial preservation methods got to be the cuisine canary in the coal mine. Then compounding the stereotype was the privations of two world wars and economic downturns.

Britain has been in a cuisine rebirth with the influx of immigrants and more available wealth and options. You are seeing the return of traditional dishes but done with the original intent of freshness and technique. Fish and chips, for example, may seem super simple but anything simple relies on the ingredients to the Nth degree. Roast beef is another example, just a joint of meat and some spicing but as many can attest, it can go horribly wrong.

In my time in London, I observed the following:

* The high end was great. But seriously, the high end in ANY country will be great. I felt at times that the British have more to prove and may be more ambitious;

* Traditional British food gets a bad rap, but I liked it when it is done well with care and fresh ingredients. But you can say that about any local food. An example is the discussion you will get on the superior bratwurst preparation in the midwest. Lord knows, I had some bad cafe experiences eating the Full English where the food was prepared from tins or packs, but again you can get that in the US (protip: be cautious of a place if the SYSCO truck keeps unloading 7/8 prepped food);

* I make a point of going grocery shopping in every country and location I travel. On the average, I would say that the supermarkets of California and larger metropolitan areas of the US were better for fruit and veg BUT the British have better meat options with guineau fowl and other game meats that I would need to have connections to acquire here in the US;

* I really enjoyed having a local butcher and I am sad to see that in decline;

* As mentioned above there is missing or stunted segment in the UK for middle expense restaurants. Something analogous to the bistro in France where it is casual, cost effective and delicious (but even in France, the bistro is in decline). There are available chains such as, Wagamama, Nando's, Walkabout (an insult to Aussie cuisine) but not as plentiful as I expected;

* Things I adored in Britain: meat pies; my butcher, dairy products in particular, cheese and butter, access to game meats and charcuterie, hard rolled sandwiches, salt beef, sausages (done by people who care), British sweet treats like eccles cakes and shortbread, duck eggs; non-industrial eggs, a good high tea;

* It is less expensive to eat well in the US than UK;

* farmers markets are better in the US, generally. To be honest, I thought Burrough Market was great BUT for such a large Metro area I was surprised it was not open more than a few days;

* I lived in northern California so I am very spoiled in my bread so British bread could be hit or miss but no one really beats a bacon bap or roll with the right meat

So, like all things it is hit or miss. I am sure that if you did not know about finding good food in a locale you would think any location has meh food.
posted by jadepearl at 7:57 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Its funny cause I think of the USA food as being really horrible, mass produced crap with terrible meat but that I fidn British is quite good and they care abotu the quality of their meat and produce (although the Thai food is generally shit ;)
posted by mary8nne at 9:53 AM on July 13, 2011

Brit living in the USA here. Another thing you'll notice is the much smaller portions in Britain. In California, if I order takeout from an Indian, Chinese, or Thai restaurant, I can make it into dinner and lunch. Ditto if I'm in a restaurant -- entrees are enormous. In England, you might just about fill up on a main course and not have any leftovers.

The first curry I ever ate was a boil-in-the-bag affair from the good people at Vesta. When I had my second curry from Mughal Palace down the road, well -- that was a revelation.

And whatever Bill Hicks says, we Brits don't boil pizza.
posted by vickyverky at 10:15 AM on July 13, 2011

OP - I would strongly advise you to put more weight on the replies that come from Brits or those who have lived here for at least a year, than on those that come from folk who have been here once or twice. There are a number of sadly predictable misrepresentations and outdated views on display in some (but thankfully, by no means all) of the other replies.

I'm thinking particularly of the "boiling to mush" and "I haven't actually been ro England but it's probably like an entirely different country that's close" sort of comments. Trust me, this does not reflect the modern reality.
posted by Decani at 10:29 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

On the other hand, I would advise you to take the opinions of defensive Brits with a grain of salt, too. While it's true that British food is not as dire as it may have been 30 years ago, it's also not as wondrous as some have been suggesting. As several people have mentioned, if you're willing to pay a lot, you can have some really good meals. But in a more sane price range, good food is significantly more difficult to find (though it does exist) – see David Mitchell's rant in my link above. There really isn't anything here that's comparable to a French bistro.

As for food in supermarkets, the quality is about as good as you can expect given the distance that a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables have to travel. Apparently, there was a time when olive oil was only available at chemists' (for use in treating earaches), but now many of the better supermarkets will carry a dozen different kinds.
posted by klausness at 10:52 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and by the way, that Mitchell rant is pure trolling, and a very long way from the truth.
posted by Decani at 10:54 AM on July 13, 2011

I just moved back to Canada from the UK last year (spent 4 years there in total) and I really miss the selection of food items in supermarkets.

The sheer number of choices across the supermarket landscape (Tesco's, Sainsbury and Waitrose where our main ones) eclipses what we can get here in Ottawa. There were so many ingrediants that you could find in UK supermarkets (kaffir leaves, palm sugar, good preserves, vinegars etc..) that you need to go to specialty shops to find here.

We went from eating lamb on a very regular basis to only seeing the flash frozen New Zealand lamb in supermarkets here in Canada. Very upsetting.

And I would just kill for a fresh tub of custard right about now
posted by smcniven at 11:15 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Casual dining = seated restaurants that aren't aiming at michelin stars. Its the term you are unfamiliar with, not that the concept doesn't exists.

It really doesn't exist, at least for me and the people I know. I talk about restaurants a lot with friends and family and we wouldn't think to put all non-Michelin starred restaurants into the same category - there isn't such a mental grouping. Would curry houses go in? McDonalds? Pubs with restaurants? Food-focussed cafes?

I don't think we consider 'mid-range restaurants' to be a single category. Instead, there are curry places, pizza places, pubs that serve food etc. etc. If we're going out for a mid-priced meal in a place where we don't already have a shortlist of favourite restaurants, the first question is "What do you fancy?" and then we'll agree on a type of food, followed by a hunt for a good example.

I have vaguely heard of Beefeater, Harvester and Nando's (not Frankie and Benny's), but I've never been in any of them and, having looked at their websites, I have no idea why I would want to. They look like they serve classic bad chain food delivered in refrigerated vans every Thursday morning. I imagine they are pale imitations of something that the US does well.

It's probably the case that mid-price non-ethnic dining in the UK is a weak spot, but it's a mistake to look for a 'casual dining' experience that simply isn't part of the UK culinary landscape.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 11:19 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and by the way, that Mitchell rant is pure trolling, and a very long way from the truth.

Having lived in the UK for about 5 years now (though not in London, so that may affect my perspective), I have to disagree that it's pure trolling. Of course, he's exaggerating for comic effect, but he definitely has a point, too. One thing that I noticed here up north is that half the good restaurants in town closed when the economy went bad. So people do like good food when they have plenty of disposable income, but it's the first thing to go when times get tough. Again, London may be different.

So I guess the answer to OP's question (A) is: It's not as bad as you've heard, but how good it is depends on how much you're willing to spend and what your expectations are (I'd say that if you're from a foodie place like Paris or San Francisco, you're much more likely to be disappointed than if you're from, say, Kansas).

For question (B), I'd say that decent ingredients are pretty easy to find (even here in Newcastle, unless you're looking for something obscure). Even having moved here from foodie northern California, I can't really complain too much.

For (C), I haven't seen the film, but I wouldn't be surprised if the food was as good as it looked. I haven't heard of any restaurants here that serve food that looks great but tastes like stereotypical British food.
posted by klausness at 11:28 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

OP - I would strongly advise you to put more weight on the replies that come from Brits or those who have lived here for at least a year, than on those that come from folk who have been here once or twice.

That's like me saying you should only pay attention to people from the US about US food, as if people who have just visited do not have anything relevant to say about what they've been exposed to. You've got people in this thread from several countries comparing their cuisines, and all viewpoints are valid. It's ludicrous to say that an American who lived in London has less informative answers for the OP than an English person who has visited the US (especially since many people in this thread are treating the US monolithically- the food experience in the Bay Area is not going to be the same as the food experience in Seattle, NYC, Atlanta, &c., but for the sake of simplicity people are not really getting into that. Suffice to say that produce is highly variable here, and is hard to factor in to a comparison). Most Americans in this thread are pointing out that the OP's premise is, for the most part, incorrect anyway, so I'm not actually sure what you're on about.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:38 AM on July 13, 2011

...just as jelly salads are no longer a staple on US tables (I hope)...

My wife worked in the midwest for a few years, and I'm sorry to have to report that jelly salads (or, for USians, Jello salads) are alive and well there.
posted by klausness at 11:42 AM on July 13, 2011

Not american, not british but living in England and having eaten extensively, geographically speaking:

A. No, not anymore - there is good food to be had but you have to research. It's harder to find good value places - the whole casual dining discussion above.

B. You could cook great food because the produce is really good - the dairy is amazing, for instance. The only downside I can find is that when you cook you have to take into account the hard water which can alter flavors. Good olive oil is not easy to come by but that's true of the US too.

C. There is good food at high end restaurants but it isn't a safe bet. If you read british newspaper reviews of restaurants, it can be quite infuriating as 3/4 of the review will be about how the restaurant looks, what type of people go there, how the service was and lastly there will be a short paragraph saying what they ate without elaborating much.

Having said that, the british desserts are the best in the world. You don't know what heights a dessert can reach until you've tasted sticky (homemade) toffee pudding floating in (homemade) custard. There is a reason the french call it Crème Anglaise.

As someone interested in the history of food, I've read different accounts of how british food declined beginning in the early Victorian era and also why cuisine didn't flourish like in France. The french revolution put an end to the aristocracy so the chefs had to go open restaurants to make money while the maintenance of a more strict class system in Britain prevented the "democratization" of good food.

I suspect the class system is also to blame for aristocrats importing foreign chefs - foreigners, even when they're servants, are out of the class system whereas if you hired a low class englishman to cook your meals it would be embarrassing to declare him a genius. Also, during the post-war austerity luxury foods were not rationed and the well off classes probably ate pretty well, especially the ones that were still landowners and could eat game daily. The problem seems to be that the cooking skills didn't "trickle down" once rationing was over. Keep in mind that Escoffier worked in London for 30 years or so at the beginning of the 20th century creating a number of famous recipes while at the Savoy and Carlton. So, modern french cooking was actually being developed in London.

Some other scholars blame a puritanical protestantism which would be more concerned with hygiene, nutrition and presentation rather than flavor.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 12:38 PM on July 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well I lived there for seven years and though there were plenty of exceptions - a few of them notable - I was never a great lover of British food.

Once you get out of the high-end though the whole thing pretty much falls apart. Much much harder to find good casual places, 3 years of consistently mediocre work lunches. Pre-packaged pre-made sandwiches that come in aseptic containers from huge commissaries made days ago, etc, etc. Really its pretty horrible. (yes, yes there are exceptions - but really there is a lot more required knowledge to eat reasonably then there is in the US). I mean Pret-A-Manger is a step up in terms of freshness over there!!

I agree with this completely. You can find great traditional British food by British chefs at many restaurants and gastropubs throughout the UK, but like people have mentioned, many, many generations not used to using many spices or flavorings have shaped the palate of the nation. Once you get down to casual, less expensive or takeaway food it seems like the predominant and popular themes are: little flavoring, soaked in mayo/cheese, mostly bread or deep fat fried. Mediocre work lunches was a huge frustration for me the entire time I lived there. I also don't think London is a good measuring stick for the rest of the UK. It is an incredibly large, diverse and varied city and there is much more choice in every regard than there is in pretty much every other major British city.

(This is not to say that America is so superior in any of this. We certainly have our own issues with food quality but they are very different from the UK.)

That said, there is nothing wrong with the ingredients - there is lots of great, fresh produce, as has been mentioned; I think it's just a matter of changing tastes and palates, which takes time to become more entrenched.

I will agree that the dairy products are much better, especially the cheese (American cheese is abysmal) and the desserts are sublime - sticky toffee pud, banoffee pie, arrrr......Also, the bog standard Indian and Chinese places are way better than their American counterparts.

I think traditional British food has a ton of potential and that the UK is in the midst of a food revolution of sorts as people are grasping this. I love that popular chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella are doing so much to elevate British food and in my seven years there I saw a ton of progress in the quality and choice of food and dishes in the UK. I think it's kind of exciting - I love Britain and think there's so much great potential in something that has been so traditionally maligned and I can't wait to see what the next five to ten years will bring in terms of British cuisine.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:16 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am British and have lived in London for six years, nearly. For most people - ie. not foodies, but people interested in what they eat - it's little different from the US. There are chain restaurants like Pizza Express, Nandos etc. (like 'business casual', 'casual dining' doesn't exist in the same way here), there are ready meals, there are fast food outlets, there are organic stores and huge supermarkets and more and more people are eating 'foreign food'. I'm not even sure what 'British food' is - it makes me think of things like spotted dick which nobody eats anymore.

Even in smaller cities there is a lot of choice - remember the UK has a Chinatown in many cities, has had an Asian population for a few decades now who thankfully open up many tasty curry restaurants, and in Manchester you can eat at a different country every night for a month, they say. There are sandwich chains like Pret and Eat which serve nice sandwiches (although if you are on the minimum wage, you'd have to work for an hour just to cover your lunch there. I make my own.) But at the same time there are budget, fast food chains like Greggs which serve meat in pastry - when I went to a small town in Scotland this was the main choice for food on the go. London also has an awful lot of fried chicken shops, which flourish as the food is cheap and halal - in poorer areas you won't find a gastropub but you will Chicken Cottage, Southern Fried Chicken and Dixy Chicken.

Our supermarkets are decent, too - I go to the smallish one near work and make lunches of falafel wraps, or bagels with salt-beef...though I'm not sure what a 'British lunch' is. Maybe an egg and cress sandwich?
posted by mippy at 7:10 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

To be quite honest, I haven't been very often to Britain. Decani know this stuff well and he is right: there was a foodie revolution in Britain in the late 80s and early 90s, and it was difficult to find a more food-obsessed country than pre-meltdown Britain (things may be a bit on the ebb now). Certainly, middle-class Brits care a lot more about food than most of their American counterparts.
That said, the spread in quality can be enormous, and it's true that low-end places, especially those geared to tourists, can be truly, revoltingly vile. This is also because Britain in general, and London in particular, are expensive places.
In short: British food nowadays is quite good, at least if you can afford it, or know the right places, and supermarkets are superbly stocked. Cheap eateries, however, can be a bit hit-and-miss (by a mile). In my opinion, if you want good cheap food, the place to go (quite surprisingly) is Germany. On the other hand, if you are looking for culinary hell, Holland is still pretty much where England was in the seventies.
posted by Skeptic at 1:47 PM on July 14, 2011

On this restaurant blog review I found the following paragraph, which seems to sum up my feelings on this:
If you're not a food obsessive, you won't know that just around the corner [from the Fire Station, Waterloo] is Masters Superfish or the Anchor and Hope and you'll order your crappy £10 burger and hate it and then tell all your friends that London food is rubbish. And that makes me sad.
The problem with food badness in this country is not only that it's not good, but that one can come away feeling ripped off as well. That's true, but not everywhere, and it needs research (or luck).
posted by Grangousier at 4:30 AM on July 15, 2011

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