Do you have a party on your mind? Do you have friends and family coming over? So, you bought the Guinnesses and the Gin-and-Tonics for the party but what is the ideal party food? Tapas, tacos or teriyaki? But, why look beyond our own shores for exciting party food options. Our very own cuisine offers a wide variety of dishes from spicy to sweet and in between. These five British foods will jazz up your guests’ moods.
It’s a warm summer’s afternoon, the rowers are splashing on the Avon, the picnic rug is set under the parasols, and the butler has just announced afternoon tea… does it get more English? We can’t all teleport back to Oxford in the 1920s, but we can experience traditional English afternoon tea through the sophisticated and delicate food tradition of high tea. No-one does a good high tea better than the English, and no high tea would be complete without those delicate, mouth-watering morsels known as tea sandwiches (along with some scones with cream and jam!). Here are our picks for the top seven English sandwich recipes to look out for.
CucumberWhen it comes to traditional English recipes, nothing gets more quaintly reminiscent of lawn bowls and afternoon tea than a perfect cucumber tea sandwich. This delicate mouthful needs to be made with care and finesse: the bread should be crustless, the cucumbers peeled and seedless, and the butter fresh and thick. Don’t even bother if they’re not freshly made, and we’re going to suggest you become a proper English tea sandwich snob and turn your nose up if they’re not cut into delicate triangles. Pass the Earl Grey, darling!
Smoked SalmonA classic for the classy, no high tea array of English tea sandwiches would be complete without the intoxicating aromas of smoked salmon, on a bed of crème fraiche or cream cheese, and with the merest hint of dill. Rye or Pumpernickel bread are acceptable here, and we’ll even grant you a few translucent slices of English cucumber. If it smells fishy, forget it — the salmon may be old.
Egg SaladQuintessentially English, the egg salad sandwich is a stalwart of afternoon teas across Britain. A good egg salad sandwich consists of lightly hardboiled eggs, mashed with mayonnaise or yoghurt, and well seasoned with salt, pepper, and perhaps something daring like a sprinkle of chives or paprika. And, of course, a thick layer of the best English butter (preferably organic and from grass-fed cows for the best flavour). A good egg salad sandwich should be moist but not soggy; rich but not sickening; and eggy but not sulphurous. If you can smell it from more than a metre away, the eggs may be overcooked or old — stay away! White bread is compulsory here, crusts are best trimmed, and multiple layers of filling and bread, neatly cut, would be most welcome. For a taste of Harrod’s-style tea sandwiches, simply add some watercress for a classic ‘egg-and-cress’ experience. Subtle but exquisite.
Roast BeefEvery good English patriot makes more roast beef than they need, so they can enjoy that special treat of a roast beef sandwich the next day. It’s the horseradish that makes it extra special, lifting the flavours of the roast beef and transforming them into a delicacy. Watch out for dry or curled looking slices of roast beef: this shows it might be old and tough. When it comes to traditional English recipes, roast beef sandwiches are really the cream of the crop.
TomatoDon’t even bother going here unless it’s the height of summer and you can find beautifully ripe, tasty, English-grown tomatoes. The tasteless watery pulp grown in hothouses or imported don’t deserve the name. A great English tomato tea sandwich should have slices of juicy, flavoursome tomato, a thick spread of good butter to prevent the bread from going soggy, a hearty bread, and a good sprinkle of salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Look for heirloom tomato varieties, which come in all sorts of beautiful colours ranging from blacks, purples, and greens, to the traditional reds, and even orangey-pink. If the bread looks soggy, forget it!
Cheese and PickleEngland produces some fine craft cheeses, and there’s no better way to try them than in that classic ploughman’s fare, the cheese and pickle sandwich. The piquancy of the pickle should be not too sour, not too sweet, and offset the richness of the cheese. Look for English classic cheeses such as Wensleydale, and places that make their own pickle.
Ham and MustardA classic ‘next day’ sandwich, nothing beats a sandwich filled with thickly sliced ham off the bone, fine English mustard, and perhaps a little cheese. Free-range ham will taste the best — pale shaved supermarket ham, cured in chemicals, has nothing on the thick rustic slices of traditional English recipes. Wholegrain mustard works here, as do some fresh salad greens — something robust like radicchio, even — and a few slices of ripe tomato, when in season. A nice rye or wholegrain bread goes well with the richness of the fatty meat. If you happen to come across a delicious ham and mustard sandwich featuring a good melting cheese like Raclette, try toasting it or having it toasted for a radical combination of English and French cuisines — ploughman’s fare meets the croque monsieur!
Whether it’s in the crisp flaking of an early morning croissant, the aromatic puff of steam wafting from a lunchtime sausage roll, or the delicate curl on the crust of a sneaky dessert apple pie, there’s surely something wonderful about pastries at any time of day. We hit up London to sample the very best pastries we could find, and the fair city did not fail to deliver. But watch out: all pastries are not made equal, and the unaware pastry shopper might find themselves with a stale or sour mouthful of disappointment. Here’s our go-to guide to buying good London pastries.
Freshness is Quality (and can be found more cheaply than you think)When you buy pastries in London, it’s easy to assume that luxury patisseries piled with treats and bon bons will be the source of the best morsels. This can be true, but is not always the case. Before re-mortgaging your house for a few luxury bites, try your most popular local supermarket first thing in the morning. Supermarkets will often bake on-site, and their high turnover serving eat-and-run commuters means that a pain au chocolat or croissant may have been baked only an hour previously. If you do try that boutique bakery, aim for places with queues that sell out around lunchtime. Fresh and sold out today means it is far less likely to be stale and on sale tomorrow. Look out for grease spots below the pastry; this usually means the item has been sitting out for some time.
The French are still KingMany good pastries in London hale from French origins. Pastries are a way of life in France, and some of the best have found their way over the Channel. Look out for regional specialities, such as canelés from Bordeaux (small fluted rum and vanilla confectioneries served as breakfast or dessert). Or try a pain aux raisins, sometimes known as an escargot for its spiralised, snail-like appearance. Like the croissant or pain au chocolat, this is made from leavened butter pastry, swirled with crème pâtissière, and studded with raisins (we like to tell ourselves this almost makes it the ‘health food’ of French pastries! Raisins are fruit, after all). Perfect pastries are crisp on the outside and warm, airy and light within, like a day in early Autumn. France also has the benefit of having absorbed other cultural influences, such as the delicious flavours of Moroccan and Armenian cuisine, featuring rosewater, almonds, and other delicate and fragrant scents and tastes, so look out for these cultural mash-ups when you want to buy pastries in London.
Better ButterThe quality of butter used can make or break a pastry, and in London where butter can be sourced from all manner of dairies and farms, this is the number-one defining factor in pastry quality. The water and fat content of the butter will affect the colour and consistency of a pastry, so look for good butter and good colour (not too brown, not too pale — we’re aiming for beautifully golden here). And don’t even go near flaky pastries listing palm oil or canola oil as a primary ingredient — it’s not worth it. Organic, grass-fed butter, properly stored, will be more likely to create a delicious pastry.
Pastry PatriotismBritish pastries such as pies, Cornish pasties, and sausage rolls don’t have to be stodgy nightmares: a good British pastry can be a delicate, deeply satisfying affair, and have its own life form. Look for establishments that have been around for a while and that have a good reputation for classic British pastries, or for owners/bakers who hail from a region famous for pasties, such as Cornwall.
Think Outside the Geographical Pastry BoxWhen you go to buy pastries in London, don’t limit yourself to English and French pastries. Look at Middle Eastern and Turkish places, where there are a wide range of beautiful, exotic, and delicious delicacies available. Common middle eastern ingredients include dates, almonds, rosewater, figs, pomegranate, and pistachios. Börek (savoury Turkish pastries) and baklava are beautiful when fresh.
Warning SignsIf the pastry you’re looking at is glazed with icing, covered in cheese, sprinkled with multi-coloured confetti, or wrapped in bacon, it is usually to keep the pastry longer and disguise a lack of freshness. Any place selling good London pastries should know better. Be wary also of refrigerated pastries, as this can make the oil or butter content of an otherwise delicious mouthful harden and congeal. Flaky pastry is not designed to be chilled in this way, and the mouth-congealing effect of cold pastries is not a pleasant sensation. Be careful also of cafés in museums or galleries: often these places have extremely inflated prices. You don’t want to be paying 12 pounds for a chewy, day-old croissant… right?
Are you Filo-ing it?A perfect almond croissant is a wonderful thing, but don’t write off other less common forms of pastries, such as delicious creations made of filo, or the retro appeal of puff pastry morsels. Pre-rolled, frozen pastry (again, don’t forget to go for quality butter content), is a great way to experiment with pastry creations at home. Again, Turkish and Middle-Eastern places have a way with filo pastry, often pairing it with sticky honey syrups and delicate flavours. At the end of the day, there’s only one reliable way to research the best pastries in London: using your tastebuds. Immerse yourself in the incredible range of flavours and options available, slow down, and taste every bite. Savour the moment, and really explore the full character of the pastry. Is it fresh? Meltingly delicate? Subtly rich? Indulgently sweet? If the answer is yes, you might just have found your new favourite pastry shop!
If you want to know what is happening in the world of food, look no further than London. The bustling city is where you’ll find the latest and greatest food trends, and the rest of the world watches eagerly to see where London will lead. We’re happy to say that one delicious trend is the comeback of pastries—whether it’s global uncertainty, being sick of too many kale smoothies, or just because they taste so good, Londoners are reaching for a chocolate croissant or a new spin on a Danish. You only live once, so drop the diet, and sink your teeth into something blissfully delicious. Pastry is back, and it’s more creative and pleasurable than ever. Here are some of the best morsels in London to watch out.