A Food Writer Abroad
Part 1: Tales of the good side in Scotland and England
Best-ever fish and chips at Turf Tavern in Oxford.
As you read this, I have just returned from two weeks in Scotland and England, a part of the world I know well and love. There are those, I’m sure, who have a poor opinion of the food of the UK (“Too bland,” you might think. “Nothing but fish and chips and haggis. Haggis!”), and I’m delighted to tell you that you are misinformed and just plain wrong.
As a restaurant critic, it is difficult for me to just travel without judging the food. Fortunately, I’m usually delighted in Great Britain, in places humble and refined. In location, Scotland is very much like Central Florida. It takes about an hour to follow the sun from coast to coast, a green and fertile land full of local farms, pastures and shores. Vegetables are sweet, seafood is among the best in the world, and superb lamb and beef can be admired both on the hoof and the dinner plate. Our favorite lunch spot, Deacon Brodies on the High Street in Edinburgh, serves up a fine fish pie and a hand-pulled pint, and The Sheep Heid Inn in Duddingston, with a pub license that dates back to 1360, is the place for haggis and tatties. Stop sneering: Haggis is a grand dish of mutton and oats and if you’ve ever eaten a store-bought hot dog then you've already ingested much sketchier food.
Almost every museum in Edinburgh has a fine restaurant on its roof, with imposing views of the ancient city and locally sourced menus. I like the hidden restaurants: Amber downstairs in The Scotch Whisky Experience; the Grain Store in an upstairs space overlooking Victoria Street; the café in the basement of St. Giles' Cathedral. And one can always get a good meal and a view of the iconic Forth Rail Bridge at The Hawes Inn in South Queensferry, where Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Kidnapped.
Oxford was a revelation, with stone-lined streets and the feeling of New Orleans or Toronto—but much, much older. In 1651, the first coffee house in England, The Angel, introduced the beverage 50 years before the first tea shop opened in London. I sat at The Grand Café, the current resident of that site, all gilt and lacquered ceilings, and had an Ethiopian “Americano” (we’ll talk about that next week) and felt its history. Turf Tavern, built on 14th Century foundations, serves the best fish and chips I’ve ever had, and great ciders. Breakfast at Turl Street Kitchen offers not only superbly fresh eggs and black pudding, but profits that go to local charities. Artful, chef-driven food can be found beside the Thames River at The Folly. Oddly enough, serving the best pad thai—and candidate for a location in Orlando—is the funky Thaikhun on George Street.
So many good meals, so little space. Next week, the downside of critical eating on the road.
- Sunday, June 11, is a collaborative dinner at The Ravenous Pig between Bruno Zacchini of Pizza Bruno (my Orlando magazine Dining Awards choice for Best Neighborhood Restaurant) and Rav Pig chef Nick Sierputowski. Tickets at 407-628-2333.