The shocking modern truth about English food: It's actually really good

"To eat well in England," said the writer William Somerset Maugham, "you should have breakfast three times a day."

Ouch. Maugham was a Brit who spent a good chunk of his life living in France, and clearly didn't have fond memories of his home cuisine. This famous quote is a compliment in a way, a recognition of the beauty of the full English breakfast. But it's also deeply insulting to anyone who toils away trying to make decent versions of lunch or dinner.

The quote is from back in the late 19th century, but still, the reputation of English food has stuck: it's not very good.

It's the butt of a thousand jokes. It's the stuff continental Europeans feel safe to sniff at over their croissants and their ragu. It's the bland, boiled, rubbery goo that you picture being slopped onto school dinner trays in a Dickensian nightmare.

And it's true, some English food is still pretty bad. But here's the shocking modern truth: most of it is actually really good.

And I'm not even talking about the English versions of other people's food, either. I'm not talking about the decent Italian food you can get, or the excellent Middle Eastern food, the Australian brunch food or the wildly popular Indian food.

I'm talking about traditional, authentic English food. (And yes, for the purposes of this story I'm talking English, not British – there's a whole extra column in Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish cuisine. Let's just keep it simple.)

Think about the classic English dishes. There's the bacon butty, a couple of rashers of well-cooked bacon slapped on a soft roll and topped with brown sauce. Delicious. Give me two.

There's the Scotch egg, a boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated in bread crumbs and deep-fried, one of the best pub snacks you could possibly ask for (and not, despite the name, Scottish). There's the sausage roll. The meat pie. The pork pie. The Sunday roast with Yorkshire puddings and gravy. Fish and chips. Bangers and mash. Black pudding. Beef Wellington.


You could go on and on, and even then you wouldn't have touched on English cheese, the likes of stilton and cheddar, or the country's beer, with all the small-batch real ales hand-pumped from the tap.

When cooked or prepared properly, these are all things of undeniable beauty. And the strangest thing of all is that, together, they make a case for England's being a genuine foodie travel destination. You could visit this country just to eat. You could hang out in gastro pubs and countryside fine-diners and have an absolute ball.

Was it always this way? Probably not. Maugham was right at some point.

But a wave of foodie obsession has swept England in the same way it has Australia. With Jamie Oliver's smiling face at its crest, it has broken into a thousand cooking shows, from bake-offs to quick dinners, into a huge spate of new restaurants with dynamic chefs, some of them international names such as Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay, into crowds returning to centuries-old farmers markets, and into a resurgence in interest in genuine British food, and in how far its boundaries can be pushed.

I had lunch recently at the Harwood Arms, a pub in London that has a Michelin star. I ate things like "whipped chicken liver with onion jam and thyme hobnobs", "sea trout on toast with mussels cooked in cider", and "burnt Richmond Park honey with madeleines".

It wasn't cheap, but then again, nothing in London is cheap. It was also one of the best meals I've had a long time. Amazingly good. I'd go back any day.

And this is English food. This is the stuff we all make fun of.

Sure, you're probably still unlikely to see England appear on lists of great foodie destinations next to Japan or Singapore or Italy. There might be a few ongoing issues too, like a little thing called coffee, and the head-scratching popularity of mediocre chain restaurants.

But I'm here to tell you a shocking truth: English food is good. You should visit this country just to eat. You should go to the Harwood Arms. You should get a sausage roll from Ginger Pig. You should buy produce from Borough Market. You should investigate a whole world of possibilities outside of London too, from Cornwall to Cumbria to County Durham.

And, you should have a full English breakfast. At least once a day.

See also: No reservations: Ten restaurant trends that need to die

See also: The countries with the worst coffee in the world

What do you think of the food in England? Is this a genuine foodie destination? Or was W. Somerset Maugham right?



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