Nothing Fawlty about UK cuisine - at least, it's food for thought

What, asks columnist Derek Burrows, would Andrew Sachs, the Fawlty Towers actor famed for his role as Spanish waiter ...
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What, asks columnist Derek Burrows, would Andrew Sachs, the Fawlty Towers actor famed for his role as Spanish waiter Manuel, make of a poll that found 12 per cent of Spanish respondents considered the UK the best place in the world for food and drink?

OPINION: I read an article this week that bemoaned the fact that a Visit Britain survey had found that "only 12 per cent of Spaniards considered the United Kingdom to be the best place for food and drink".

What immediately struck me about this article was the incredulity that only 12 per cent of Spaniards were in awe of British cuisine. I was surprised the figure was even as high as double digits.

Maybe the respondents were fans of Fawlty Towers and were just grateful that Manuel, the linguistically-challenged Spanish waiter, played such a prominent role in the popular comedy series and had so voted sympathetically.

However, I subsequently discovered that Visit Britain were applying considerable spin to the survey. The Spanish would-be visitors who had responded favourably hadn't actually said Britain was the best place for cuisine, only that sampling the nation's food and drink was "a motivation" for visiting the UK for a holiday.

Quite a difference that but one that makes the survey more credible.

At this point I should hold my hand up and admit that my experience of British food is largely limited to the first 32 years of my life, which were spent in my native land before emigrating to New Zealand.

In those days the highlight of my eating out – the term "dining out" had yet to be invented - was probably fish and chips or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding in a seaside cafe .

Not that my culinary sights were set very high. My parents were far from affluent and our meals were probably best described as wholesome and filling. Luckily, we lived in Lincolnshire, which produces some of the world's best sausages, because bangers and mash were frequently on the menu. They were accompanied by vegetables that had been boiled for so long they weren't so much within an inch of their life but on life support.

This is by no means intended as a criticism of on my lovely mother, who had been orphaned as a child and had therefore little cooking experience before she married. My sister and I were guinea pigs as she mastered the art of cooking – and on a budget to boot.

Which reminds me, some of the meat we were served was on occasions as tough as old boots but as they would say in Monty Python – "meat? Luxury". We were certainly glad of the treat.

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It's probably indicative of the standard of my meals at home that I was the only boy in my class at grammar school who actually enjoyed school dinners.

Not that all the memories from my early life are of bland food. Later, when I lived near Melton Mowbray, I would regularly partake of the finest pork pies I have ever tasted. A subsequent skirmish with heart disease later in life can probably be traced back to the days of that indulgence.

My mouth still waters at the recollection of the delicious crispy crust of those pork pies.

And, in fairness to British cuisine, I have on recent return visits to my homeland enjoyed some wonderful food in the unlikeliest of places.  One of the tastiest meals I have ever had was at a country pub in rural Herefordshire.

The Three Crowns Inn in the tiny village of Ullingswick was at the time judged to be one of the top 10 pub restaurants in Britain and it was easy to see why.

The blackboard menu in this delightful brick and half-timbered pub figured not scampi and chips or ploughman's lunches but spider crab cakes with coriander pesto and tomato chilli jam. Alternatively, you could sample the county's finest food with a Hereford cheese and spinach soufflé. 

And just when you thought that was hard to beat, the main course was delicious roasted duck with peppercorns and a cassis sauce that had been marinated for 24 hours to concentrate the flavours.

So, having dipped in my memory bank, I'm beginning to see why Visit Britain put such a positive spin on the survey. There is great cuisine to be had in the UK.

Well, it's food for thought anyway.

 - Stuff

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