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Two food related questions: Tea and Pubs

Hi!

We are on day 4 of a our 10 days in London --going to Oxford afterwards.

I know it's a cliche, but I would really like to have a proper English Tea service, and eat in a good Pub --we are foodies!. We've passed many Pubs but they all seem to have the same menus. Has a pub chain taken over? Are there any independent pubs with good food that anyone can recommend? Also, where should be go for Tea?

Many thanks!

What you're looking for is something specific known as a gastro pub, where the food is as important as the drink. Here's some help:
https://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/bars/top-50-gastropubs-2017-the-harwood-arms-named-london-s-best-food-pub-a3453736.html

A general point though: I'm not sure where you got the idea that pubs are generally good places for foodies to eat in. Pubs began as drinking places. Many pubs in London now offer a basic food menu - tends to be heavy on stodgy food, often bought-in food that just needs pinging in the microwave. Think about it: these places were built to serve drinks and snacks. And as you've realised, a lot of pubs are chains. So it's the same old "fish & chips" (not as good as a chippie) or lasagne or chilli or pies.

You can't expect restaurant-style food at most pubs unless that pub has taken the decision to be more of a gastro pub. It never ceases to amaze me how many posters here say "I want to eat at a pub." Whereas many British people would rank pubs by the quality/range of the beer, with food being a plus if it's served.

Outside of London things are a bit different - a pub in a country village will find it well worth their while to develop a good restaurant business. So you can eat really well at many country pubs.

Posted by
631 posts

"proper English Tea service" is actually quite rare because it's never been a big thing with the English! It's become a little more popular in recent years as a special event thing (especially if they add in sparkling wine....) but generally it's not somethig the English do i big numbers. If you want to blow quite a lot on an experiece there is

https://www.fortnumandmason.com/restaurants/diamond-jubilee-tea-salon

this is where the Queen, Kate and Camilla went for tea during the diamond jubilee.

Pub food is traditionally simple although in the last 25 years the market has turned inside out, food is often more important than drink in many pubs. But yes, there are some massive chains who have the same menu in each branch (prices vary according to property costs) and the chains often copy each other with their promotions (inclusive drinks, special prices on set days etc..). This all means that most of the food is delivered from a central kitchen/warehouse with huge mileages, most is pre-prepared and probably only the steaks and burgers are actually cooked from raw (or frozen). And because of the chains' high volume-low margin business models many small independent pubs can't compete for meals. So you get a big jump from basic pub to high price restaurant (which may be in a converted old pub which no longer has space for people who just want a drink). Even worse problem with "family" restaurants, there is one dominant company operating a range of branded chains and again almost everything comes in fridge trucks from a central base and locals can't compete. To find decent food you have to go to a place where there isn't enough trade for the chain business model to work but enough for an independent to make a go of it.

Posted by
2664 posts

For a good afternoon tea The Orangery at Kensington Palace is great, it's beautiful inside. It's not that expensive compared to other places.

Posted by
13731 posts

"proper English Tea service" is actually quite rare because it's never
been a big thing with the English! It's become a little more popular
in recent years as a special event thing (especially if they add in
sparkling wine....) but generally it's not somethig the English do i
big numbers.

Steve pretty much summed up what my English friends have to say regarding the tourist idea of "proper tea": none of them grew up with such a thing, and wouldn't pay the price to have the posh version when playing tourist themselves. LOL, one of them taught me how to make a "proper" mug of Builder's tea, however. Very good, I must say. :O)

So aside from being cliche , I would reconsider that activity simply because it's not really a "thing" at all among most citizens. My mates across The Pond tell me that they're as likely to drink coffee as tea these days.

This English woman in her 50s has never been for an afternoon tea such as those that hotels offer.

I might stop in a museum cafe for a pot of tea and a cake or scone, but this "traditional afternoon tea" thing has bypassed me completely.

However tourists and elderly aunts seem to enjoy it! ;-)

Posted by
4730 posts

So aside from being cliche , I would reconsider that activity simply because it's not really a "thing" at all among most citizens. My mates across The Pond tell me that they're as likely to drink coffee as tea these days.

Yes, no-body has 'afternoon tea' these days and I don't personally know anyone who ever did. Most of us have a tea break at work where we'll have a tea or coffee perhaps accompanied by some biscuits but that's as elaborate as it gets.

Coffee consumption has increased considerably with the explosion of Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Nero et al but I don't think tea should feel threatened. I've currently got a mug of 'Portsmouth Tea' in front of me, a blend made by a local tea merchant especially suited to Portsmouth's hard water, very nice it is too.

Posted by
5697 posts

Maybe "proper afternoon tea" is like "full English breakfast" -- only enjoyed by the tourists. (I once asked the B&B owner if she ate the full breakfast every day -- no, she said, she and her family had corn flakes. But when they traveled she loved the traditional "American breakfast" of eggs, bacon, pancakes -- IHOP anyone? I told her we usually had corn flakes, too.)

Posted by
1934 posts

Most Brits won’t pay the prices for ‘tea’ in some swanky place. They will just brew their own tea at home.

Posted by
6036 posts

In regards to Pubs and menus, I would agree that you are probably looking for a Gastropub, but in general, I have been very pleased with the food at Fuller's Pubs. While arguably a "Chain" each one develops their own menu and many pride themselves on their food. They also have a wide presence, so easier to find

Posted by
1203 posts

I loved Laura B's response as it is so true. However, when we travel, I still like to try different food and customs so I know I am not back home. When in England, my husband and I always break up the afternoon with tea and a scone and cake. While we don't do the "full proper English tea" with sandwiches, etc., I have loved our little "English" breaks because it is something we never do here at home. We try to find a location that adds to the enjoyment. Some of our favorites in London: Kensington Palace, The basement restaurant at St. Martin's in the Field Church, and The Lido Bar and Cafe on Lake Serpentine in Hyde Park. The last one is particularly enjoyable on a day when it is nice enough to sit outside. If you go to Blenheim Palace while you are in Oxford, they have a nice outdoor cafe next to the formal garden. All the scones and cakes were advertised as being gluten free and they were amazing. (I usually have a scone, but there I went straight for a piece of chocolate cake and have no regrets!). While it is all very "touristy", it is also a lot of fun. We usually eat 2 meals a day when we travel, breakfast and dinner, so a small snack is welcome. When we traveled in England and Scotland with my sister and her husband, we all looked forward to finding a place in the afternoon to sit, relax and enjoy a pot of tea. When we travel here in the US, we usually replace the tea and scone with ice cream cones. (it's just so "American" :)

Posted by
351 posts

For a good meal at anon-chain pub, I can recommend The Victoria on Strathearn Place

Posted by
4730 posts

Maybe "proper afternoon tea" is like "full English breakfast" -- only enjoyed by the tourists.

On no, I always have a 'full English breakfast' on a weekend and most blokes I know do too.

Weekdays are a lighter affair, eggs of some description or a smoothie, sometimes cereal or maybe a bacon sandwich if there's some left over from the weekend.

Posted by
37 posts

I'm sat with a cup of Yorkshire tea now thinking a scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam (a proper cream tea) would be lovely after reading all the posts about tea and cake.

Posted by
10 posts

London has plenty of pubs that offer more of a fine dining experience for serious foodies. The top gastro pub is The Harewood Arms in Fulham (it has a Michelin star): http://www.harwoodarms.com/.The Grazing Goat is one that's more centrally located (near Oxford street). http://thegrazinggoat.co.uk/ Expect to pay more than your average pub though.

Traditional Afternoon Tea is a big thing in London and popular for special celebrations and birthdays. Fortnum & Mason is always a popular venue. I had a wonderful afternoon tea at Browns Hotel in Mayfair at Christmas time (it's where Queen Victoria used to go for tea). Other great places for tea are the Ham Yard Hotel in Soho or The Wolsley (on Piccadilly).

Posted by
19 posts

Thank you all so very much for the good info and links. And special thaks to Emma, Mae and Sarah from the UK for encouraging Tea Time!

Posted by
109 posts

I admit to being a tourist....I enjoy being a tourist.
This tourist once had a lovely tea at the Wallace Collection. Great to sit down, relax and watch the people. The British friends I was with thought so, too.
Pubs I cannot advise on.
Have a great time.

Posted by
993 posts

Zinnia, I hope you enjoy your afternoon tea wherever you have it. Like most Yanks, I always have a proper afternoon tea when I'm in the UK and I admit I have a cream tea every other day. Mebbe some of us are in love with an England that does not exist anymore or for a lot of people, never did. Honestly, does AT only exist for us tourists? Of course not everyone stops for afternoon tea every afternoon and maybe some have never done, but they can if they want to. One of my favorite places for tea here was started by an Englishwoman and every day it is full with English customers. It reminds them of home cliche' or not.

There I feel better. Now where to go. I still like Browns Hotel, my husband likes the Savoy. Something less $$$? The Orangery has really good scones. I also like Liberty or The National Gallery which takes me on (literally) to my favourite pub. The Sherlock Holmes. I can hear some of you groaning. I am a Sherlockian and they did really nice bangers and mash. Go the to pub not the restaurant upstairs unless you just want to see Sherlock's Room 221B or use the loo. The restaurant is good but the action is in the pub. Also I met some nice people there once who came from Denmark and said their guide book recommend the SH because they had the best fish and chips. My other favorite pub is usually whatever is closest ( I am a little discerning) to my hotel.

When do you go? Be sure to submit a trip report and tell us how and what you did.

Posted by
239 posts

There are a lot of pubs which now do very good food and a few whose fare is excellent. In central London, the only two in the latter category I've been to are The Hope and Anchor on The Cut and The Eagle in Farringdon. Best advice is to get acopy of the Good Pub Guide and look for those given a star for food.