Three friends, Maureen, Cathy and Jill, and I went on a wonderful driving tour of the English countryside…and, along the way, visited some breath-taking gardens and ate some excellent food.
Full English Breakfast For American women accustomed to quick breakfasts eaten en route to downtown offices or various business meetings, the Full English Breakfast seemed like an enormous amount of food. Fried eggs, two sausages, two pieces of bacon (which, to us, resembles slices of ham), baked beans, roasted tomatoes and sautéed mushrooms were plated nicely on flowery, English china. Triangles of toasted bread were served in silver pieces that looked like letter racks and were accompanied by butter, several varieties of jam and raw, local honey. On hutches and sideboards were bowls of fresh fruit, freshly squeezed juices, yogurt and granola.
Our justification as we downed our ample protein and buttered even more toast was that this was lunch, too. No stopping for meals when we had gardens to visit.
Fish and Chips At four equally atmospheric pubs, complete with regulars bellied up to the bar and wall-sized fireplaces, Cathy, Maureen and I ate fish and chips. Our best was at The Workshop in Broadway where the fish was haddock and the breading was crispy and light.
(Jill doesn’t care for fish and usually ordered another staple of pubs, the cottage pie. Her best was at The Swan, also in Broadway, where a braised beef/mushroom/Guinness pie was topped with puff pastry.)
Sea bass and salmon When I’m out for a meal my standard is to order something I don’t make at home. Since my rural location rules out fresh fish and seafood, a favorite choice is just that. Three restaurants offered three different fish and none disappointed.
At The Swan, I ordered a dish I had never before eaten: sea bass. This pub served a delicious, perfectly cooked hunk of sea bass with saffron potatoes.
In London, at the tiny Black & Blue restaurant conveniently located close to our hotel in Kensington, Cathy, Jill and Maureen opted for steaks with wonderful-sounding sauces like béarnaise, peppercorn or herb and garlic butter. But I ordered fresh salmon from the Shetland Isles served with a small bowl of dill creme fraiche.
Scallops The culinary highlight of the entire trip was eaten on our last night in England. Our hotel concierge recommended L’Etranger: “They have the second best wine list in London.” Simultaneously all four of us said, “Book it.”
We had dressed up for the occasion and were in a partying mood. We walked the several blocks and actually overshot the restaurant because both the sign and the space were unassuming yet elegant. As soon as we were seated at our cozy table, servers appeared with four flutes and popped the cork on a bottle of champagne.
After fresh glasses of French white wine, we all ordered the same main dish: Roasted Scottish Scallops with Parmesan Puree & Truffle Foam. With a starter of a simple green salad, a side of truffle mashed potatoes and followed by a plate of macarons, it rates as one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.
What we’re drinking: cocktails Even though no part of our trip was rushed, it felt good to relax at the end of each day and put our feet up. Whether in Fairacres’ sitting room, under an umbrella in the sunny garden at The Olive Branch or in Alan Bloom’s former bedroom at Bressingham Hall, we always cobbled together some sort of snacks and drinks.
What we’re not eating: Spotted Dick After our main courses had been cleared at The Workhouse in Broadway, our fresh-faced, handsome waiter brought the dessert menu. Even though none knew, truly, what this dessert was, and perhaps due to a several glasses of excellent wine, we couldn’t resist asking the waiter about the Spotted Dick pudding. Beginning above the starched white shirt collar, his neck and face quickly blushed bright red. And Cathy completely lost it.