Friday, 7 August 2009

So English!

Surfing the website of Elle à Table recently, I was amused to discover articles entitled “Cheese Party” and “Notre Best-Of Des Recettes du Pasta”. This month’s Vogue Paris is equally generous with Anglicisms, referencing “globetrotter”, “top model”, “easy attitude”, “jet-set” and “world class.” Even my gym instructor peppers her instructions with exhortations of “let’s go” and “extra-slow.”

The pollution of French language and culture is a favourite topic of columnists and TV pundits. But whether it’s the glowing reviews for restaurants opened by foreigners (most notably Paris’ Spring) or the current trend for cupcakes, the culinary battle-lines may have softened somewhat. Even the gastronomic reputation of France’s closest Anglophone neighbour seem to have increased of late, a claim given some weight by the new Fortnum & Mason concession at Bon Marché food hall, the proliferation of books devoted to crumble and the extraordinary popularity of Paris’ Rose Bakery, a high-end café serving scones, Neals Yard cheese, even Marmite.

While I’ve bought enough British meat, cheese and produce to know that it can be the equal of its French counterpart (I actually prefer British beef, which tends to be longer-aged, though France’s cheese selection is unsurpassed), the meals I produce in London still tend to reflect a Franco-Mediterranean sensibility. And yet on a recent weekend, in between the Alsace wine and goose rillettes, and the herbes de provence-roasted lamb and Minervois, we enjoyed an accidental assemblage of thoroughly British food as good as anything Continental.

My morning trip to Borough Market had begun with a visit to its most-renowned butcher, The Ginger Pig. Waiting in line to purchase a leg of lamb, I found myself quite unexpectedly drawn to an enormous savoury pie filled with chicken, tarragon and chervil. And while pies are generally something I associate with bad pub or service station food, I knew that one here—with proper lard or butter pastry, and high-quality filling—would be an excellent introduction to the genre.

Lunch evolved from there: a side of watercress salad and glasses of Sam Smith’s ale, the preferred drink of my second-favourite literary detective, Inspector Morse. To finish, a few dregs of beer accompanied Welsh Caerphilly cheese and some thin Scottish oatcakes.

For dessert the following night, we made a retro summer classic: Eton mess. Nothing more than semi-crushed strawberries combined with whipped cream and bits of meringue, it had my ever-so-proper (and astonishingly slender) friend licking the bowl. I did sneak in a splash of crème de cassis to the macerating berries. But I think the real credit is due to the ever-reliable Delia (whose cultural significance in the UK is somewhere between that of Julia Child and Martha Stewart) and to middle England’s favourite grocer, Marks & Spencers, who supplied Kentish strawberries, double cream and irreproachable meringues.

There may have even been some cricket, though I will only admit to intermittent pauses in front of the TV. Some joys remain to be discovered...

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