English country cuisine — Dorian Wild

Following is a guest post from none other than my father, Dorian Wild. He wrote this while holidaying in the English countryside two years ago. I found it while rummaging through my email archives in search of a backup for my third novel. I imagine Dad’s colourful satirical style is what won over readers in his heyday as a gossip columnist at the Daily Telegraph:

…It was Dr Johnson, or someone like him, who had the view a long time ago that one could eat very well in England provided one had breakfast three times a day. The good doctor was right on the money.

Not that he was per se extolling the glories of bacon, egg, sausage, mushrooms and lashings of toast oozing with butter, so much as warning of the perils that lay ahead for the unwary should they stray from the fare served for the morning meal.

Reason being that, broadly speaking, the Brits have never been that good with food. Oh, they’ve contributed quite a few dishes to world cuisine, but not much in terms of what might be called haute cuisine.

Roast beef/lamb/pork, shepherd’s/cottage pie, Yorkshire pudding, toad in the hole, liver and bacon, fish and chips, spotted dick and treacle pudding in a lake of custard…wonderful rib-sticking stuff and loved by lunchers in the heyday of the Lord Dudley and indeed by men through the decades…especially those forced to endure the tragedies of school lunches and dinners.

And then there’s Afternoon Tea, that glorious assembly of scones, jam and cream, Dundee cake, toasted tea cakes dripping with butter and finger sandwiches by the plateful accompanied by a pot of Darjeeling or Orange Pekoe or good old English Breakfast for that matter.

It was with this in mind that the Fragrant One and I settled into the lounge of the Burford Mill Hotel, tucked away at the foot of Box Hill in the Surry countryside, while sipping a soothing glass of nicely chilled Taittinger.

An extended family on a nearby table were going at it in finger licking style … celebrating Sebastian getting into the Royal School of Music and twin sister Charlotte winning a place at Cambridge…yes I was listening in.

We ordered the same, with more glasses of fizz, and that’s when the mind started wandering and wondering about the reality, or unreality, of English food.

The scones were okay, though more jam and cream would have been useful. I mean, why give four scones when there’s only toppings for two? But it was the sandwiches that sent us to the depths of despair. Thin slices of ham, a vestige of smoked salmon, lamentable as fillings and virtually lost in the wedges of sliced white that engulfed them.

The cucumber sandwiches were an art of frugality. Wafer thin slices of cucumber, surgically cut to micrometer thinness and of mind boggling translucence.

The price for the spread, an uncheap 20 pounds each with another 10 pounds a glass for the Champers, not that I mind spending the money.

My view, never in the field of kitchen conflict has one cucumber given so much for so many.

Go there next year, and they’ll probably still be slicing it.

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