Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Roast Beef and Beefeaters in London England

So associated are the British with traditional roast beef that the French call them “les rosbifs,” but, far from being insulted, the nation still takes pride in its favorite Sunday lunch. Top London restaurants and down-to-earth pubs alike serve up oven-roasted beef with Yorkshire pudding, horseradish, and gravy – perfect fodder for visiting the old England symbolized by the dish.

“When Mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman’s food, It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood,” wrote Henry Fielding in his jingoistic ballad, The Roast Beef of Old England, evoking a nostalgic view of English national identity way back in 1731. The song was taken up as an unofficial anthem, sung in theaters and at naval dinners, and William Hogarth named a satirical painting after it in 1748: subtitled The Gate of Calais, it depicts starving French soldiers drooling as a side of beef is borne into an English tavern.
The origins of the dish itself are more prosaic. In the days before domestic ovens, households used to roast their beef in the baker’s oven on Sundays, the day of rest. Yorkshire pudding, a batter cooked in the juices from the roasting meat, had been added by 1747, when English cooking writer Hannah Glasse included a recipe in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.
Old-fashioned London restaurants such as Rules and Simpson’s in the Strand continue to serve old English roast beef with all the trimmings in historic surroundings, and Londoners vie to nominate the best pub roast. Alongside the Yorkshire pudding, which should be light and fluffy, classic accompaniments are crunchy roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables, piquant horseradish sauce and thick gravy. Prime cuts of rib and sirloin from prized Aberdeen Angus and Hereford herds yield the most tender, juicy meat, best served rare and thinly sliced.
Fuel up at one of these before a foray into old England. Start at the Tower of London, guarded by its Beefeaters, so called because these royal bodyguards were allowed to eat as much beef as they wanted from the king’s table. Decide for yourself if “our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good,” as Fielding sentimentally suggested in his ballad: the 11th-century White Tower is where two little princes were imprisoned by King Richard III, while at Tower Green, countless Englishmen and women, among them Henry VIII’s wife Anne Boleyn, lost their heads.
For a glimpse into Hogarthian England, visit Sir John Soane’s Museum, a perfectly preserved 18th-century house where you can see the artist’s A Rake’s Progress and The Election, satirizing the world in which Fielding’s rousing ode to roast beef took such hold. From here one can explore the Inns of Court, up Fleet Street and past the Old Bailey and into the back streets of St. James’s and Mayfair, all redolent of a past when Englishmen “had stomachs to eat and to fight.”

Above : Interior of Rules restaurant, a London institution specializing in British cookery – roast meats and game, oysters, pies, and puddings

Above : Old meets new on the Thames, where passengers on the London Eye look straight across the river at Big Ben

Above : Rare roast beef, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, and Yorkshire pudding await the gravy

Best Places to Eat Roast Beef

To step into Rules in Covent Garden is to step back in time: it was founded in 1798 and is the oldest restaurant in the city. In all that time it has been owned by only three families, and its history is told on the walls and in the various atmospheric dining rooms that fill the old building. Many famous people have dined at Rules, including Charles Dickens, Charlie Chaplin, and Laurence Olivier, and memorabilia from many of the illustrious diners is displayed for the entertainment of present-day diners.
The menu remains resolutely traditional British, and they serve Aberdeenshire sirloin of beef with roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding as a grand dish for two people. Game features heavily on the menu, changing with the seasons, and their British “nursery-style” desserts – golden syrup sponge, lemon meringue pie, and rice pudding – are renowned. Dining at Rules is more than just a meal, it’s a British institution.
35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, WC2; open noon–11.45 PM Mon–Sat, noon-10.45 PM Sun; www.rules.co.uk
Also in London
Simpson’s in the Strand (www. simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk; expensive) typifies traditional London formality with its wood paneling, chandeliers, silver-domed serving trays, and immaculate staff. Roast beef is one of its signature dishes, carved at the table and served with roast potatoes, Savoy cabbage, Yorkshire pudding, and horseradish.
Or have your Sunday lunch with all the trimmings in the National Dining Rooms (www.thenationaldiningrooms.co.uk; moderate), the excellent restaurant that is part of the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square.
Also in England
The Hardwick Inn (www.hardwickinn.co.uk; inexpensive) in Derbyshire is a unique 15th-century sandstone inn owned by the National Trust, Britain’s guardian of heritage properties, and a rare place that serves roast beef, locally sourced, from its Carvery restaurant almost every day of the week.
Around the World
The original Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Beverly Hills (www.lawrysonline.com; expensive) specializes in ribs and roasts and serves its roast beef accompanied with Yorkshire pudding and creamed horseradish.
Expect London gentleman’s club decor, with dark wood and thick carpets; plenty of theatrics such as tableside carving and flambéeing; and impeccable service.
Three Days in London
London has so much to offer that visitors need to plan ahead, especially if time is short. But it’s possible to pack in a few modern marvels among the traditional sights.
DAY ONE : Start at the Tower of London, with its Crown Jewels and Beefeaters, then take a look at Tower Bridge. Walk through the City of London to St. Paul’s Cathedral, then cross the Thames to visit the Tate Modern gallery in the afternoon.
DAY TWO : Take an early stroll in Green Park to see Buckingham Palace. Ride the London Eye for a bird’s-eye view of the city, then go to Covent Garden for lunch – perhaps at Rules. Spend the afternoon with the antiquities at the British Museum, or walk through Holborn to Sir John Soane’s Museum.
DAY THREE : In the morning see Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey, and then in the afternoon choose from one of the city’s other exceptional museums, clustered together in South Kensington: the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, or Victoria and Albert Museum.
Getting to London London has three international airports, with public transportation to the center. Get around on foot or by bus or subway train (“tube”).
Where to stay in London The Hoxton (inexpensive) is chic and fun, but slightly out of the center. www.hoxtonhotels.com
The Hallam (moderate) is a bargain, moderately priced but central. www.hallamhotel.com
The Savoy (expensive), one of London’s grande dame hotels, has been recently overhauled.
1 Lower Regent Street; www.visitlondon.com
Borough Market
As colorful as London itself, Borough Market is one of the oldest, biggest, and most popular food markets in London.
There has been a market here in the Southwark area near a crossing point on the Thames River since at least the 11th century. Here you’ll find an amazing array of produce to buy and try, not just from in and around London and the UK but from all over the world. There are artisan bakers, butchers, and fishmongers selling everything from Lincolnshire sausages and Melton Mowbray pork pies to oysters and trout, along with stands selling nothing but olives or jellies, honey or pâtés. Open Thu–Sat; www.boroughmarket.org.uk

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