Liverpool: “What is English food?”

LIVERPOOL, England – Beatles fans know all the appeal of a first visit to Liverpool, England: it is the birthplace of the greatest rock band of all time. But do they know what’s English food? Even those who do probably wonder: why is English food so bland?

Cold and rainy, like most of England, this city has much more to offer than a tour of pubs and visit sites related to Lennon – McCartney, but one must look beneath the surface.

Rock & roll? Music lovers are already aware that it is everywhere.

Beer? Although there are pubs on virtually every street corner, Liverpudlians do not seem to drink English ale. They prefer Irish beer (Guinness), or French (1664), maybe the Dane (Carlsberg), or even the horrible Canadian (Carling).

Food? Comfortably seated at the Cavern Pub (where the Beatles played 292 times before being discovered by their first agent), a few pints under my belt, I asked the waitress where I could find a nice dinner. She replied with the usual options: “Italian, French , Chinese?” When I told her that I wanted to have “English food”, she looked at me with a funny look and repeated my question to her colleague. She then grimaced and asked: “What’s English food?”

Relevant question if there is one: England, land of beef, lamb, cheese, vegetables and fruit of great quality, really doesn’t seem to have a culinary culture, save perhaps for the “Full English breakfast” (how come don’t they simply call it a “full breakfast”?)

The United Kingdom, the birthplace of the “celebrity-chef”, still does not seem to have a culinary style of its own. So, what’s English food? Why is english food so bland?

Jamie Oliver’s restaurant in Liverpool (closed in 2019) offers Italian fare. Gordon Ramsay, the über-”celebrity-chef”, loudly proclaims his French culinary education, and his eponymous restaurant in London reflects it very well. Marco Pierre White has virtually retired and Heston Blumenthal does molecular gastronomy, which is not for every budget, not even the middle class! Fergus Henderson, affected by Parkinson’s, is now an hotelier. His three London restaurants offer similar recipes focused on the noble meat of the pig cooked with French, Chinese, Spanish techniques.

Why is English food so bland? Is It Dining On Pure Rock & Roll?

So all the while listening to the resident band at the Cavern, on a lonely Friday night, I asked myself if it was possible to dine on pure rock & roll. And if I was not badly dressed: in the pub, where rockers sweat and drink profusely, and during this exceptionally cold March when the feeling of close-by bodily warmth comforts, all are perfectly outfitted, women wear too much makeup and colourful dresses, men smell of too much cologne and wear clothes found at H&M, Urban Outfitters and the such.

Fortunately, some answers were provided to me. So I moved from one place to another, in Liverpool, to enjoy a little bit of everything. And I learned what’s English food.

On the menu: English black pudding with a poached egg on top, the creamy yolk covering the meat like a decadent dressing;  beef pie with liver, kidney, steak and gravy and brown sauce; mushy peas. Then, a smorgasbord of English cheeses: a Stilton, a Stichelton (wow…) , an aged cheddar and a Huntsman (double wow…)

Conclusion: English food really exists – it’s alive and well and it can be found in Liverpool.