Thursday, June 11, 2009

More on "the local"

Rosemary's earlier post about English beer puts me in mind of our pub experiences on this last trip that were not related to the Cambridge Beer Festival. I won't say that either of us is a big consumer of beer, ale, or cider, but a trip to England is not complete without a half-pint or a pint of something. Or maybe two.

One thing I can say is that if you order fish and chips in an English pub, you're likely to get a great big foot-long slab of crispy-battered and deep-fried fish. Even when I've had good fish and chips in this country, it's usually three or four little pieces: maybe the same amount of food, but not at all the same effect.

So--let's see. We avoided the Eagle in Cambridge, which is nostalgic for us primarily because on one trip, Rosemary went there for the fish and chips at lunch one day, and they were greasy and sat like a lump in her gut all day, unpleasantly. So, what did she do, but a week later she ordered the same thing, hoping it would be better. But it wasn't. But they used to have a good Ploughman's there, where you could get a big wedge of Stilton--which is practically a local cheese in Cambridge.

In London, we went to pubs mostly on Friday, with our friend Erin. One on the south bank was quite crowded, but we were able to get a nice (if a little chilly) table outdoors, right on the Thames. Then I saw a mouse--really!--and we decided to go.

But our most interesting pub experience this trip was on the Sunday when we had a few hours to kill between our accommodations in Cambridge and in London. We dropped our bags off at the Cambridge train station and set out to find some place to get a good English Sunday roast. (We had a great one in a little pub in Wales once.) In an excess of electronic enthusiasm, we looked up some options on the new iPod Touch, and got a recommendation for a little place called the "Live and Let Live." It was walkable from the train station, and (after hanging out for a while on Parker's Piece) we walked past a handful of other places, all offering traditional English Sunday roasts, and made our way to the Live and Let Live, hidden away on a residential corner.

We walked in, and it was a pub all right. Barman behind the bar, and four obvious regulars huddled on their stools. I asked if we could get lunch, and the barman pointed to a sheet of paper posted above the bar. I looked at Rose, turned, and ordered the ground beef patty on a bap (that's what we would call a bun). Oh, and a half-pint of Leffe. Rose got the same thing, and we split a basket of chips. We took a table (we didn't feel like joining the regulars), and drank our beer until the food came: a bare beef patty on a bap: no lettuce, tomato, pickles, catsup, or anything else. It wasn't bad, actually, and acurately described on the menu, after all. But it took another half of Leffe to wash it down.

It was interesting to hear the barman read out all the naughty bits from the Sunday papers, though. It put the quirky British morning tv habit of reading the newspaper headlines on air into perspective a bit.

Rick Steves always says that the purpose of travel ought to be to see the real places, not just the tourist stops. Live and Let Live.

1 comment:

Rosemary said...

Man, I'm an idiot. I'd forgotten that I'd ordered the same thing the second time we ate at The Eagle. And it was just as bad.

Here's a link to the particular part of the Sunday paper I remember the barman reading out (it's the first letter in the column). Hard to forget when you were the only woman in the pub:

Mrs. Mills