The most important tip I can give you on United Kingdom local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting United Kingdom, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in United Kingdom
Despite jokes and stereotypes, British food is actually very good and internationally oriented British cuisine has improved greatly over the past few decades, and the British remain extremely proud of their native dishes. Restaurants and supermarkets in the middle and upper range have consistently high standards, and the choice of international dishes is among the best in Europe. However, British eating culture is still in the middle of a transition phase. Unlike their continental neighbours, many Britons still eat to live rather than living to eat, and as a result, food quality is variable at the budget end of the market.
The United Kingdom can be an expensive place to eat out compared to, say, the more southern European countries, but relatively cheap in comparison with countries such as Switzerland and Norway. Many restaurants in city centres tend to be a little more expensive than ones in the suburbs, and pubs do tend to be slightly more expensive in the countryside, but generally, a three-course meal without drinks will cost the traveller anywhere between £10 and £25.
Chicken tikka masala with rice is sometimes claimed as the UK’s most popular dish, though roast beef is a more traditional national dish. If all else fails decent picnic foods such as sandwiches, cakes, crisps, fresh fruit, cheeses and drinks are readily available at supermarkets. Street markets are a good place to pick up fresh fruit and local cheeses at bargain prices. Bakeries (eg Greggs) and supermarkets ( eg Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Morrisons and Asda) usually sell a good selection of pre-packed sandwiches, pasties and cakes along with a range of soft drinks, juices and mineral waters.
In addition, most chemists and newsagents will have a basic supply of pre-packaged sandwiches and bottled drinks. However, it is worth looking out for independent sandwich bars and bakers, as the quality of the food and value for money that they provide is often far superior to the pre-packaged food stocked by national chains, which is often bland and tasteless.
Many large shops, especially department stores, will have a coffee shop or restaurant. British tolerance for poor quality coffee has lowered significantly in recent years, and it is not hard to find good quality coffee these days. Smoking is now banned in all restaurants, cafés, bars and pubs – there are no exceptions. However some establishments have provided ‘smoking areas’ and smoking is allowed in the gardens/terraces outside pubs and restaurants unless otherwise stated. The British breakfast generally consists of either cereal and toast with preserves or a fried breakfast of egg, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms and fried bread. The latter is known as a “full English/Scottish/Welsh breakfast”, depending on where you are, or simply a “fry-up”. In Northern Ireland it may be referred to as an “Ulster Fry”.
The Scottish variant may include haggis, and black or white pudding is sometimes included especially in the North. Larger hotels may also offer croissants, pastries, porridge or kippers for breakfast. Some very large hotels will also provide an international selection including cold meat, cheese, boiled eggs and a variety of different kinds of bread.
Fish and chips Deep-fried, battered fish (usually cod or haddock, though with a wider selection in some areas) with rather thick chips, always made from real chunks of potato rather than thin tubes of extruded mashed potato. Fish and chips are often served with mushy peas (in England), and dressed with salt and malt vinegar (or ‘Sauce’ in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland). “Proper” (authentic, for-the-masses) fish and chips can be bought only from either a backstreet “chippy” or a specialist fish and chip restaurant (the latter are mostly at the seaside, although there is a national chain, Harry Ramsden’s, which does quite good fish and chips, but at “tourist prices”; Mr Ramsden’s original shop, near Leeds, was a legend). However, a “proper chippy” (a backstreet “fish and chip shop”, or just “chip shop”) is the quintessential place to buy fish and chips. In the north you can also add mushy peas to your order. These are rarer in the south of the country.
In Scotland, especially Glasgow, some fish and chip shops deep-fry almost everything they sell, including meat pies, pizzas, and even battered Mars or Snickers bars. In Northern Ireland, you can also order a Pastie (not to be confused with a Cornish Pasty). This is meat minced with onions, potato and spices, which is then battered and deep fried. It can be served in a bap (a soft bread bun), on its own, or with chips. Anything served with chips in Northern Ireland and in parts of Scotland is referred to as a “supper”, eg, “a fish supper” or “a pastie supper”.
The best ones are specialists, serving perhaps a few alternatives such as a selection of pies or sausages. They are usually located near where people live, though some good ones, especially “sit down” chippies, can be found in town centres. They can be spotted by the illuminated sign which usually has a picture of a fish and a name: either punning and piscine, such as “Codroephenia” and “The Codfather” or proud and proprietorial, “Fred’s Chippy”, or even both as in “Jack’s Golden Plaice”. Typically a lot of people eating or waiting is an indication of good food.
A “sit down chippy” is a chip shop with a separate dining room. Whilst no real one will be exactly like this, although most elements will be present, a stereotypical sit down chippie will be brightly lit and decorated in a nautical theme with yellow or blue formica-topped tables. Typically a waitress will take your order for a Cod Meal, alternatively Haddock, Plaice or another dish, and within five minutes your meal will be served: a huge fish, a mountain of chips and mushy peas.
Accompanying it, in more up-market places, will be a sachet of tartar sauce, a slice of lemon, a big plate of bread-and-butter, and a pot of tea. Some will have a separate pot of hot water, either to dilute the tea if it is too strong for your taste, or to “top-up” the tea in the pot when you have poured out your first cup.
On the table will be a large shaker of salt and a bottle or plastic squeezy bottle of brown malt vinegar, which is what most British will put on their fish and chips. There may even be a tomato-shaped plastic container of ketchup or a container of brown sauce. Fish and chips bought from a pub, hotel or non-specialist restaurant bear little resemblance to those from a chippy. Take-aways A ‘take-away’ is either a shop supplying prepared meals for people to eat elsewhere, or the meal itself.
A very British take-away is the Fish and Chip shop; the sandwich shop is a popular choice at lunchtimes; they often also sell pies and cakes. Alternatively, most towns and many main routes have a selection of fast-food chains. Various types of take-aways are present in nearly all towns, ranging from fish and chips to “Indian”, which can often be operated by non-Indians like Bangladeshi, and Chinese shops. Thai and Indonesian takeaways are becoming quite common, and lots of others in bigger towns.
Generally the standard of take-aways is good, but the best guide is, as always, to observe what the locals are doing. In towns and cities these places tend to open late (sometimes till about 1AM) to cater for the so called after-the-pub crowd. At this time they tend to be busy and rowdy so to avoid the queues the best time for a takeaway is between 7PM and 11PM after the teatime rush but before the supper crowds. Food in pubs See below for general points about pubs. Pubs are typically places where you can sample British cuisine.
There are no such things as a British restaurant per se, so these will be your next best bet; even if you are against drinking alcohol, you will find a more traditional and full menu then a cafe or chippy. Almost all pubs (see below) serve food, although not all will do so during the whole of their opening hours. Prices of all these types vary enormously, and you should seek local advice if you have particular requirements or standards. Do not sit at a table in a pub expecting a waiter to take your order for food or drinks: pubs nearly always work on a “queue at the bar for drinks: order at the bar for food” basis. You go to the bar to request and pay for drinks and food. To avoid annoying customers behind them, groups usually order as one, and “settle up” between themselves later (see elsewhere for “buying rounds”).
You normally order your “starters” and “mains” together (food-oriented places have numbers screwed to the tables for you to quote, or will give you a number to take to your table). There is an etiquette that if you see another patron at the bar, you should invite them to order first. You then wait for your drinks to be poured and carry them to the table. When your meal is ready, it is either brought to you or, less commonly now, announced when it is ready for you to collect. The person who tidies away your main course may ask you what dessert you would like, or you may have to order at the bar again. Restaurants Larger towns have a range of restaurants to suit most tastes and you will find a very broad range of cuisines, including Indian, Chinese, Thai, French and Italian.
Waiters generally expect a 10% tip (but all too often do not get it from the native population) and in some places this is automatically listed on your bill. However, if you are dissatisfied with the service in any way, you are under no obligation to pay the service charge. Generally British people are not great tippers. As a visitor the 10% rule is more than generous and worth sticking to.
Visitors from The US and Canada are seen as very generous tippers and even a bit of a soft touch by some. The usual fast-food restaurants (McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, Subway and local chain Wimpy) are widespread in larger towns and cities but uncommon in smaller towns. They are typically located in major shopping areas, in or around major train stations, in out-of-town retail parks and in motorway service stations and airports. Prices are average – a burger, chips and drink meal will cost about £4-5, but note that a premium of about £2-£3 is charged in outlets within airports, motorway service areas, and in the heart of London’s West End. Most are open from around 7:00-22:00 although some in large cities are 24-hours. Fast-food restaurants in out-of-town locations offer drive-through service.
Delivery service is widely offered. Curry One of the most popular types of restaurant in the UK is the Indian restaurant. They can be found in every city and most towns large and small. There are now more and more upmarket Indian restaurants in the larger urban centres. Indian restaurants serve cuisine commonly known to their customers by the generic term “curry”. Common Indian restaurant dishes include Chicken Tikka Masala, Prawn Biryani and the incredibly spicy Vindaloo. A popular version of curry is known as balti, possibly named after the metal bowl the food is cooked and served in. Balti cuisine, and a number of other commonly served dishes such as the ubiquitous chicken tikka masala, originated in the UK though it is clearly based on food from the Indian subcontinent. Birmingham in the Midlands is considered the balti capital of the UK as this dish was conceived there. Curry Mile in Manchester is well worth a visit if you are in the city. Motorway Services & Transport Cafes Motorway service areas are open 24 hours a day by law. Most contain fast-food outlets and all have (free) toilets and a gas station, and a small number also have motel facilities (usually a Travelodge or Premier Inn).
Some services may be limited overnight such as the range of hot and cold food, although most will keep a selection available. As a general rule, motorway service areas in the United Kingdom have a poor reputation for hygiene, service and most glaringly – overpriced food and fuel. More often than not – a large supermarket can be found a short drive from a motorway exit – try 5 minutes away , a website listing facilities no more than 5 minutes’ drive from motorway junctions, where both petrol and food can be found considerably cheaper. One notable exception to this rule is Tebay Services , located on the M6 in the Lake District in Northern England. It once prided itself on being the only independently run motorway service area in Britain that was not part of a national chain. Set in a stunning location, it IS expensive just like any other, but prides itself on quality food and service and is well worth a visit, even if just to admire the spectacular scenery of the area.
A close relative of the motorway services area is the transport cafe (effectively the same as a roadside diner in the US); these tend to be found on major non-motorway A-roads such as the A1. Unlike motorway services, they are nearly always independently run and are not bound by any legislation to open 24 hours. The food can just be as stodgy, but at least it is usually cheap. Many have a petrol station attached to the side. Vegetarian/vegan Vegetarianism has become more widespread in the UK over the last few decades.
If you are staying as a guest in a British home it would be considered courteous to inform your host beforehand as to any dietary requirements, but this will not be considered rude or even particularly unusual. If you are staying in a B&B, let the owner know when you arrive, and you’ll often find that they will cook up a special vegetarian breakfast for you. Bear in mind that even if you call yourself vegetarian some people will assume you eat fish, so if you don’t, then tell them so. Nowadays, it is rare to find a pub or restaurant with no vegetarian options.
If you are a vegan, be prepared to explain precisely what you do and don’t eat on a fairly frequent basis. Outside of specialist eateries, most places probably won’t have a vegan-friendly main meal, so be prepared to hunt around, order bits and bobs, or in a pub make do with the ubiquitous bowl of chips and tomato ketchup and even then it would be wise to check whether the chips have been cooked in animal fat, a practice quickly falling out of fashion. In general, the best places for vegetarian and vegan food are specialist veggie pubs and restaurants and Indian, Chinese and South-East Asian restaurants.
Most major cities and towns will have at least one. Expensive upscale restaurants may have more limited vegetarian options, and sometimes none at all. If you’re fortunate enough to be dining in such a place, it may be worth ringing ahead. Children Children are not necessarily allowed in all pubs and restaurants unless a lounge area is provided, and high chairs are not always available.
British pubs and restaurants are subject to complex licensing laws and it is illegal for children under 16 to enter licenced premises unless accompanied by an adult. Under 18s may not purchase or consume alcohol, and it is an offence for them to do so. It is also an offence to serve them or for an adult to buy drinks for a minor. An exception is that 16-17 year olds may consume beer, wine or cider with a meal. Licensees have discretion as to whether or not to allow children into their premises. Most pubs that serve food will accept children, and it is usually easy to distinguish those that do. The general rule is that children cannot sit or stand about in the area where drinks are being served. So if the pub has only one small room, they are often not allowed.
Children are permitted in most drinks-only pubs, especially those with gardens, but again, they are not supposed to come near the bar. To be safe, ask an employee or telephone the place in advance. Regional specialities Black Pudding – a sausage made of congealed pig’s blood or, in the Western Isles of Scotland, sheep’s blood, rusks and sage or spices, cooked in an intestine. Available all over the UK but a speciality of the North of England, in particular from Bury, the Black Country,Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In actual fact, it tastes much better than it sounds. Cheese – Although the British are not as boastful of their cheeses as their neighbours in France, a multitude of cheeses is produced and are generally named after a particular region. Well-known examples include Cheddar, named after the village of Cheddar in Somerset); Stilton, named after Stilton but now produced elsewhere; Lancashire, which may be “creamy” or “crumbly”; Wensleydale, a valley in North Yorkshire); Caerphilly; and Cheshire.
The quality varies tremendously, depending on where they are bought; the best place is probably a local market e.g. buy your Lancashire cheese in Lancashire. Supermarkets will offer a wide range of cheeses but are often of inferior quality. Cornish Pasty – beef and vegetables baked in a folded pastry case. Originally a speciality of Cornwall, but now available throughout the UK. Usually very good in Devon and Cornwall, but can be of variable quality elsewhere. The variety sold in a plastic wrapper in places like petrol (gas) stations and motorway service stations are well worth avoiding. As of 2011, Cornish Pasties can only be labelled as Cornish if they are made in Cornwall.
Deep-Fried Mars Bar – Originally from Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, but now available in other parts of Scotland and sometimes by request in fish & chip shops elsewhere in the UK. Not usually available in south-east England, where it is sometimes believed to be an urban myth. Eccles Cake – a popular flaky-pastry type cake with raisins, from the small namesake town in Lancashire. Haggis – a mixture of sheep innards, minced meat and oatmeal boiled in a sheep’s stomach. Available widely, but a speciality of Scotland. Also available in many supermarkets, where it appears that many sheep have plastic stomachs – although the contents are often quite reasonable – sometimes mildly spicey. Lancashire Hotpot – a hearty vegetable and meat stew.
A speciality of Lancashire, but available throughout the UK. In Lancashire, it is often accompanied by pickled red cabbage or pickled beetroot. Laverbread – a puree made from seaweed, rolled in oatmeal, lightly fried and generally served with bacon rashers, though can be prepared as a vegetarian dish. Available in Swansea and West Wales. Oatcakes – this speciality of Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire and Derbyshire is a large, floppy, oat-based pancake, eaten hot, in place of bread at breakfast time, or with a savoury filling. Not to be confused with the Scottish oatcake, a sort of biscuit. Pastie – recipes vary, but generally a pasty is minced pork with onions, potato and spices, shaped into a thick disc, covered with batter and deep fried.
Pasties are a specialty in Northern Ireland and well worth trying from a Fish & Chip shop. Around Kingston_upon_Hull, a slice of potato battered and fried. Pork pie – a pie made of pork, with an outer of a particularly crispy sort of pastry. Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire is their spiritual home but they are available across the country. They are served cold or room temperature as part of a cold meal. Potato Bread – a mixture of potatoes, salt, butter and flour.
A speciality of Northern Ireland which, alongside Sodabread forms one of the main ingredients of an ‘Ulster Fry’. Similar to, but not quite the same as potato bread, are Potato Cakes as sold in England and Tattie Scones in Scotland. Sausages – Europeans will be surprised to discover that the filling contains breadcrumbs, rusk or other fillers as well as meat (Britons think of frankfurters and similar solid-meat sausages as German or French). Generic sausages are nothing special and very much a ‘mystery meat’ experience, that being said not all sausages are pork, with many now seeing a mix with beef, venison, turkey or even soya.
Regional speciality recipes such as Lincolnshire and the Cumberland-ring are well worth trying in a pub. Some marketplaces and butchers still serve archaic family recipes, such as Oxford where the sausage is without skin and more like a beef patty. Remeber you get what you pay for. S 2p or 3p ‘bargain’ bangers like Walls, will taste of very little. Sunday dinner/Roast dinner – this meal is common throughout the UK. Traditionally eaten on a Sunday, the meal consists of a roasted joint of meat (eg: Whole roast chicken, leg of lamb, shoulder of pork etc), and roast potatoes and steamed/boiled vegetables. All served with gravy (a thick or thin sauce, depending on the meat, made with the meat juices and stock. Yorkshire Pudding (a pancake style batter baked in a very hot oven) is traditionally served with roast beef, although some people have it with any roast dinner.
Smoked fish – protected as a regional dish from the Great Grimsby area. Usually haddock is the most popular type smoked in this special style. In Scotland, it is traditional to have smoked kippers if not porrdige for breakfast. Welsh Cakes – scone-like cakes studded with raisins and dusted with sugar. Available in bakeries throughout Wales and served hot off the griddle at Swansea Market. Yorkshire Pudding – a savoury side dish made from unsweetened batter. Traditionally a plate-sized pudding would be served with gravy before the main course, to encourage more economical consumption of expensive meat. Squat and round in shape – often served with a roast dinner (consisting of roast potatoes, roast beef and Yorkshire puddings). Originally a speciality of the former industrial cities of Yorkshire, but now an integral part of a beef dinner throughout the UK.
What to Drink in United Kingdom
The legal age to buy and consume alcohol is 18, but many teenagers younger than 18 have seemingly little problem in purchasing alcohol in smaller pubs and from off licences. Nevertheless, if you’re over 18 but lucky enough to look younger, expect to be asked to prove your age when buying alcohol (also, in certain places if you look under 21 or 25, you have to prove you’re over 18, known as “Challenge 21(25)”), especially in popular city spots. However, supermarkets tend to ask everyone regardless of looks. Some premises will require proof of age for all drinks after a certain time of night due to restrictions on the age of people who can be on the premises. The most trustworthy form of ID is a passport or driving licence which shows both your photograph and date of birth. ID cards are likely to be accepted (providing there is a photograph) and proof of age cards are available which must be applied for by post and take several weeks to issue. Any other form of ID willl not be accepted.
In private residences the minimum age to drink alcohol is 5 years old, although it is likely that if a 5 or 6 year old etc. were getting drunk, the matter would be brought before the courts as child neglect. Getting drunk is acceptable and often it is the objective of a party, though the police often take a dim view on those causing alcohol-related trouble. This applies to all levels of the British society – it may be worth remembering that the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had to collect his son Euan from a police station after he had been found drunk celebrating the completion of his GCSE exams taken at the age of 16. Nevertheless, Britons have a great sense of humour and everything is forgotten after a hangover, at least until the next time.
Drinking is an important part of the British culture and, even though it is frequently complained about, it is as popular as ever. Urinating in public is illegal (unless pregnant), and classified as indecent exposure, technically a sexual offence and quite difficult to explain when applying for a visa. You should try and use the facilities where you are drinking. Pub The pub or public house is the most popular place to get a drink in the UK. Even small villages will often have a pub, serving spirits, wines, beers, cider, and ‘alcopops’, accompanied by crisps, nuts and pork scratchings. Many serve snacks or meals.
The greater volume of drinks served are various kinds of beer, mainly lagers, bitters, and porter / stout (ie Guinness). People not looking to drink real ale are free to choose a pub just on the basis of location, and character, because most national “smooth” bitters or TV-advertised lagers are available in any non-real-ale pub; however, even non-real-ale drinkers often find that they prefer the types of pubs with a range of real ales, because they tend to be more “traditional”, with a more individual character and less oriented to juke boxes, games machines, fruit machines and large crowds.
Across the whole of the United Kingdom there is now a blanket ban on smoking inside pubs and restaurants, though many pubs have areas outside, often known as “beer gardens”, where smoking is (usually, but not always) permissible. However if you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to be able to stay after the formal closing hours this is called a “lock-in” and smoking may be ok if the pub landlord allows it. This will often occur only in the later hours after 11PM and these lock-ins can last any amount of time. As they are classed as a private party, they happen in only a few pubs, and often only pubs with more regular customers, although this is not always the case.
Once at a lock-in, you cannot leave and come back in again. British real ales, championed by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) , are amongst the best in the world – though people used to colder, blander, fizzier beers may find that the taste needs to be acquired. People looking for real ale will need to select the right pubs, because although a wide range of pubs serve one or two real ales, only a “real ale pub” will have a wide selection. British ale has a limited shelf life compared to most foreign beers, and as some pubs have only a “token” cask with low turnover, it’s often well past its prime and has a strange vinegary taste: often, unfortunately, people’s first and understandably only experience with “real ale”. If you do receive an ‘off’ pint, ask for a replacement at the bar, which will usually be forthcoming.
The phrase “free house” was usually the main indicator for people looking for a good choice of beer, because this indicated that the pub was not owned by a particular brewery and served whatever beer its landlord thought would appeal to their customers. However, this is no longer a significant factor, because most national pub chains are now owned by large conglomerates who deal centrally with brewers and serve the same mass-market brands in all their pubs: these conglomerates (not being breweries) can still call their pubs “free houses”. If you want to be certain of the quality of the real ale in a pub, look out for a “Cask Marque” plaque outside the pub. This is a stringent quality standard, and you can be sure that any pub displaying this plaque will serve good quality ale. Pubs serving a wide variety of real ales will usually be willing to pour small quantities for you to try before you decide to buy, so feel free to ask if you can taste the beer first. Cider is available in most pubs, and is usually clear and sparkling.
In the West Country, especially Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, a still, cloudy cider known as “scrumpy” is often available. Proper scrumpy will come from a wooden barrel, rather than the metal kegs used to serve the more common variation. Scrumpy is often exceedingly strong, but is deceptively easy to drink. Thus it is easy to inadvertently consume large quantities of scrumpy, which can quickly rob the unwary of the power of speech and interfere with co-ordination, balance and fine motor skills. It should be approached with extreme caution. Scrumpy can also be bought very cheaply direct from cider farms, so if you are travelling in the West Country, look out for signs advertising cider or scrumpy for sale.
The person selling you the scrumpy may be difficult to understand, because of their regional accent and due to the effects of long-term scrumpy consumption. But don’t worry – most British people can’t understand them either. British people usually follow a kind of unwritten code of conduct when in pubs, though types of venue can vary dramatically, ranging from a ‘local’ pub, usually a quiet place consisting of one or two rooms, to a chain pub such as J.D. Wetherspoons which are very large rooms capable of holding hundreds of people. Don’t tap money on the bar surface to attract the barman’s attention. Tipping is not a tradition in most pubs and you should take all of your change. Regular customers who have a relationship with the staff will offer to buy the landlord, or bar worker, a drink. They may say something like this: “A pint of Best, landlord, and one for yourself.”
The landlord will often keep the money rather than have too much to drink. However, you are not obliged to do this yourself. Especially in a ‘local’ pub, keep your voice down and avoid drawing attention to yourself. It might be best to avoid heated debates about controversial subjects in pubs and bars; if others get involved these can escalate. If you require extra chairs, you may want to take one from another table. If someone is already seated (even if it is only one person seated at a six-person table) you must ask if you can take the chair. Waiting patiently at a bar is imperative. Pushing in line will not be tolerated and could lead to confrontation.
If someone cuts in line before you, feel free to complain – you should get support from other locals around you. Bear in mind that pubs are amongst the few places in Britain which don’t actually have formal queues — you just crowd around the bar, and when everyone who was there before you has been served you can order. In the male toilets, especially in big pubs or clubs, don’t try to strike up conversation or make prolonged eye contact. UK pub toilets are very much “get in and get out” places – some drunk people can take a casual remark the wrong way. Pubs with a good choice of real ales may exhibit almost any pattern of ownership: By a real-ale brewery (in which case the pub will serve all of the beers made by them, and perhaps only one “guest beer”).
By a national or local pub chain who believe it is possible to serve a range of real ales at reasonable prices (their chain buying power can force down a brewer’s margins) in a pub that non-real-ale-fans will be willing to patronise. By an independent landlord committed to real ale (usually the ones with the most idiosyncratic beers, and the hard-core “real ale type” customers). Many pubs are very old and have traditional names, such as the “Red Lion” or “King’s Arms”; before widespread literacy, pubs would be identified by most customers solely by their signs. Recently there has been a trend, strongly resisted in some quarters, towards chain-pubs such as the Hogshead, Slug and Lettuce and those owned by the JD Wetherspoon company. Another recent trend is the gastro pub, a smartened-up traditional pub with a selection of high-quality food (nearly at restaurant prices).
Beer and cider in pubs is served in pint and half-pint measures, or in bottles. A pint is slightly more than half a litre (568ml to be precise). Simply ordering a beer on tap will be interpreted as a request for a pint, e.g. ‘a lager, please’. Alternatively ‘half a lager, please’ will get you a half-pint. If you ask for a “half-pint of lager” in a noisy pub, you will almost certainly get a pint, because no-one asks for a “half-pint” and the bar person will have thought you said “I’ll have a pint of lager, please”.
Prices vary widely based on the city, the pub and the beer, but generally pints will be in the range £3 to £4. Spirits and shorts are normally 25 ml although some pubs use a standard 35ml measure, in all cases it will be clearly indicated on the optic, in England, Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, the standard measure is a 35ml measure. A dram in Scotland was traditionally a quarter of a gill measure now 25ml. Pubs often serve food during the day.
Drinks are ordered and paid for at the bar. When applying for a licence, pubs can specify any opening times they wish; this can be challenged by neighbours, etc. Closing times are typically the ‘last order’ time – the pub can sell drinks before this and customers have to drink up and leave within 20 minutes of the licensing hours. Until the recent change in licensing laws, closing times were 11PM and 10:30PM on a Sunday, and this is still quite common. The most common closing times at the weekends in towns are between midnight and 1AM, and some larger pubs may apply for a licence until 2AM and clubs 3AM or 4AM. It is not unheard of that some bars have licences until the early hours (6AM) although this is rare as many who are out until this time are likely to go to nightclubs and then home. Theoretically, a pub can ask for a 24-hour licence, though few have done so.
Wine bars In cities, in additional to traditional pubs, there are more modern wine-bars and café-bars (often known simply as bars), though the variable weather means that there is not as much of a ‘street scene’ as in other European cities. However, depending on the weather, there are more and more pavement cafés in the UK than in the past. Parts of London, Manchester and other up-and-coming cities are good examples of this change of scene. Prices in bars tend to be higher than in pubs, with less focus on beer, and more on wine, spirits and cocktails. Customers are often younger than those of traditional pubs, though there is much crossover and some bars are more “pubby” than others.
Clubbing is popular in most large towns and cities, and many have world-renowned venues as well as many alternative venues. Great clubs can be found in London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Brighton to name just a few places. Prices in clubs tend to be considerably higher than those charged in pubs, and opening hours may not be the attraction they once were, as pubs can now open late too. Most clubs will not admit anyone under 18. ID may be asked for at the door, but ID checks at bars are less common.
Dress codes are sometimes applied by doormen or bouncers before entry, sometimes none-too-consistently. Common dress codes are simply to dress smartly and avoid wearing sports wear, including trainers. However “fashion” trainers, especially dark coloured ones are increasingly accepted when part of smart attire. That said, some upmarket clubs will still insist on shoes and if in doubt, wear shoes to avoid being turned away. It is far easier for women to get in than men. Clubs are often cheaper during the week (Mon-Thu) as many of these nights are designed to cater for students; however, you usually have to pay an entrance fee. For a club in a small town (capacity 250-300) this will usually be £1-£2 on week night, £2-£3 on weekends, and seldom more than £5 on special occasions. Conventional clubs in bigger towns and alternative clubs in cities will cost anywhere between £5 and £10.
Large clubs, especially those in cities, that cater for a “dance” crowd will almost certainly cost over £10, though seldom more than £15. For towns with a large student population, it is often much cheaper to go clubbing during week nights (Monday-Thursday), as many clubs advertise towards students on these nights, offering discounted drinks and cheaper entry. Non alcoholic The British drink a lot of tea; usually black tea rather than green tea, often with milk and sometimes with sugar.
In cafés and restaurants, tea is usually served with milk and sugar on the side for you to add to your taste; in private houses, particularly in more domestic and less posh settings, you may be asked to specify whether you want milk and/or sugar before the tea is made. In Britain ‘black tea’ is likely to be understood as by analogy with black coffee as ‘tea without milk’ rather than ‘black tea as opposed to green tea’. In the south and south-west of the country Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire and sometimes beyond, there is a traditional light afternoon meal called a ‘cream tea’: this is not tea whitened with cream, but tea served with milk and sugar, together with scones, jam and clotted cream. As noted below it is common to be offered a choice of tea or coffee when visiting someone’s home.
If you don’t want either, appreciatively declining should not cause offence. Although some British companies trade on the country’s international reputation for tea-drinking to sell premium tea, many British tea drinkers’ relationships with tea are remarkable more for their scale of consumption than for their connoisseurship. Coffee is also drunk widely.
In homes it is usually made simply, and whitened with milk rather than cream. Coffee shops serving more complex ranges of coffee alongside other soft drinks are now common in cities and towns, and very common indeed in more cosmopolitan urban areas. Starbucks is fairly ubiquitous; Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero are two notable British coffee shop chains. In the UK, ‘lemonade’ is usually a carbonated, sweetened, lemon-flavoured non-alcoholic drink. ‘Ginger beer’ can mean either a carbonated, ginger-flavoured soft drink and therefore not really a beer at all, or a brewed alcoholic ginger-flavoured drink.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.