Yes, it's distressingly beige, but British food should be properly celebrated

This week, a YouGov survey ranking Britain’s favourite foods laid out our food preferences in a handy chart, listing them all from what they termed “God Tier” to “C--p Tier”
This week, a YouGov survey ranking Britain’s favourite foods laid out our food preferences in a handy chart, listing them all from what they termed “God Tier” to “C--p Tier” Credit: istetiana/Moment RF

What are your desert island dishes? A Sunday roast, a bacon sandwich, a Victoria sponge? If so, you are as one with the mood of the nation.

This week, a YouGov survey ranking Britain’s favourite foods – which they admitted were “distressingly beige” - laid out our food preferences in a handy chart, listing them all from what they termed “God Tier” to “C--p Tier”. It serves as a graphic warning as to what our plates might look like had olives never been invented, but it is perhaps a little unkind to some of our traditional dishes.

While we flirt with pad thai and paella, it would be a shame to forget about much neglected liver and onions or pie and mash. It is a bit like putting grandpa in a home because you’ve heard all of his jokes.

Predictably, the God Tier includes Yorkshire puddings, Sunday roasts, fish and chips, and the full English breakfast, which might demonstrate that despite all the media hoopla to the contrary, we are not quite as vegan as we think we are. We remain more bacon bap than seitan sandwich.

The poll did bring up some worrying results, however. Incomprehensibly, steak-and-kidney pudding is relegated to the bottom tier, along with rightfully-shunned jellied eels and laver bread.

Astonishingly, sausages rolls are not even mentioned - Greggs even weighed in in disgust on Twitter - and Cornish pasties are ranked as only in the “Mid Tier”, which shows how railway station kiosks and garage forecourts have ruined things for everyone, pushing poor facsimiles of the real thing with claggy pastry and stingy fillings - not something to thrust upon stressed and weary travellers and still expect them to maintain their place in our hearts and on our plates.

When it comes to puddings, the results show what a nostalgic nation we are, feasting on thrifty stodge as though lemons never existed. Jam roly poly, barely seen in captivity this century – holds steady in the Mid Tier, along with that cosy favourite, bread-and-butter pudding.

Scones and Victoria sponge come out top, as though the survey was undertaken at a cricket tea. In shocking news, hot cross buns - surely the finest religious-themed baked goods known to creation - don’t make God Tier (Jesus wept).

Scones and Victoria sponge ranked highly in the YouGov survey where pudding is concerned  Credit: istetiana/Moment RF

And how that relative newcomer, sickly banoffie pie can rank above the fine Eccles cake should make us pause and think about what we have become. It sits alongside spotted dick, welsh cakes and Christmas pudding in the “Low Tier”, a clear indication that our heads have been turned by more extravagant confections and we think we’re all too good for vine fruits now.

The survey does demonstrate though, that we are a thrifty lot, which is rather a comfort in the age of restaurants selling thousand pound burgers and gold-infused drinks. Just this morning, a breathless email dropped into my inbox proclaiming IBIZA’S MOST EXPENSIVE COCKTAIL, a $334 pornstar martini (naturally), which in their full-caps excitement they spelled COCKTIAL. All is not lost though. Hogging the pudding “C--p Tier” in shameful isolation, is the deep fried Mars bar.

So what of the winners and losers?

Pies

As a nation, we hold pies, in all of their forms, in great affection. In his recent book, Pie Fidelity: In Defence of British Food, Pete Brown writes “Britain does pies better than anyone else in the world and has done since pastry was first perfected by chefs working for the Tudor monarchs. Shepherd’s pie, cottage pie, steak-and-ale pie, steak-and-kidney pie, and their cousin the Cornish pasty are famous representatives of our culinary tradition”. So it is shocking that the masterpiece of that genre, the pork pie, only squeaks “Low Tier” status. We mustn’t allow our heads to be turned by quiche.

In his recent book, Pie Fidelity: In Defence of British Food, Pete Brown writes “Britain does pies better than anyone else in the world" Credit: Andrew Crowley

Random minced meat

Of course, these humble minced meat concoctions are not going to win any beauty contests, but surely we are better, less superficial, than that?  How shameful to have shunted haggis and faggots into the “C--p Tier”. These days, we practically fetishise meatballs, with recipes for them tumbling out of every blog, website and food magazine, and yet the humble faggot is shunned. Perhaps they need rebranding – “medallions of pork shoulder and liver in a rich gravy” might do the trick. And as for the spicy and delicious haggis, any chef who dared put them in a sausage casing and serve them all year round would surely be carried aloft around the finest gastropubs in the land.

Roast dinner

The roast dinner has iconic status at the British table. Not only is it delicious, but it tests the cook’s nerve and skill more than almost any other meal. It is not that the component parts are particularly complicated, but bringing them all to the table at the same time, hot and in their perfectly-cooked state, requires a level of skill and coordination seldom seem outside of an Olympic pentathlon.

Eccles cakes are surely one of Britain's greatest contributions to the pastry-maker’s art Credit: Andrew Crowley

Eccles cakes

These circles of light, flaky pastry encasing rich dried fruit are surely one of our greatest contributions to the pastry-maker’s art. While the original versions date back to the Eighteenth century, they have enjoyed a renewed fashionability in recent years since appearing on the menu of London’s St John restaurant, served with crumbly Lancashire cheese. If you are unable to track down the real deal, the award-winning Pump Street Bakery in Orford, Suffolk, sells their delicious Eccles cakes by mail order, the currants and raisins infused with Armagnac and brown sugar.

Trifle

There really is a trifle to suit everyone, whether it is a children’s party special with jelly, tinned fruit and hundreds and thousands served in paper cups, or Nigella’s deliciously indulgent Anglo-Italian Trifle, with cherries, mascarpone, amaretti biscuits and limoncello. The enduring appeal of the trifle is that even the most cack-handed cook can create something which looks beautiful, as befitting granny’s best glass bowl, and that they are infinitely adaptable, customisable and scale-upable, depending on your tastes, pocket and number of guests.

Whether it is a children’s party special with jelly or Nigella’s deliciously indulgent Anglo-Italian Trifle, there is a trifle to suit everyone Credit: Kirstie Young

Yorkshire pudding

Of course it is up there as our most beloved dish, the best part of many-a Sunday lunch and, like the roast potato, surrounded by all kinds of lore about how to make the best ones. They are part of some of our happiest meals and any home cook worth their (Maldon sea) salt wants to lay claim to making the biggest and fluffiest.

Less self-assured cooks quake at the prospect of turning eggs, milk and flour into this most magical of dishes and fantasise about bringing sky-high versions to the table. A very hot oven and screamingly hot fat (preferably beef dripping) is your friend. Side note: while Yorkshire pud makes the top tier, toad in the hole only ranks in the mid. Go figure.

 

Do you agree? What are your British hero dishes? Let us know....