The British Isles are a fertile garden bursting with fresh produce, surrounded by an ocean of seafood, and flavored with exotic traditions imported by a legendary trading nation. Food and drink are woven into the culture, from taking afternoon tea to socializing at the local pub. If you’re considering a culinary journey, start your delicious adventure here.
Any culinary adventure to the UK should begin in London and, as one of the world’s great trading cities, in its remarkable markets.
Borough Market has existed at the south end of London Bridge (which was the only way to get into the city for centuries) for more than 1,000 years. It’s a wonderful place for meandering and shopping for local and international foodstuffs, or to pull up a seat in one of the fine bars or restaurants for some exceptional people-watching.
Further south is Brixton Market, one of the best places to try cuisines from all over the world, from Portuguese tarts to African stews. The market sprawls through several streets and comprises a Victorian-era covered shopping area and countless cafes, food stalls and restaurants.
Meanwhile, for a posh, gourmet experience, nothing can compare to the grand department store food halls at Harrod’s, Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason – the perfect place to pick up picnic basket packed with caviar and vintage fizz.
With its fertile fields, gentle rolling hills and (relatively) sunny weather, South West England comprises some of the warmest parts of the islands, and is home to fresh seafood, cream teas, cideries, wineries, bountiful fruit orchards, and more. Expect a bucolic region with many farmers’ markets and a proud farm-to-table tradition, as well as seaside towns whose shores are lined with colorful beach huts and lively seafood eateries.
Slightly north and west, much of Wales is rugged and rustic, with towering mountains, a jagged coastline and a remote countryside dotted with melancholy ruins and a surprisingly large number of Michelin-starred restaurants. In contrast to the at times foreboding landscape, its people are among the most welcoming in the British Isles – always happy to offer their Welsh cakes and other treats.
In medieval times, what is now known as the Midlands was roughly the kingdom of Mercia. Today, it is a swath that cuts across the middle of England. It’s where you will find industrial cities like Birmingham and Wolverton, once the economic engines of the Industrial Revolution, which are known for the hearty, satisfying and comforting foods of the working class: ales, pork pies, wild game, apples, pears, and hard cheeses, as well as the pungent, blue-veined stilton.
Further north, foodies will fall in love with Yorkshire. Not only is it home to the famous Yorkshire pudding, this region has a terrific artisan tradition with plenty of crafters making cheeses and ales, pickles, chutneys, breads, charcuterie, ciders and so much more.
It’s also a land of farmers, fishers and foragers harvesting delicious things from sea to moor to dale. And if that weren’t enough to draw you towards Leeds, this is also the epicenter of the country’s incredible Indian food tradition.
The whisky alone would draw us north of Hadrian’s Wall. Sweet, smoky, fruity, floral, savory – whatever your taste in tipples, there’s a distillery producing it somewhere. Whisky trails will guide you through beautiful regions like Speyside, with its rugged hills and charming villages, or the remote and wave-swept western islands. Pour yourself a wee dram and make yourself at home.
Scotland is also justly famous for its salmon, both wild and sweetly smoked, as well as tender trout pulled from its rushing rivers. Less well known is its incredible shellfish, including dive-caught scallops from Mull, lobster from Dunbar and oysters in Cairndow. Note to the hungry and thirsty: seafood and whisky pair beautifully.
Hop across the water to Ireland and discover a cuisine that is a showcase of the exceptional local ingredients: stews of grass-feed beef and lamb, steamed ocean-fresh shellfish, roasted root vegetables and some of the world’s greatest cheeses. Indeed, with its longtime dairy culture and year-round grazing, Ireland produces almost as many varieties of cheese as France.
It was here, too, that whisky was first made, and it’s still a good place to enjoy both Irish whiskeys and ales, especially the soft, food-friendly red ale. Head to a pub for lively fiddle music, a pint of the best and some ‘craic’ for a taste of the Irish experience.