Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics
Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Fish and Chips - The Traditional Takeaway Treat
Fish and chips is practically the national dish of the United Kingdom. This piping hot, golden brown takeaway treat has been satisfying hungry Brits for over 150 years. While its exact origins are debated, most agree that the concept of frying fish in batter came from Jewish immigrants from Portugal and Spain in the 17th century. The potato portion was popularized in the mid 1800s once the starchy spud became more accessible.
By 1910, over 25,000 fish and chip shops had popped up across Great Britain. They were an affordable and tasty meal for the working class. Even today, fish and chips remains a staple of British cuisine and culture. It's estimated that over 250 million servings are sold each year in the UK alone!
During my travels through England and Scotland, I made it a point to sample fish and chips from different chippies (slang for fish and chip shops). There are regional variations in batter recipes and frying techniques, but the key is using fresh, high-quality ingredients. The fish is usually flaky white cod, haddock, or plaice. Chips refer to thick cut french fries, fried to a perfect golden crisp on the outside while remaining fluffy on the inside.
The best fish and chips I tried was at The Magpie Cafe in Whitby. This seaside town in Yorkshire claims to be the home of the original fish and chips. Their batter was light and airy, enclosing beautifully cooked fish. The chips were handcut and fried to perfection. I topped it off with a sprinkling of salt and vinegar for a tangy kick.
Another delightful experience was at Anstruther Fish Bar along the coast of Fife. Their fish melted in my mouth and the chips were some of the best I've ever tasted. I chatted with the owner and he explained how they use a secret blend of batter made fresh daily. His tip? Always fry at a low temperature for maximum crispness.
What else is in this post?
- Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Fish and Chips - The Traditional Takeaway Treat
- Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Bangers and Mash - Sausages and Potatoes Galore
- Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Pie and Peas - From Steak to Shepherd's Versions
- Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Ploughman's Lunch - Bread, Cheese and Pickle Heaven
- Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Toad in the Hole - Sausages Baked in Yorkshire Pudding
- Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Scotch Eggs - Boiled Eggs Wrapped in Sausage Meat
- Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Beef Wellington - Filet Mignon Baked in Pastry
- Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Sticky Toffee Pudding - The Sweet, Sticky Dessert
Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Bangers and Mash - Sausages and Potatoes Galore
A quintessential British comfort food, bangers and mash is the ultimate hearty pub grub. This dish features sausages, known colloquially as “bangers,” served atop a mound of mashed potatoes. It’s a simple yet profoundly satisfying combination.
While the origins of bangers and mash can be traced back to the early 1800s, it really took off as a popular working class meal in the early 20th century. Sausages and mashed potatoes were an affordable and filling dinner option. “Bangers” got their nickname from their tendency to burst open and pop while cooking, due to being made with various fillers and extenders.
These days, bangers have improved in quality but are still far from gourmet. They’re usually made with a combination of ground pork and beef or lamb. Traditional British sausages are seasoned boldly with sage, thyme, pepper and other spices. When I order bangers and mash at a pub, I always ask for an ale gravy on the side for dunking my sausage bites. The gravy adds an extra layer of savory richness.
One memorable bangers and mash experience was at The Spotted Dog in London. After taking the Tube to Zone 1 and walking along the bustling streets of the West End, I was ready to stop for a rest. As soon as I stepped inside this traditional English pub, I felt transported to a different time. Dark wood accents, red leather seats, antique signs on the walls - it was charmingly old school.
My bangers and mash hit the spot. Three plump, juicy sausages sat stacked on creamy mashed potatoes. I poured the housemade onion gravy over everything, mixing the components together into a hearty meal. Each bite was pure comfort, the tender sausage playing off the smooth potato base. A pint of locally brewed bitter provided the perfect accompaniment.
While in Edinburgh, I had stellar bangers and mash at The Last Drop Tavern. Tucked away on the Royal Mile, this atmospheric pub has been around since the 1600s. Their version featured a tower of whipped mashed potatoes studded with buttery peas and topped with three coiled Cumberland sausages. The bold, peppery flavor of the sausages stood out. A forkful of mash, pea, and sausage was culinary bliss.
Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Pie and Peas - From Steak to Shepherd's Versions
A whole world of pies awaits pub visitors across Britain. These pastry pockets are filled with savory meats, vegetables, cheeses and gravies for a portable meal. While France may be known for its elegant tarts and quiches, the Brits prefer a more rustic, hearty pie experience. The most iconic pie to pair with mushy peas? That would be a steak and ale pie oozing with tender beef chunks and brown gravy. However, you’ll find endless varieties on offer. Hot water crust pies with diced steak and onions are divine. Another favorite is chicken and mushroom pie with its flaky crust and creamy filling. Vegetarians will love options like glazed rutabaga and three cheese pie. I even indulged in a curried cauliflower pie that was extraordinarily flavorful. Beyond the countless fillings, what makes British pies special is that they’re served immediately after baking. The crisp, golden brown crust gives way to steaming hot contents. At most pubs, pies are baked in house and brought out fresh all day long. A side of mushy peas (mushed peas and mint) provides a pleasant contrast in color and texture. During my time in the UK, I became a bit of a connoisseur, sampling meat and veggie pies at pubs everywhere. Some standouts were at The Raven Pub in Bath, The Philharmonic Dining Rooms in Liverpool, and The Old Thatch Tavern in Oxfordshire. But honestly, I don’t think I met a pie I didn’t like! There’s just something so satisfying about a flaky puff pastry or buttery shortcrust pie shell enveloping a hearty filling.
At The White Hart in Lincolnshire, I tried their renown Homity Pie. This traditional veggie pie contains potatoes, onions, garlic, and cream cheese seasoned with herbs and white pepper. Its creamy center and crispy crust made for a sublime experience. I also loved the simplicity of their Steak & Kidney pie. Chunks of beef and lamb kidney in rich gravy - classic and delicious.
No discussion of British pies is complete without mentioning shepherd’s pie. This casserole style dish features minced lamb meat and vegetables like carrots, celery, peas and onions topped with creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. I've found that the best shepherd's pies have a bit of rosemary mixed into the potato layer. This adds a subtle yet aromatic flavor. Pub shepherd's pie hits the spot on cold rainy days. It's the epitome of comfort food.
While many think haggis is Scottish, you can actually find this unusual dish in pubs across Britain. Haggis is a savory pudding containing sheep’s offal and oatmeal. It has a decidedly earthy, gamey flavor. The MacTaggart Arms Hotel in Northern England serves a fantastic haggis, neeps and tatties pie. Their secret is wrapping the haggis mixture in a blanket of buttery, whisky-laced mashed potatoes. Absolutely brilliant.
Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Ploughman's Lunch - Bread, Cheese and Pickle Heaven
A Ploughman's Lunch is a British pub classic for good reason - it's the ultimate fresh and filling meal. This lunchtime spread features crusty bread, tangy cheese, and an array of pickles and condiments. While its origins date back to the 19th century as a meal for farm workers in the fields, the Ploughman's Lunch became popularized across English pubs in the 1960s.
During my gastro-travels through Britain's bustling cities and quaint villages, I made sure to stop for a proper Ploughman's Lunch. This meal perfectly showcases fantastic cheeses from across the UK and Europe alongside other simple but tasty components. At its core, a Ploughman's Lunch is about high-quality ingredients, not complex cooking.
One delightful experience was at The Star Inn in York. Their Ploughman's arrived on a wooden plank - slices of sourdough, crusty baguette, buttery crackers surrounding aged English Cheddar, Stilton blue cheese, and Brie. Cornichons, pickled onions, whole grain mustard, and homemade chutney provided accents of salt, spice and sweetness. I took my time savoring each bite, from the crumbly cheddar to the velvety brie, balanced by the crunch of pickle and vinegar notes.
Another standout was at The Nutshell in Suffolk, England's smallest pub. Their Ploughman's Lunch was served on a small cutting board, representing the shrinking scale of this tiny tavern. But there was nothing small about the flavor. Locally baked brown bread joined Cave-aged Gouda, sharp Farmhouse Cheddar, and a creamy Shropshire Blue Cheese. Plus, house pickled beets, onion marmalade, and tangy branston pickle. The flavors and textures blended beautifully with each pairing.
Beyond the traditional cheeses, I also encountered creative versions showcasing local specialties. At a roadside pub along the Scottish seaside, their Ploughman's featured wedges of smoky Scottish cheddar and salty Dunsyre Blue stacked around oatcakes. Smoked salmon, dill cream cheese, and pickled red onions completed the locally-sourced spread.
In Cumbria, England, I sampled a "Ploughman's Platter" with crusty gingerbread instead of bread. The sweetness contrasted the aged Gouda and zesty cheddar. Apple butter and fig chutney emphasized the local flavors. Paired with a craft cider, it was a delightful riff on the original.
Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Toad in the Hole - Sausages Baked in Yorkshire Pudding
Toad in the Hole may have a peculiar name, but this British pub classic is pure comfort food at its finest. It features sausages baked into a fluffy batter, known as Yorkshire pudding, for a dish that is crispy, tender and oozing with flavor.
Originating in the UK’s Yorkshire region, Yorkshire pudding is essentially an eggy, oven-baked pancake. Cooks in the 18th century realized that baking meat drippings into the batter resulted in a lighter, airier texture. Soon, entire roasted meat joints or sausages were baked into the pudding for a unique one-pot meal.
While seemingly simple, excellence in Toad in the Hole requires high quality ingredients and proper technique. Only fluffy, fresh Yorkshire pudding will do. The sausages must be locally-sourced, ideally thick and seasoned pork. Cooks aim for the perfect marriage of browned, crispy edges with a custardy, cloud-like center.
During my quest to discover the country’s best versions, I found delightful iterations everywhere from London to Liverpool. But in Yorkshire at The Star Inn, a 14th century tavern in Harome, I experienced Toad in the Hole perfection. The Chef still hand-whisks the pudding batter as Yorkshire tradition dictates. Clusters of pan-seared pork and leek sausages nestled into the fluffy batter, absorbing its eggy essence while retaining their plump, seasoned juiciness. The contrast of textures and mix of flavors in each bite was extraordinary.
At The Ship Inn along the Sussex coast, their Toad in the Hole was cleverly topped with a blue cheese sage butter that accentuated the dish’s rich savoriness. The Dolphin Tavern in Plymouth enhanced the meal with a red onion gravy on the side for dipping. And at Oxford’s Turf Tavern, a rendition with local lamb sausages and roasted garlic bits baked into the batter demonstrated how the dish can be reinvented with creative flair.
Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Scotch Eggs - Boiled Eggs Wrapped in Sausage Meat
A gastropub visit isn’t complete without ordering a Scotch egg - the ultimate bar snack starring hard boiled eggs encased in sausage. This hearty hand-held appetizer has been a British pub favorite since the early 18th century. While the origins are hazy, one legend claims Scottish farmers and shepherds invented them as a portable protein punch. The sausage coating preserved the eggs, allowing them to be safely tucked into pockets or knapsacks.
Through my pub-hopping travels, I discovered Scotch eggs are far from homogenous. Creative cooks across the UK are taking them to new heights. The key is crafting a flavorful sausage mix to encase the egg before breading and frying. At The Horse & Groom in Cornwall, their Scotch eggs featured a pork-venison sausage blended with apples and cider. Each bite boasted a sweet yet savory juiciness.
The Lamb & Flag in London had a clever curry Scotch egg made with chicken tikka sausage and mango chutney dip. The aromatic spices and fruity sweetness elevated this traditional dish to new levels. At Oxford’s Handle Bar, their unique black pudding Scotch eggs swapped traditional sausage for blood sausage. The intense iron richness of the black pudding balanced beautifully with the creamy boiled egg center.
While non-traditional versions abound, I equally enjoyed excellent classic Scotch eggs made with care and skill. At The Eagle Pub in Cambridge, their Scotch eggs are crumb-coated and fried to perfection- crunchy exterior giving way to a soft, lush yolk. Their housemade sausage meat includes fresh herbs and spices.
What makes Scotch eggs shine is contrast - the crispy seasoned crust against the pillowy egg interior. When done right, each bite is textural heaven. Overcooked eggs or subpar sausage defeat the purpose. But when constructed with prime ingredients by talented cooks, Scotch eggs are sublime. They hold up whether you’re washing them down with a craft beer, cider or whisky. And they make an ideal snack to share at the bar while catching up with friends.
Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Beef Wellington - Filet Mignon Baked in Pastry
While many British pub grub dishes err on the hearty, humble side, Beef Wellington represents the royal treatment - filet mignon capped in prosciutto and duxelles, then baked in flaky puff pastry. This lavish dish originated in the early 1800s, likely named after Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington and famed war hero. Beef Wellington became a staple of upscale English restaurants by the 1890s. Today it remains a special occasion showstopper.
On my gastro-adventures through Britain's taverns and pubs, I was delighted to find housemade Beef Wellington on many menus. This complex dish demonstrates a kitchen's skills. The filet must be cooked medium rare - not a degree over. The duxelles, a finely chopped mushroom pâté, provides an earthy contrast to the tender beef. And the puff pastry needs to emerge from the oven flaky on the outside yet soft inside.
One memorable Beef Wellington was at The Grenadier in London. This historic Royal Guard's tavern has been operating since 1720. Their version featured a thick cut of aged filet coated in mushroom duxelles then wrapped in prosciutto. The mound of meat sat atop a pool of madeira wine sauce, all encased in a perfectly cooked puff pastry. Each forkful of buttery pastry gave way to the savory-sweet flavors within.
At The Ship & Castle in Scotland, their spin incorporated venison loin instead of beef for a more gamey flair. Braised leeks and carrots baked into the pastry added wholesome depth. I also enjoyed The Flask's creative seafood take in Devon - chunks of lobster tail and crabmeat inside the crust, served alongside drawn lemon butter.
While the richness of Beef Wellington makes it best suited to cold winter nights, The Star Inn's summery approach won me over. Their light and fragrant duxelles had lemony notes from parsley and tarragon. English peas and asparagus baked into the pastry provided verdant contrast. This seasonal rendition still delivered on the crisp/flaky pastry and perfect medium-rare beef.
Bangers, Chips & More: 6 Iconic British Pub Grub Classics - Sticky Toffee Pudding - The Sweet, Sticky Dessert
What better way to finish off a hearty British pub meal than with a warm, sweet sticky toffee pudding? This classic dessert features a moist sponge cake soaked in toffee sauce for an indulgent taste and texture. During my gastro-travels through the UK's pubs and taverns, I became quite the sticky toffee pudding connoisseur. This humble cake captivates with its contrast of flavors - the bitter molasses and buttery brown sugar sauce against the softly sugared sponge. Textures also entice, from the tender crumb to the sticky, syrupy pools.
At The Perch Inn along Devon's winding Jurassic Coast, their sticky toffee pudding is baked daily using a generations old recipe. The richness of the sauce so thoroughly permeates the springy cake that each forkful releases more liquid toffee deliciousness. I savored this pudding after a hearty shepherd's pie, its sweetness providing the perfect counterbalance. The Perch Inn's dessert beautifully balances flavor and moisture without becoming cloyingly sweet or soggy.
In Edinburgh, The White Hart Inn's riff on the classic involved mixing dates into the sticky sponge for added natural sweetness and fibers. The texture took on an almost rustic, chunky feel. Their housemade butterscotch sauce amplified the toffee notes exponentially. This unique iteration demonstrated how, with quality ingredients and imagination, traditional dishes can be reinvented.
For the ultimate indulgence, I relished The Blackbird Bar's Guinness Stout sticky toffee pudding in Northern Ireland. The cracked open stout adds deep, almost smoky undertones and dramatic dark color. Their sauce contains butter, muscovado sugar and toasted pecans for layers of flavor. Each syrup-drenched bite delivers a sublime blend of bitter, nutty, caramelized tastes. The moist tender crumb soaks up the complex sauce divinely. Paired with a scoop of whiskey-laced vanilla gelato, this Guinness-laced dessert makes a wildly decadent post-dinner treat.
While some renditions veer into overly sweet or soggy territory, pubs like The Fox Inn get it just right. Their pudding achieves the ideal balance of buttery sponge, sweet yet subtle toffee sauce, and vanilla ice cream on the side for a cooling contrast. Each component melds together beautifully without overpowering the rest. This simple preparation demonstrates that using quality ingredients and proper baking technique keeps sticky toffee pudding crave-worthy.