What to eat in Great Britain and Ireland

Eloise Barker

Title photography - The Ivy Shepherd's Pie by David Griffen

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Take a great big bite out of Great Britain. The food here is hearty, comforting and simple. We’re a nation of food lovers – and animal lovers, with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, plus some of the world’s highest animal welfare standards. Discover where foodies should feast in the UK and Ireland.

Start with a snack

Traditional: Melton Mowbray pork pies

Featuring melt-in-your-mouth flaky pastry and a packed, meaty centre, pork pies are a thing of beauty. Once popular with fox hunters for ease of eating, they’re now sold in supermarkets around the UK. The Melton Mowbray Pork Pie association stipulate that a true Melton Mowbray pie must contain uncured pork and have a soft, bulging shape. To trace them to their source, visit Dickinson & Morris in the town centre of Melton Mowbray itself, in Leicestershire.

With a twist: Lady’s Fingers

Since Britain declared chicken tikka masala as their national dish, a good Indian restaurant has to feature on a foodie map of the British Isles. Whilst every town will have a local Tandoori, try Dishoom for modern, upmarket Bombay cooking. The chain started in London but has recently opened an outpost in Edinburgh. For when you don’t fancy their meaty curries, try their famous vegetarian okra fries (known as lady’s fingers).

Where to stay

Once you've eaten your fill, retire to the Principal Hotel Edinburgh which is made up of gorgeous Georgian townhouses.

  • A selection of dishes from Dishoom. ©Dishoom.

    Don’t just have dinner

    As well as its famous Ruby Curry, Dishoom is famous for its brunch menus. Book a holiday to Edinburgh to discover the rest of the restaurant scene.

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A pub lunch

Traditional: Your local boozer

Pub food is the bastion of British cuisine. The continent can keep its cafes; the Brits have their ‘local boozer’ – that is, the nearest pub to their house. Here ideas are thrashed out over mash and friends meet over fish and chips. A pub lunch might be bangers and mash (aka: sausages and mashed potatoes) or it might be or a mild curry. In Dublin, look out for a bubbling Irish stew – a simple dish of mutton, potatoes and parsley. Try it at The Brazen Head, a pub that’s seen it all – it was founded in 1198.

With a twist: A Yorkshire pudding wrap

The Sunday roast is a thing of perfection. This 3,000-calorie plate features a joint of meat with a satellite of vegetal accoutrements, gravy, sauces and stuffing. But there’s been a recent development: chefs have taken to wrapping the whole thing in a flattened Yorkshire pudding – with a side of gravy for dipping. Voilà – a Yorkshire pudding wrap. It started, unsurprisingly, at The York Roast Co. in York Minster. Look out for variants on trendy pub menus.

Where to stay

In Dublin, you can’t get closer to the action than Temple Bar Hotel. It’s set in the quieter end of this famous area, and is modern and functional.

A quick pint

Traditional: Guinness factory, Ireland

No trip to Dublin is complete without a tour of the Guinness Storehouse at St James’s Gate Brewery. Ireland’s most popular attraction is a self-guided tour of the premises that starts in (yes, in) the world’s largest Guinness glass and ends with a pint. Whilst you won’t be able to see the factory itself, this tour brings the beer-making process to life. The famous stout is known the world over for its quirks. For instance, it takes two minutes to pour the perfect pint, with Nitrogen bubbles making its distinctive creamy head.

With a twist: BrewDog

BrewDog is a Scottish success story, a craft beer company started in 2007 that’s now stocked in supermarkets nationwide. The original BrewDog brewery is near Aberdeen in Scotland. It’s modern and run by bearded hipsters with a sincere love of hops and a disregard for authority (they’ve been in trouble due to their risky naming conventions more than once). The Dogwalk Brewery Tour includes four tastings, plus a visit to the Brewhouse and production line.

Where to stay

The Ashling is a stylish four star hotel, situated in the heart of Dublin – it’s a wonderful place to unwind after a visit to the Guinness Brewery.

  • Clotted Cream scones with tea in Dartmoor, Devon. ©zuellen.

    Did you know…

    It's considered rude to clink your spoon against the side of your cup when you're stirring your tea. Now, gently does it.

    Flights and car hire
  • Visitors leaving Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland. ©Guinness & Co 2016.

    All about stout

    Guinness is over 250 years old, and once claimed to have medicinal properties. Sadly, you won't find many doctors willing to prescribe it now.

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  • The original Yorky Pud Wrap by The York Roast Co. ©The York Roast Co.

    Tales from the dales

    York is around 2 hours' drive from Newcastle, a little longer if you take a scenic route through the Yorkshire Dales. You'll be rewarded with the famous Yorky Pud Wrap at the end.

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Fine dining

Traditional: The Ivy

The Ivy is a London institution. In the nineties, it was the go-to destination for celebs who lunch. The waiting list was long, and the food was secondary to glimpsing Tara Palmer-Tomkinson on the next table. The brand has a few locations across the UK now, including in gorgeous York. Sit in an ancient town square trying traditional Brit classics. Then tell everyone you ‘dined at The Ivy’.

With a twist: The Fat Duck

When Heston Blumenthal opened The Fat Duck in sunny Bray in Berkshire, its absurd culinary combinations made headlines – bacon and egg ice cream! Snail porridge! But it’s not just showy cheffery. Blumenthal is one of Britain’s best chefs. His team create dishes based on everything from your first trip to the seaside to a dolls house that opens, revealing petit-fours. You’ll need to book far in advance. You could also visit The Hand and Flowers in the next-door town of Marlow: chef Tom Kerridge’s posh pub.

Something stronger

Traditional: Scottish Whisky

Scottish and Irish whisky is so good because of the local peat and the history. The boggy landscape is dug out and burnt to make the whisky seductively smoky, and the barrels are centuries old. Have a wee dram, and then buy a bottle – as any Scot will tell you, it’s delicious sprinkled over your porridge with some cream and salt in the morning.

With a twist: Chapel Down sparkling wine Step aside,

Champagne. South East England is making a name for itself with its own sparkling wine, and the critics love it. Chapel Down makes one of the finest versions down in sunny Kent. It’s not cheap, but it is high-quality: dry, bubbly and fresh. Buy bottles in Waitrose – or at the vineyard itself. At Chapel Down it’s free to walk among the vines and enjoy the Kentish countryside. Vino enthusiasts will want to book a tasting tour.

  • Chapel Down Kit's Coty Vineyard. ©Chapel Down.

    The garden of England

    A third of Kent is deemed an area of outstanding natural beauty. Poppies blow on the hillsides in summer and orchards swell with apples in autumn. Don't miss a tour of The Chapel Down Winery.

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Afternoon Tea

Traditional: High Tea

High Tea and hotels go together like – well, like – Earl Grey and a slice of lemon. Expect carousel-like three tiered stands of delicate finger sandwiches, scones and petit fours. Traditional High Tea is served between 3 and 4pm, and the name comes from the fact you'll sit 'up' to table to eat it, rather than in a 'lowly' sofa. The Balmoral, in Edinburgh, serves High Tea in its famous Palm Court restaurant.

With a twist: Rosylee Tearooms

Rosylee Tearooms in Manchester’s Northern Quarter opened in 2013. This bright, airy, beautiful restaurant cooks everything from scratch. For afternoon tea, the kitchens put on a spread featuring homemade scones with Tiptree jam and clotted cream.

Where to stay

In Manchester, the gorgeous Lowry Hotel looks the part, and serves its high tea with Bellinis and G&Ts.

Sweet tooth

Traditional: Clotted cream ice cream

Clotted cream is made in the West Country. It’s ‘cooked’ in water baths until it reaches the best consistency. Dorset, Devon and Cornwall argue about who makes the best cream tea, featuring clotted cream atop freshly baked scones. However, there’s a clear winner for ice cream – Cornwall makes theirs with clotted cream. No, it’s not vanilla flavour; it’s cream flavour: pure, simple and with a gorgeous texture. Cornwall makes a great last stop on a foodie tour of the ‘English Rivieria’.

With a twist: Cadbury World

Cadbury, the beloved British confectionary company, is a chocolatey conglomerate of brands. British and American chocolate taste distinct from each other – it's to do with how much cocoa solids they each contain – and you’ll be able to taste a clear difference in British treats. The best thing about the Cadbury World tour near Birmingham? Bars and bars of free chocolate, and the largest Cadbury shop in the world at the end. Stock up on the choc.

Food festival

Traditional: Loch Lomond Food & Drink Festival

Loch Lomond’s food festival in September arrives just as the beautiful woodlands of Scotland’s borderlands start to show their autumn displays. Tasting cured salmon from the Argyll Smokery adds to the autumnal atmosphere. But if you can’t make it for September, head to Luss Seafood Bar and try whisky from Loch Lomond Distillery.

With a twist: Cheese Fest

Though the Loch Lomond Food Festival isn’t old (it started in 2005), it isn’t quite as ‘out there’ as the UK’s new touring cheese festival, which is visiting cities in the UK from Bristol to Glasgow. Look out for demonstrations, competitions and tastings, and British cheeses like Red Leicester, Stinking Bishop, Stilton and Cheddar.

Where to stay

Glasgow is one hour's drive from Loch Lomond. Stay at the modern Indigo Glasgow, a four-star hotel in the city centre.