It seems weird that a year ago I was on the West Coast of Canada having a great time exploring, eating, photographing and just taking in the culture. I miss it. My summer this year has been the same pretty much as last year. I’ve stayed in Cambridge, worked with Pembroke’s fantastic International Programmes, though this year as a General Coördinator as opposed to last year as a Programme Assistant (PA), but then this year I will finish much later and not really have the chance to explore and get away as I did last year. It’s a shame slightly. While I did get away to France for a week at the start of the Summer, it’s not quite the same. I miss the opportunity to explore a new place on so many different levels. Especially the food. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in the UK for too long, but the food here is boring. Nothing is that good, nothing is especially special, and it feels like 80% of all restaurants here are Italian.
What I really relished from last year was each new meal. Not knowing where we’d be going, and the exploration and adventure that I would have to invest in each new dining experience to make sure that it was different, cheap and up to my fellow travellers’ (family…) standard (not that it was particularly hard to find something that they would like). I turned to Yelp for a lot of it. And it worked. I could discover these fantastic little (or large) places that I don’t imagine we would find if we stuck to the main roads or the beaten track. I think this is maybe what I miss most. I know Cambridge too well, and I know that however hard I look, I’m not going to get the same dining experience here as I did last Summer. Yes, there are some great places here, Alimentum for example, but in general Cambridge, and maybe the UK as a whole, is lacking some variety, some difference, something fresh and new. That’s what I want. To illustrate these little things, here are a few examples of the great places that I came across on my adventures.
Red Fish Blue Fish in Victoria was one of my ultimate favourites. It’s a supremely fresh fish joint housed in a shipping container and situated on the shore in Victoria. The food they serve is beyond excellent. Especially the tacones (I think I tried every kind) and the awesome slaw that comes with them. What makes it fantastic however, is that it’s like nothing else that I’ve been to. Where else would anyone have the idea to start a fresh fish and seafood place by the sea in a freakin’ shipping container. So ghetto, yet so awesome at the same time. Can’t someone start such a business in the UK?
Secondly, The Naam. This place is a freakin’ institution in Vancouver. Open 24/7, and it’s been there for years and years. Vegetarian fare only, but it doesn’t stop it being scrumptious. I had a Golden Dragon Bowl (described on the menu as a delicious mix of cheese, Naam fries, miso gravy, steamed veggies, sprouts, carrots & deep fried tofu). Incredible. The best thing about it is that the people were were staying with in Vancouver had the saying: “A Naan drive-by” where you would drive by the place scoping out the queue (because there always is one…) before eventually deciding to go anyway regardless of its length. If there were such reasonably priced down to earth vegetarian restaurants like this in more places in the UK, then more people actually might become vegetarians. Meanwhile, at least in Edinburgh, you have Henderson’s, which just isn’t quite the same no matter how fancy they make it look.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, people don’t even know how to make sandwiches here. They have not a freakin’ clue at all. How can sandwiches ever be so thin, so measly, so wanting… North American sandwiches (I believe a far distant relation of their European cousin) have a lot going for them. From the outset they generally look better, they are larger, and the most important factor is that there is more filling than bread (purely in volume terms). This is a must. None of these small baguettes with a few slices of cheese, I want a bagel with a tennis ball size lump of Montreal smoked meat inside it (ahem). Even diners in the US can do better sandwiches than most so called ‘sandwich’ places here in the UK. Some places here are trying though, I’m a fan of Pret a Manger, they make great fresh sandwiches, especially their ‘Classic Super Club’, most likely the best sandwich from a big brand name this side of the Atlantic, but until there are a number of places serving the most amazing breakfast sandwich ever, I will not be happy.
These are just a few illustrated small points, and I understand my train of thought has changed from missing great eateries to bitching about the state of the UK sandwich, but I feel vaguely passionate about this, and I think it should change, even if I start up a café or a food joint myself.