UK is full of eateries she would love
Famously, in 2005, with her beloved Norwich City trailing, the club’s joint majority shareholder, Delia Smith, strode onto the pitch at half-time and attempted to rally the fans. “Where are you? Let’s be ‘avin you,” demanded the “sainted Delia”, in a hitherto unimaginably rambunctious outburst.
Yesterday’s comments after visiting the Queen reprised some of that suppressed, scattergun attitude, as Smith – now 76, and evidently past caring about her modest public image – got a few things off her chest. Unfortunately, she chose the wrong target.
Smith’s despair at “very poncey, very chefy” food, and her suggestion that it has ruined British restaurants, is sad and completely wrong.
It is an unsurprising stance from nononsense Delia, who, in How to Cheat at Cooking, recommended we use tinned mince and frozen mash.
But like @Wewantplates (that harrumphing online log of bizarre serving ideas: tiramisu in a trainer shoe; burgers on bin lids etc), Smith’s sweeping dismissal of ornately designed dishes with “six dots of sauce on” encapsulates a small-minded English fear of modernity and fuss, of risk-taking and creativity, of outrageous pleasure.
There are chefs pushing daft, impractical plating ideas. Chips served in little frying baskets are the least of it. But take it on a case by case basis. From ice-cream created tableside at Fat Duck in clouds of dry ice, to the whole fried cauliflower at Cumbria’s Lake Road Kitchen (like a blackened asteroid, speared with a hunting knife), much of the most exciting cooking in the past decade has been at restaurants that embrace witty, challenging presentation. It is not showing off.
These are not gormless chefs. Such restaurants are often run by cerebral figures committed to the sustainable, waste-free cooking that Smith favours.
Moreover, cooking rooted in traditional technique is thriving in Britain. Smith needs to get out more. To Roger Hickman’s in Norwich perhaps, which the Good Food Guide praises for its “real food”, or to Chester to experience Sticky Walnut’s rigorous, modern bistro cooking. Further north, in Sedbergh (stop off for a pie at Lancashire’s Parkers Arms first), Smith could enjoy lamb’s kidneys on toast at the Three Hares – with no theatrical flourishes.
True, Smith may not find rich buttery French sauces out there. British cooking is lighter now, thankfully. Like that night at Carrow Road (Norwich eventually lost 2-3), she will have to stomach any disappointment.