I couldn’t believe my ears whilst watching Saturday Kitchen this weekend. It all started very innocently with Alexis Gauthier, French chef extraordinaire, making a chicken wing dish and talking about his London restaurant. The debate moved onto France and how narrow the food choices are with Alexis claiming he only discovered new varieties of cuisine once he had crossed the Channel. The French, he said, are “a bit too French sometimes”. He went on to say that he found the UK and specifically London food scene more progressive than France. Interesting.

Then yesterday there was an article on chocolatier Paul A Young timed perfectly for the Easter weekend. In it, the Australian head chocolatier Michael Lowe said he moved from Australia to work in the chocolate industry over here because “Brits are more open to ideas”.

So what is it about the British and is this all true?

I thought Jamie Oliver showcased the unique position we Brits have in his Great Britain series where he played homage to the multicultural influences that pervade our country. There is no doubt that the heritage of our  British Empire alongside an openness to welcome in people from all over the world has led to local communities making wonderful authentic food and we saw many examples on that show.

Marry that authenticity up with the passion that drives food industry experts and out pops some really great cooking in restaurants, markets, shops and more all across the UK. But that is not enough to make us the most progressive food scene. And indeed, if you look at the top 50 restaurants of the world as voted in Restaurant Magazine by over 800 international experts, the UK comes 5th in the stats with 4 restaurants listed, as opposed to France at 8, Italy & USA at 6 and Spain at 5.

Maybe the clues come from the actual restaurants listed. In fifth place is the Fat Duck which fell two places in 2011. I guess we all know about Heston and his style. He is a food geek which is not only demonstrated by his choice of glasses. Geek-i-ness is a must have trait for someone doing superlative food. But I also see quirkiness and that feels like a British thing to me. How else do you explain Boris Johnson and his Wiff Waff escapade? Look it up!

'Mock Turtle Soup' awaiting the soup element which came via a gold tea bag of flavour

The Sound of the Sea

There is no doubting the genius of dishes like Sound of the Sea and Mock Turtle Soup which we have all seen on those TV shows, but for me there were other dishes that really endeared me to Heston’s Britishness, creativity and skill. The Whisk(e)y gums were a celebration of a great UK product and the sweet shop takes us all back to a bygone era of our childhood which many are trying to reproduce in new outlets opening today.

Whiskey Gums

The Sweet Shop

The other top 50 restaurant that has stood the test of time is St John and Fergus Henderson really does encapsulate that eccentric British character. Nose to tail cooking may not be your thing but it certainly celebrates the British farming industry in all its glory. And we shouldn’t knock his “buttock-like buns” either.

Ironically, the other two restaurants in the top 50 are The Ledbury and Hibiscus, with an Australian chef and French chef respectively. Well – clearly they came here to explore their ideas in a more conducive environment.

So there you have it. A combination of international influences, multiculturalism, eccentricity and quirkiness which all add up to a unique and wonderful place to explore food. Now where shall I go for dinner?

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