CUISINE: English Pub ADDRESS: 580 Talbot Street DATE: July 5, 2013
I feel like the traditional wisdom is that British food is gross: boiled, and plain and filled with seemingly inedible things like sausage made of blood and the inside of stomachs and the like, but I LOVE British pub food. Ian and I went to London last year for the Olympics and had some of the best food of our LIVES. Traditional British stuff like expertly-cooked fish and chips, savory pies in crispy crust, and giant portions of British cheese. Beyond the traditional stuff, we also indulged in amazing Asian food, gourmet pizza from Jamie Oliver, the best Indian ever, fresh Mexican, and even a trendy place called MEAT/LIQUOR that made you line up for 2 hours for burgers that you ate in the dark (I’m assuming so you wouldn’t know how many calories you were actually consuming).
Basically, what I’m saying is, I gained 10 pounds on our trip to England last year. The food couldn’t have been THAT bad.
My all-time favourite drink is also a British pub creation: The Pimm’s Cup, a spiced gin beverage that’s served with ginger beer, cucumbers, mint and fresh fruit.
It’s not usually served in a pitcher with just a straw. That’s Megan-style.
So, I was looking forward to seeing what the Coates of Arms was going to dish up. This place, on the corner of Albert and Talbot, has been so many other things: the Original APK, the Rose and Crown…but I hadn’t been there in any of those incarnations.
(Like, I’m not saying I’m the REASON that those other businesses failed, I’m just saying it didn’t help.)
But I was looking forward to this dinner even more: my lady love, Erika, who has been stuck in Manhattan for the last year (Ed. Note: STUCK?), came home with her beautiful face, both on her own head and on the head of her new baby boy, Lincoln.
What I’m saying is they look the same. LOOK AT THOSE LIPS.
Erika is a foodie, too, and her lifestyle in New York allows her to go to all sorts of great restaurants with celebrity chefs. Most of our texts are usually just wordless exchanges of dirty food pictures.
Since we went to the Coates on a beautiful Sunday, we snagged the last table on the sunny patio. I love this area of London, behind Richmond. It’s quiet, with pretty trees and lots of historical old houses.
A couple of years ago, I was in this play put on by London Fringe called The Odd Soul Stroll. It was moving piece of theatre: not, like, emotionally, I mean that you had to like, traipse around to visit the different site-specific scenes of the play.
(Cameron is waiting for Megan after seeing the show. As Megan emerges from the stage door)
CAMERON: (Accusingly) You should have TOLD ME there’d be WALKING.
The show was about weirdos who had lived in London’s past: the mayor who rode his horse through city hall; Slippery the Seal, the seal that hated Storybook Gardens even more than we all do, so much so that he swam to Ohio, and Slippery Jack, the creeper who broke into people’s houses and tickled their feet with a feather while they were sleeping (WHATTT).
I played Annie Pixley, an actress at the Grand who drank some sort of weird Meat Elixir (I’m not sure what the original recipe for that was; in my bottle, it was iced tea). Because she was famous for some play called Child of the Hiawathas, my costume was a heavy layered dress, covered with a number of pelts, and topped with a coonskin cap.
Yep. You’re welcome, world.
Also, I look like I’m about to sneeze in this picture. Megan’s biography,
"Sneezing into the Wilderness", drops August 1.
Let’s just say, if you want to create a steam tent inside your own clothing, definitely wear a series of furs and lead a walking tour through downtown London in July and August. People will yell SO MANY weird things at you.
Anyway, let’s just say, this patio had perfect Fur-in-July weather.
The menu was a tad disappointing: firstly, they didn’t offer Pimm’s Cup, or any ginger beer, which was on every pub menu in the UK. I managed to get by with an apricot brandy sour, which was alright enough for me to order another.
The selection of British beers was pretty good, Erika went with a Kronenbourg, while Ian ordered a Boddingtons.
It’s called parenting, people. Get involved with it.
Erika, as a seasoned bartender, noted that her Kronenbourg was not the one she ordered: it was some sort of lager. A waitress friend of Erika’s was sitting at a table next to us, and noted the same thing. But, as servers, neither complained.
We went with the Ploughman’s Plate to start: a selection of (unnamed on this menu, or by our waitress) cheeses, dill pickles, and curry and onion chutney, and some cut-up bangers.
TOBIAS FÜNKE: (as Mrs. Featherbottom) Now, who would like a banger in the mouth? Oh wait, I forgot, here in The States you call it a “sausage in the mouth”.
MICHAEL BLUTH: We just call it a sausage.
I joked on my 5000th Instagram post of a platter of cheese that I should have a Tumblr account just with pictures of Charcuterie and Cheese platters. Knowing that this kind of thing is one of my favourites, I have to say that the Ploughman’s plate disappointed. For one, the pickles were completely ordinary dill pickles. Secondly, the bread was ordinary and not homemade, or particularly fresh. And the lack of information about the cheese itself (some kind of Swiss? Smoked something?) made it kind of forgettable. At $15, I’ve certainly had better. In London, the Church Key and Blue Duby both have better spreads, that include more meat and toast points as well.
For our main courses, we decided to skip the generic pub offering that were the majority of Coates offerings (wings, potato skins, caesar salad wraps and the like—because nothing says Olde Brittannia like a BLOOMIN’ ONION), and only order from the “Traditional Favourites” menu. Ian ordered the bangers and mash, served with three sausages and mushrooms and onions over mashed potatoes. Erika and I both got Yorkshire Puddings, hers with beef tips and mashed potatoes, and mine with butter chicken and onion rings.
Our food took a really long time to arrive: we had fully finished two rounds of drinks, baby Lincoln included, and had been sitting for more than an hour and 15 minutes before our mains arrived. We have had many dinners on the AZ Resto tour that have lasted more than two hours—Black Trumpet was 4 hours!—but not because the service was slow. And as a casual dining establishment, I feel like the wait times should be shorter than in fine dining.
When our food arrived, Erika had gone to change Lincoln in the bathroom (Parent Alert: there was no changing table—in this restaurant that offers a Kid’s Menu), but we noticed that she had been served fries instead of her mashed potatoes. When we pointed it out to the server, it took more than 20 minutes to get the corrected dish. My Yorkshire pudding was also less than inflated.
ERIKA: (trying to be positive) Well, at least we know they’re making things fresh.
And the mashed potatoes, when they arrived, were tasty: buttery and well-prepared. But with the dreaded presentation error of PARSLEY SPRINKS.
Ian’s choice was probably the best of the three. He enjoyed the sausages, and the beef gravy, mushrooms and onions were rich and hearty. I don’t know about the uncooked onions, though.
Erika also enjoyed her beef tips, which had the same gravy, with carrots as well.
I probably enjoyed my meal the least. The butter chicken sauce was completely ordinary…and weirdly orange, like its base was Frank’s Red Hot.
It also had sliced chicken that seemed a little underdone. Traditionally, butter chicken would be whole chicken breasts cooked in the sauce and then torn apart, but this chicken was definitely added after the sauce was made. My Yorkshire pudding also didn’t rise, making it quite tough. The onion rings were cooked to crispy, but a panko-breaded onion ring is never as good as a beer-battered one.
In the end, Ian said he would return to the Coates of Arms. Erika didn’t say anything, because the meal had taken so long (over 2.5 hours until our bill was settled) that Lincoln wasn’t having it anymore and she had to flee.
I said that I would love to return…to England, where I could sip Pimm’s out of a pitcher and eat some of the best food I’ve ever had.