Sunday, 1 April 2012
Greggs Café - A Guest Post by Siyue Yi-Tian 四月一天
Hi, my name is Siyue Yi-Tian (四月一天). I'm from Beijing and I'm a friend of Mr Noodles, who kindly invited me to write a guest post on his blog. As I am visiting the UK, I've decided to blog about British food from my Chinese perspective.
For a whole host of reasons, British cuisine can be quite hard to pin down. However, there can be no doubt that pies and pastries are quintessentially British, so I checked out two classics: sausage rolls and Cornish pasties.
I decided to play it safe, and visited one of the most famous bakers in Britain: Greggs, which I understand is owned by Gregg Wallace, the superstar MasterChef (and twitter-lothario). As I wanted this to be a special treat, I went to the flagship Greggs Café on Earl's Court Road.
I was surprised that there was no table service; maybe Wallace is going for a casual vibe? Or maybe it's because he wants to keep the profit margins high? Anyway, I ordered my food, and started with the sausage roll. I'm sad to report that it was very disappointing.
When us Chinese make pork dishes, we season the meat judiciously, add herbs such as chives, and maybe some water chestnuts to offer a contrast in taste and texture. In contrast, the British palate appears to lack such sophistication. The sausage meat was too finely minced, and what's more, all I could taste was white pepper. For the love of Confucius, is all British food this one-dimensional?
Things didn't get any better with the Cornish pasty. The filling was grey and dull, and while I may be just a humble conceptual artist from Beijing, even I know that peas and carrot don't belong in a Cornish pasty. All it needed was the addition of sweetcorn for it to have all three key ingredients of that classic late night British institution: the pavement pizza. Not even the milky tea could wash away the disappointment of my meal.
Now I know China is on the rise, and Britain is on the wane, but I had expected better of the homeland of Piers Morgan, Nick Clegg, Richard Hammond and Alan Partridge. I consider Wallace to be the equal of such luminaries, and I was frankly disappointed that his bakery was so lacklustre.
In conclusion, there is little evidence of the much-vaunted British food revolution based on my meal at Greggs. Instead, I came away with an understanding as to why obesity is such a problem in the United Kingdom (it's little wonder, George Osborne has put 20% FAT tax on pasties). With hindsight, I should've followed Mr Noodles' suggestion and gone to Brixton Village instead.
Update - I've since found out that Gregg Wallace's restaurant is called Gregg's Table and that it has no connection whatsoever with Greggs. Apologies are in order, as one sells badly executed dishes popular in 1970s Britain while the other is a high street chain of bakeries.
Siyue Yi-Tian (四月一天) is the founder of the April 1 Movement – a collective of like-minded souls who blog about art, culture and food in Beijing. The views and opinions expressed in this post are his own.