Eating in London is an adventure that ranges from simple pub grub to fine dining and world-class Indian food. Now, it’s one thing if you are in a pub swigging a pint and munching a Ploughman’s (essentially cold bread, cheese, and onions with pickles), but it’s a whole different game if you roll up to The Ritz.
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Then the rules change again if you decide to dine at Veeraswamy, the U.K.’s oldest Indian Restaurant that comes complete with a Michelin Star. Finally, we need to look at restaurant dining over the Christmas holidays. There are some strange British quirks to deal with there. Here are 10 unwritten rules for restaurant dining in London.
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10 Indian Food – The Hands Have It
Remember your mother telling you to not use your hands to shovel food into your mouth? Well, American and English etiquette are at one on that one. But the Indians? It’s a little (or a lot) different. Indian meals come with bread of all shapes and sizes, together with dipping sauces and condiments.
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You’re supposed to use your hands to dip and pinch up sauces and condiments. Use your fork and you will have revealed you aren’t an in the know Indian foodie.
9 Christmas – Silly Hats And Hidden Coins
Harry Potter’s world. You are meeting friends for a Christmas lunch in London. You get to the restaurant and find that there is a brightly colored tube thing on your plate, tied at either end with ribbon. It’s a Christmas Cracker.
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First things first. You and a friend pull on either end of the thing. It pops and crackles and out comes a silly hat. The sillier the better. And guess what? You wear the darn thing throughout the lunch. Sure, you’ll feel dumb. But it’s rude not to. And watch the Christmas Pudding. There’s probably a coin hidden in there.
8 Cell Phones – No, No, No
What happens in America when you go to a restaurant? Well, you put your cell on the table and check it regularly. You pick it up and text, tweet, maybe even phone. Now, English restaurants have never, ever been that crazy about mixing cell phones with dining. At the least, you might get a disapproving look or two.
But these days some English restaurants and pubs are banning cell phones. They usually don’t mind if you take pictures, but the other stuff? Forget it. Some have even threatened to throw you out if you tweet, text or talk.
7 Tipping – A Sensible British Attitude
In the U.S. diners have been subject to a kind of tyranny, with tips of 25 percent or more often the norm. You and Mr. Bean will be glad to hear that the British have a much more sensible attitude. Firstly, we’ll deal with the language.
In London, you ask for the bill, not the check. When you get it, see if there is a thing called a surcharge. If that’s there you don’t need to tip. If it’s not there, the English wait staff will be happy with a 10 to 15 percent tip. Overtip and you will have marked yourself as a tourist.
6 The Thing About Knives And Forks
Do you pick up your fork and use your hands to shovel the peas on? That’s fine. But in English restaurants, the thing to do is to hold your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right and, in effect, let the knife do the shoveling. If you think about it, it’s a lot more sanitary and sensible doing it that way.
Resist the temptation to cut up all your meat at once. Better to cut it as you eat it. When the end of the meal comes, line your knife and fork up parallel on the right side of the plate. That’s English code for “I’m finished”.
5 Fine Dining Number One – Sitting At Table
You’re having dinner at The Savoy. It could happen. It’s expensive though. The proper things to do, especially if you are a lady (or at least female) is to sit up straight, back not touching the chair back, with your hands in your lap.
If you slouch, lean or put your elbows on the table, nobody is going to throw you out, but the duchess at the next table may shoot you a look or two. It could be a lot worse. If you have dinner with the Queen and are presented with a banana, you would be expected to leave it on your plate and cut the peel off with a knife. Really.
4 Fine Dining Number Two – Important, More Important, Most Important
You’ve got a friend at University College, London. They are having a dinner in a private dining room at Claridge’s. You walk in. There is a guy seated at the head of the table. To his right is a woman with her nose in the air. To his left is an old man in a tuxedo. What do you know already?
Well, obviously, the guy at the head of the table is the most important. The snooty woman to his right is the second most important. The old guy? He’s third in the pecking order. No prizes for guessing that you will be at the far end of the table bringing up the rear.
3 Biscuits For Dessert? The Language Of English Food
You meet your friends at an unpretentious London restaurant. You can slouch, put your hands on the table and kickback. Then the menus come. There’s something call Aubergine au Gratin. Down the list are Fried Courgettes. For dessert, the menu has Biscuits and Ice Cream. Biscuits and ice cream for dessert?
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Your English friend suggests you have some mushy peas and wash your meal down with a Bitter. Let’s translate: Aubergine is eggplant. Courgettes are just zucchini. Biscuit is English for cookie. And finally, mushy peas are just peas cooked until they are, well, mushy and Bitter is Pale Ale. When in doubt, ask.
2 Down At Your Local
This has been voted one of the prettiest pubs in London. Seems there’s a little bit of overkill going on. How very un-British. First things first: Opening times. It used to be that pubs had very restricted hours and, for example, they had to close at 11 p.m. weeknights.
These days, pubs are going the “private club” route and staying open a lot longer. You may have to pay a “club fee”. Don’t go in expecting MacDonalds, unless you want to not fit in. Expect fish and chips, Ploughman’s and the like. If you are a guy, don’t order a half-pint. Swig a pint. And it’s okay to buy the barmaid a drink, there and then.
1 The Ultimate British Breakfast Experience
This is “heart attack on a plate”, better known as the full English breakfast, or “Full English”. It’s an institution. Don’t expect your English male friends to have any sympathy with you if you show up at the restaurant and order the fruit plate and whole-wheat toast.
You will note that everything, other than the baked beans, is fried. While it’s changing, the English tend to have tea first thing and coffee at 11 a.m. Don’t ask why. Nobody knows. It’s called “Elevensies”. And tea? It’s at 4 p.m.
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