Hard though it may be to admit in patriotic pub grub circles, British cuisine has always been open to European influences.
When the Romans departed Britain after a few centuries in charge, they left us a couple of culinary curiosities behind- the rabbit and the edible snail. That’s something for foraging gastropub chefs to think about as they bang on about their British food credentials.
Moving on, while the Germanic Angles and Saxons seem to have been fairly straightforward, chuck-it-on-the-grill types, the Normans bought a more refined approach after 1066. Spices and flavours such as almond, cloves and ginger found their way into British cooking under the Normans. This French influence reasserted itself in 1890, when fabled chef Georges Escoffier took over the kitchens at the Savoy in London, and defined dining out for the next century.
So, whatever our relationship with Europe looks like once the dust from both the referendum and the Euro 2016 tournament have settled later this summer, the continental influence on pub menus seems certain to continue.
Of course, many European foods have found their way onto British menus via the transatlantic route. The most recent Menurama survey of the casual dining sector, conducted in winter 2015 by industry analyst Horizons, shows that the burger remains the number one meal in terms of its appearance on menus:
Although there a number of rival claims to its creation, the hamburger seems to have an evolution of the Hamburg Steak, a fried meat sandwich made popular in the USA by German immigrants;
The Menurama data shows that the average price of a burger is £9.51 on pub menus, compared to a £9.91 average price across the casual dining sector as a whole;
Although burgers are the top main course dish, they are starting to feel the squeeze from other dishes. Menurama shows a decrease of 12 per cent in the number of burger meals on casual dining menus from Summer 2015 to Winter 2015.
Variations on the theme are the chicken burger, the second most commonly seen dish on pub menus with an average selling price of £8.28, and the veggie burger at number 18 in pubs with a £6.99 average price.
The next most popular European influence on menus is the pizza. Flatbreads cooked with topping predate even the Romans, and as a culinary style the pizza is well established in many European countries in various forms, as well as being brought to the USA by the Italian community and then imported back. In today’s market:
Menurama shows the pizza is the most widely served dish in restaurants and the second most widely served across casual dining menus as a whole;
Pizza is only the 14th most widely-found dish on pub menus, but is on the increase, up from number 19 in summer 2015. This in part reflects the growth of freshly-cooked pizza menu concepts in the managed pub sector;
Pub pizza is a bargain; the average price is £8.85 in pubs compared to £11.15 across the casual dining sector as a whole.
The frankfurter, or hot dog, is the final player in the Europe-to-America triumvirate. Although it hasn’t yet found its way into the top pub meals as measured by Menurama, the hot dog is the 13th most commonly found dish on casual dining menus across the whole sector, with an average price of £7.42. This compares to an average of £7.64 for sausage and mash on pub menus, where this pub classic is number seven on the list of most commonly seen dishes.
Other pub dishes from the Menurama survey which show a European influence include:
Scampi: Scampi and chips is number 13 on the Menurama list of pub dishes, with an average price of £7.48. This is actually pan-European, since the word is the plural of the Italian for shrimp, while UK law defines scampi as the shellfish species also known as the Norwegian Lobster or Dublin Bay Prawn – the little fellow is practically the embodiment of European harmony. Be aware, though that in other countries a range of species are served as scampi.
Lasagne: It’s game, set and match to the Italians, with beef lasagne at number 16 in Menurama’s pub dish rankings, with an average price of £7.43. The dish can be traced back to Romans time, and in its current form has been a popular dish in the Naples region for centuries.
European menu influences
The Menurama analysis of different influences across the casual sector proves the dominance of Italian-derived food. The figures show the percentage of dishes found from a particular country, averaged across all menus.
- Italian 12.8%
- French 3.4%
- Spanish 1%
- Mediterranean 0.5%
- Portugese 0.4%
- Greek 0.3%
- Belgian 0.2%
- Cypriot 0.1%
- German 0.1%