The premise behind 8theworld is that it is possible to find restaurants that ring true to the culture represented with only slight accommodations to the American palate. Given the ethnic communities in the NYC area, I expected that Asian and Latin America cuisines would feature often. I was shocked and delighted to stumble across Gruel Britannia, an English restaurant/cafe in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Years spent living amongst and working with the British in Hong Kong for two UK headquartered companies (and dozens of trips to the UK) taught me something about Great Britain and English food. I was skeptical about how ‘English’ the experience would be as I approached the red door (which happened to look very English).
As I entered, I saw the same candies that I would expect to see at the chemist Boots – names like Smarties (the UK chocolate kind not the US sugar pill kind), Quality Street and Allsorts. There were real Cadbury chocolates as well. It is a challenge explaining to British people about how Americans love Hershey’s chocolate, because why would anyone eat chocolate that tastes like soured milk? (FYI Hershey’s milk isn’t sour, they just use butyric acid which smells like vomit.)
They even sell Flake, a bar made from ribbons of chocolate folded upon itself and used as the topping (along with artificial raspberry sauce) for soft serve cones in the UK.
The décor was befitting a lovely and charming café in the Cotswolds; rustic planked tables with beautiful English porcelainware and wainscoted walls with paintings of hunts.
The menu was English as well; bacon butties, coronation chicken sandwiches, scones, and a big fry-up breakfast… hold up! Why was there no blood pudding in the fry-up?
Karen Hubrich, the Owner/Chef, explained that there were some things that Americans didn’t warm up to, but if I had asked, they would have happily included blood pudding in the fry-up. Similarly, they tried putting Steak and Kidney Pie on the menu and gotten no takers. Which was really a shame, because I bought one of the frozen unsold pies and it was magnificent.
I was there for lunch. Gruel Britannia also serves high tea and a traditional Sunday roast complete with Yorkshire pudding.
This is what I ate.
Coronation Chicken Sandwich
Coronation Chicken is a curried chicken salad created for the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. There are so many ways to do this sandwich badly, GB figured out how to do it right. The chicken breast was poached firm, not dry or stringy. The mayonnaise-based dressing brought enough curry flavor and moistness to balance the lean chicken. The bread, a rustic loaf with dried fruits, gave the sandwich a needed crunch and sweetness.
The scone was perfect. The pastry held together well despite the short (crumbly, not flaky) texture. Real clotted cream was topped with fresh sliced strawberries and tangy strawberry jam. Just like the scene from When Harry Met Sally, another diner saw the look of approval on my face and said, “I’ll have that one.”
The cream-based soup was sweet and rich. There was enough salt to bring out the earthiness of the mushroom blend.
The fish soup had the texture of a New England chowder, but the flavor was more subtle.
Steak and kidney pie
As far as savory pies go, this was fantastic. The crust was wonderfully flaky. The chunks of steak (looked like round) were firm and tender. The gravy tasted homemade (vs. OXO). What’s not to love? The kidneys? It’s offal for sure, but mild as far as these things go. The pieces of veal kidneys were lighter in color, more tender and less mineral-ly than beef kidneys and blended in perfectly with the steak and gravy.