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What: Though this common pub meal might resemble what a ploughman would have eaten on a midday break in the fields 100 years ago—at its simplest, it’s just bread, butter, cheese, and pickle/relish—it is widely accepted that the ploughman’s lunch in its modern context is a bit younger and, well, contrived: In the late 1960s, the Milk Marketing Board apparently promoted the dish to boost national cheese sales in pubs. The ploughman’s lunch a marketing ploy? Afraid so. Still, we should give credit to the (now defunct) MMB for putting such compatible components together on the same plate. The cheese is often a hunk of cheddar, Stilton, or other local cheese; the bread is crusty; the pickle traditionally “Branston pickle,” a jarred pickled-vegetable relish—and besides butter, you’ll often see fruit and pickled onions, or perhaps sliced ham, a pork pie, a boiled egg, and/or pâté, among other additions. It’s exactly the simple, rustic food you’d pack for a picnic, only you’re inside a pub. Oh, and you drink it with beer—obviously.
Where: Our ploughman’s came from The Marquis Cornwallis (31 Marchmont St., map), a nice neighborhood pub in Bloomsbury that focuses on seasonal, regionally sourced foods. Unfortunately, the restaurant does not always offer it; see “Alternatively” for more places to try it.
When: Mon-Thurs, noon-11:30pm; Fri, noon-midnight; Sat, 10:30am-midnight; Sun, noon-10:30pm
Order: This ploughman’s lunch (£7.50) during our visit featured two regional cheeses, Cropwell Bishop’s tangy Stilton blue cheese and smooth Taw Valley cheddar, on a cutting board alongside a hunk of brown bread, a piece of pork pie, some apple, grapes, celery, and—standing in for the brown Branston pickle—a ramekin of sweet and tangy onion chutney. A dish like this is only as good as the quality of its ingredients, and this one certainly passed the test, especially when washed down with an English ale like Fuller’s Organic Honey Dew. (This pub always has a few casks, as well as imports.)
Alternatively: During lunchtime, try a decent traditional pub, such as The Clarence (53 Whitehall, map)—conveniently located between Parliament and Trafalgar Square—or a restaurant that takes pride in its British food. Cafes and takeaway shops sometimes offer a ploughman’s too.
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