Taste test: Is British food really as good in Japan as claimed?

On the occasion of the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, The Japan News takes a look at British food - is it really as good as the British government claims? Mind you, eating (and drinking, of course, chum) is believing, after all!

"Having a full English breakfast is a treat," says Chris Price, who runs Hotel Wellies in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture.

The signature British dish is one you may want to save for a special occasions-with its plate of bacon and eggs, sausage, fried mushrooms, baked beans and grilled tomatoes served with slices of golden toast.

Price adds a local touch to the breakfast by using fresh tomatoes of the Amela breed.

"The Amela tomatoes in Nagano are so fantastic when eaten raw; I don't want to cook it," he said.

Price and his wife, Noriko, opened the hotel last year, where they serve authentic British cuisine, from fish and chips to Sunday roast complete with Yorkshire pudding and gravy.

"I enjoy making food from the beginning, so I make my own sausages," he said. His sausages sometimes contain meat from wild boars he buys from local hunters. He also cures bacon and smokes the salmon himself using chips from cherry wood to add a distinctive flavor.

Price, who hails from near London and used to work in finance, has always been a keen cook. He is largely self-taught but follows some top British cooks, such as Heston Blumenthal and Delia Smith.

"I try to make [the meals] wholesome and made from local ingredients," he said.

The food is served with a variety of wines, whiskys and a broad range of British beer, including Shepherd Neame beer from Kent, Fullers from London and Adnams from East Anglia.

"Innovation, one of the beers from Adnams, is stunningly fruity and interesting beer," Price said.

Price thinks cooking vibrant, delicious, authentic dishes using fresh and locally grown ingredients is the key to change the negative bias about British food and cooking, which has vastly changed over the past 20 or 30 years.

"[With] the number of great restaurants in London, and the number of diversities, the UK is much better now, and the quality of products you get at supermarkets like Waitrose is very good," he said, adding, "I'd say not as good as Japan, though!"

Organic experience

When you step through the door of the Daylesford Organic store in Aoyama, Tokyo, the warm aroma of breads, muffins and cupcakes baking in the kitchen greets you. The light and relaxed atmosphere of the shop and its upstairs cafe, with large windows and whitish wooden furnishing, promises a healthy and natural cuisine experience. It is the only place in Japan where customers can both purchase and dine upon wholesome organic food originating in the Cotswolds, England.

"Especially recommended in this season is 'raw vegetable salad,' a new menu item we launched at the cafe this month," said Masahiro Ito, president of Daylesford Organic Japan. Carrots, cabbage and four other seasonal vegetables are shredded and mixed together to bring about a juicy and crispy harmony, literally spiced up with a chili, cashew and soy dressing.

A greater variety of chunky cupcakes and simple but crunchy muffins has been added to both the dining and take-out menus.

According to Ito, Daylesford is "about authentic taste, or real food, with sustainability in mind."

"As ingredients like free-range eggs and organic and low-pesticide vegetables are used in Britain, we also choose quality ingredients both from Britain and in Japan," he said.

In the grocery section, Daylesford ketchup, made according to an additive-free traditional recipe, is especially worthy of note for those who want to reacquaint themselves with the charm of British taste. The thick ketchup came to prominence after customers who dined at the cafe remarked that the condiment was especially tasty.

According to Ito, British food has become more colorful in terms of taste, cooking technique and presentation amid an economic boom centering around the City, attracting more people from the other parts of the world and making people recognise again British food's authenticity.

"Mind you, Britain is a farm country. It is rich in quality foodstuff in the first place," Ito said.

In the case of Rose Bakery, the British taste was recognised overseas first thanks to its simplicity and healthfulness before being imported back to the country and the rest of the world.

Rose Carrarini and her husband Jean-Charles wanted to create a place where they themselves could enjoy what they really wanted-safe, simple food based on British cuisine. Although it was in Paris the British and French couple opened their first Rose Bakery shop, it became so popular that they decided to open a branch in London, followed by others in New York, Seoul and Tokyo.

"Scones, cakes and other baked goods, much simpler than French ones in terms of recipe and presentation, appealed to people in Paris," said Tomoko Udohira, a patissier at Rose Bakery in Ginza, Tokyo, where lines of freshly baked cakes and delicatessen items inside a long, curved glass showcase make customers lick their lips.

Inside a glass dome are voluminous carrot cakes that leave a refreshing aftertaste despite their rich cream cheese frosting, thanks to the fluffy, moist and carroty interior. The toppings change from season to season, and customers can enjoy the cake with pineapple and coconut on the top this month.

According to Udohira, the basic ingredients used at Rose Bakery shops in Japan-L'Escure butter, Viron flour and Guerande sea salt-are the mostly same as those used at the main store. "The bakery chose the ingredients to give its food solid or moist texture."

Regarding deli items served in the shop, a vegetable plate made with 350 grams of such vegetables as tomato and zucchini is a perfectly refreshing choice as the weather heats up. Udohira said there will be more deli foods with citrus flavor later in summer.

"Thanks to the uniqueness [of our dishes], we have many non-Japanese customers, sometimes occupying about 90 per cent of our seats on weekends," Udohira said.

Next month, the fifth Rose Bakery store in Japan will open at Haneda Airport's domestic terminal. "I believe it is the global trend to go for healthy, tasty food that is good for the body," Udohira said.

Bottoms up!

There is nothing more refreshing than a glass of cold, smooth beer during Japan's summer months, and Hub Co. pub chain serves the perfect ale for the season.

"Our original Hub ale is brewed at our brewery in Niigata Prefecture," said Tomoya Komada, the public relation officer of the pub chain. "We change the taste twice a year. We aim for a stout taste in winter and a lighter beer in summer."

According to Komada, the ale is one of the most popular drinks among customers.

Arguably the largest British-style pub chain in Japan, Hub Co. was launched in 1980 by the late Isao Nakauchi, the founder of Daiei Corp., who was deeply impressed with the British pub culture during his visit to Britain. The pub chain now has 83 branches nationwide. Eighteen of them are named "82" and are targeted at customers in their mid-30s or older, who prefer a more mature atmosphere than Hub, which is popular with younger people.

"British people say a pub is a place to reset yourself after a long day of work," Komada said.

Unlike many drinking venues in Japan, the payment for each drink is made by cash on delivery following the tradition of British pubs. Komada says this has been favroably accepted by customers.

While drinks are the main attraction at Hub and 82, the pubs serve popular food such as fish and chips. Another popular item on their food menus is Honey Cheese Snacks, which are made with honey imported from the Cotswolds in England. The honey makes an excellent combination with blue cheese and light, flaky pie. The snacks were added to the pub's menu in support of the British Embassy's "A Taste of Britain" campaign, which encourages restaurants and bars to use British ingredients.