British Beverage Co. Isn't Bad, but It Isn't British
Let's get a few things out the way up front. If you're looking for a nice bar in Uptown, British Beverage Co. is perfectly good. The beer selection is gargantuan; it's relatively well-priced, with Velvet Hammer for $5 or so; the bar is very attractively laid out and decorated; the menu has a nice selection (albeit a little pricey, even for Uptown). The staff was very friendly, the service great, and the food I sampled excellent. I enjoyed my visit a lot.
On one level, anyway. This was something of a schizophrenic experience for me; it's the way I imagine Americans feel in gaudy neon American-themed diners the world over, being served watered-down milkshakes, thin hamburgers and wondering where the pancakes are. British Beverage Co., how art thou not British? Let me count the ways.
Upon first arrival, you notice a classic red British phone box. This one is clearly a built-to-order fake. If an antiques store in Addison can get a real one and put it out the front, how difficult is it for a moneyed Uptown bar to do so? Just bid for the one in Addison! In a way, the tone was set. The bar area is just another American bar -- show me a British bar where the liquor is prominently displayed in lit-up cages, or everything is so shiny and nice -- I know the bar is brand new, but at least have a couple of authentic pub brawls in it before it opens.
Next, the beer selection. For an establishment called the British Beverage Co., there are almost no British selections that aren't widely available anywhere else. They don't even seem sure of the normal British bar staples, as they made the cardinal sin of spelling Newcastle as two separate words. Then, my pet hate -- American cider selections. Is the only British cider any of you have ever seen Strongbow? That shit is disgusting. Back home it costs less than a dollar a can. Tramps drinks it, not because it tastes good, but because it's the cheapest way to get alcohol into their system. For everyone else, it is a running joke. Seriously. If you brought six Strongbows to the party, people would never talk to you again.
If we could just get the entire Henry Weston's range of ciders out here, or Bulmers Organic, or even just a Magners here and there, America would have no idea what had hit it. British cider is a very strong tradition, and I can't understand why anyone would take Strongbow as the flag bearer, let alone pay $6.50 a pint for it. American/Canadian cider as it is, is too sweet -- a kind of strange confusion that imagines cider should taste like actual sugary apple juice.
I'm so glad I've got that out of my system. I felt like I should settle on a British beer, so I went for one of my favourites, a Young's Double Chocolate Stout. Calmed from my cider rage, I looked over the menu at some pleasingly British fare: fish and chips (my thoughts on paying more than $5 for fish and chips are on record), bangers and mash, chicken tikka masala (!), ploughman's lunch, and my eventual choice, a chicken and mushroom pie, because goddammit I really miss savoury pies. No steak, kidney and gravy pie, but one step at a time everyone, one step at a time. It arrives, looking good, albeit with no sides, and I start to cut into it only to push away the entire top of the pie. What I actually have here is a bowl of thick chicken and mushroom soup with an unattached layer of puff pastry on top. ENCASE THE GODDAMN CONTENTS AMERICA. IT'S A SAVOURY PIE, NOT SOUP. I mean, the actual food is delicious. Really nicely done. But it's not British, and it's not a pie.
Dessert, crème brûlée. No problems here. I also really miss custard, and this is as close as I'm going to get. You can see the little vanilla specks in the custard, the topping is firm and cracks but isn't burned, raspberries to complement it, perfect.
So, to summarise, I ain't even mad. Dallas, you were never going to get this stuff right. I would imagine that the owner has seen a few high-end British gastropubs, and as a stab at them, it's really not a bad one at all (the chicken and mushroom soup pie would be well at home in such an establishment). I just felt like the high-end British gastropubs weren't particularly British anyway, and I think that's a personal thing. The battered English countryside village pubs were always, for me, where the definition of "British pub" lay, although there is a lot to be said for city alehouses too. All I'm saying is, that if what is important for you is the overall Britishness of the experience, go to the Addison Londoner on a Saturday morning during soccer season. If you just want a nice bar with a few little tips of the hat to Britain, then this is perfect. It's a really good bar, the BBC, it's just not any more authentic than your average faux-British bar, which, given that they have 'British' in the name, is a shame.
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