London 2012 Olympic organizers claim that the food on offer at the Games will be the best of British fare. However, the Olympic Park menu is off the mark from images originally conjured of vendors serving steaming meat pies, high tea and pints of amber ale.
Olympic sponsors are partially to blame for the lack of British staples available at the venues. As a “Tier Three” top-sponsor, Heineken is the official lager of the Games. Although the UK is home to 850 breweries, according to the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), the Dutch brand will be the only brew on offer. A 330ml bottle of Heineken will be served for £4.20, or about £7 per pint – more than twice the national average according to the British Beer and Pub Association.
In a LOCOG press release, Chief Executive, Paul Deighton insisted that, “We have gone to great lengths to find top quality, tasty food that celebrates the best of Britain. We believe that our prices are more than comparable to those found at other major sporting events which because of their temporary nature are often more expensive than the high street.”
It must be said that preserving high quality of food for the anticipated 14 million meals to be served at the Games is a challenge. While LOCOG’s sample spectator menu includes favorites like porridge and teacakes, not all the options that British sports fans have come to know and love will be available at the venues.
Taps of Marston’s Pedigree, a staple of England’s cricket team and rumored to be one of David Cameron’s favorite British bitters, will be replaced by kegs of Heineken’s John Smith’s Smoothflow and Strongbow cider at the Lord’s Cricket Ground. The “sole pouring rights” obtained by Heineken means that Britain’s famous ales’ like Fuller’s London Pride will also be absent from Stratford.
“As a grand spectacle showcasing everything that is great about Great Britain, it is hugely disappointing that attendees inside the Olympic venues won’t have access to a range of British real ales,” Mike Benner, CAMRA Chief Executive, said. “Such a move represents a major missed opportunity to show off one of Britain’s most historic industries.”
Another Olympic partner, McDonald’s, will provide food and drinks at four different locations at the Games. Among the largest is its super-sized venue in the Olympic Park that seats 1,500. With a nod toward British cuisine, McDonald’s is advertising “London Fish and Fries” on its menu. LOCOG will also offer its own Cod and chips option for £8.
The role of the fast food giant at the Games has been greeted with displeasure from many due to rising levels of obesity in the UK. London won the Olympic bid partially based on the premise of getting at least two million more people active by 2012. However, it is estimated that about a quarter of the population is currently obese and this number is projected by the Department of Health to increase to almost 50 percent by 2030.
Among options like bangers, mash, and black (blood) pudding, made of dried pigs blood and fat, British fare isn’t what one might consider nutritious, but for tourists flocking to London for the Games don’t despair – it can be done right. These London restaurants excel in the best of all that is English cuisine and provide an alternative to LOCOG’s options:
THE HARP, 47 Chandos Place, London WC2N 4HS
The Harp pub in Covent Garden was awarded the CAMRA National Pub of the Year for 2010/2011 and it’s easy to see why. This cozy local favorite offers ales sourced only from in, or just outside, London. Beers and other spirits are available, or if you’re looking for something lighter, try their real ciders and perries from the UK. The booze is not the only draw to this hidden gem – the award-winning sausages served on baguettes (baps) are also sought after.
Best of British: Dark Star Hophead Ale – £3.45
ALBION, Albion Café, 2-4 Boundary Street, Shoreditch, London E2 7DD
Shoreditch East London is known for being on trend, and Albion is no exception. The café and bakery offer contemporary takes on British favorites in a pseudo-pantry setting. Bottles of Britain’s iconic HP Sauce sit on each table and can be used to douse a range of dishes from Welsh rabbit to Portobello mushrooms on toast.
Best of British: Albion Breakfast (full English breakfast) – £10.50
GOLDEN HIND, 73 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2PN
Hidden away down a side street off of Marylebone High, the institution that is Golden Hind is always packed to the gills behind steamy, paned windows. The BYOB fish ‘n’ chips shop is known for plates heaped with battered fish of all sorts, served fried or steamed. Once you have fish and chips from Golden Hind, you’ll never go back to Mr. Fish.
Best of British: Large Haddock (fried) – £5.90
THE WOLSELEY, 160 Piccadilly
When American’s think of British cuisine, a pot of tea is what comes to mind. The Wolseley offers much more than that, but for a price. Their afternoon tea provides the prototypical finger sandwiches, fruit scones and pastries for a cool £21.50. If you want to catch the scene of proper British tea without the same price try their cream tea, which offers fruit scones with home made jam and clotted cream with your choice of teas.
Best of British: Cream Tea – £9.75