Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub: Real Rustic English Pub Grub
145 Fleet Street, London, England
Recommended to us by a former resident of London, England, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub is a real English pub, dripping in history and chock full of charm. And I really stress “real” English pub, this place is smack dab in the middle of Fleet Street, a bustling political hub and also home of the British Press from the 16th century all the way to the 1980s. Where else have you heard of Fleet Street? It’s also the setting for many famous novels and movies, Sweeney Todd being one of them, and of course Charles Dickens has used Fleet Street as a setting for his books, most famously A Tale of Two Cities.
We visited Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub after a visit to the Tate Modern; it was only a short 20 minute walk from the museum. There’s nothing quite like walking through the streets of London, every corner is steeped in history, the intricate and weathered architecture of each building tells a story, and even the way the roads and sidewalks are mapped out, in winding paths leading from wide roads to tightly packed city blocks. On the way to the pub, we passed the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral where Princess Diana married Prince Charles, the large domed rooftop of the Cathedral with the bright street lights bouncing off its surface looked even more magnificent at night than it ever did on television during Princess Diana’s wedding.
Following the trusty moving red dot on our iPhone, we finally found Ye Cheshire Cheese through a narrow, dark alley. We were happy to slip into the warm, homey pub, out of the cold, London night. We were seated right away in a booth with long wooden benches near the fireplace. We were surrounded by other travelers and some local diners, everyone was talking loudly and happily, it was an all around very inviting and jolly atmosphere. The first thing we ordered was an apple cider to share. We thought it was a very British thing to drink. Also, during the length of this trip, we became quite addicted to apple cider.
Even though it was served to us chilled, something about the deep sweetness in the apple cider really hit the spot and sedated my hunger for a little while, and warmed me up from the cold walk. The unique and delicate finish on the cider also whet my appetite for our meal.
We thought it would be appropriate to order the Cheshire cheese board, it came with three cheeses, pickles, bread and a garden salad. This is how I’ve always pictured a light English lunch to look like. The colours were brilliant when the bowl was served. The three little rectangular blocks of cheese were served in a bowl, not an actual board but I guess I was taking the menu a little bit too literally. Perhaps this was the pub’s modern spin on a rustic, traditional dish. There were also some juicy apple slices and sweet fruit preserves served with the vegetables and cheese so there was a very good mix of flavours and texture in this dish. All three cheeses were hard cheeses though, I am partial to soft, creamy, mild cheese but I think the three cheeses in this dish really stood up to the cider and started our meal on a strong, hearty note.
The bright orange cheese is called the Red Leicester. Despite the fact that in appearance, it looks like the firmest of the three cheeses, it was actually the creamiest at the press of a knife. The flavours were rich and deep and were only further enhanced by the sweet and crisp apple slices. Not to mention that the colour was absolutely gorgeous.
The lighter block of white cheese is the traditional Cheshire cheese, the pub’s namesake. An aged, crumbly cheese, the flavours were unsuspectingly sharp, only hitting the back of my tongue and throat as I was swallowing. The texture was the most interesting, a cross between a hard feta and a creamier goat’s milk cheese.
The firmest cheese in the bowl was the other white cheese, which was a type of cheddar. It went well with the fruit preserves. The tart sweetness in the preserves bringing out the strong salty flavours in the cheese.
Our second fish and chips order of the day (our first being at the Fish Pond in Portobello Market), this time it was served with a side of boiled carrots and peas and plenty of tartar sauce. Ye Cheshire Cheese Pub seems to use a lot of individually packaged sauces and bread butters, for me, this kind of takes away from the charm of the pub. The fish was fried to crispy perfection. The portion was a little bit smaller than the Fish Pond’s fried fish but like the Fish Pond, the skin was left on, which I loved. The inside of the fish was moist and flaky, but the batter was not as thickly coated as at the Fish Pond which may be to a regular diner’s liking, but I actually strangely love deep fried batter, so this was disappointing for me. The fries were not as thick and juicy as at the Fish Pond. I suppose I am too in love with Fish and Chips as street food to even attempt to compare it to a pub version of fish and chips. The extra sides of carrots and peas did help me justify this dish as a well balanced meal though and I felt less guilty eating all that fried food in one sitting.
We also didn’t feel as if our traditional English pub meal was complete unless we ordered a real roast, we settled on the Pot Roast Shank of Lamb with mash and onion gravy. I nearly melted when I saw and smelled the thick and juicy roasted lamb shank in a bowl full of steaming hot gravy with that fluffy, generous scoop of mashed potatoes floating alongside it. The lamb meat was so tender that it just fell right off the bone. It was wonderful that this was served with lighter onion gravy as it really balanced out the stronger, gamey lamb meat flavours. The mashed potatoes were rustic style, only lightly mashed so that I could still feel some grainy textures from the potatoes, and the mash was still thick enough to soak up gravy and remain in a solid mass as opposed to melting into mush. Creamy and salty, the potatoes’ more mild flavours made them a great side to the lamb shank.
Another traditional English dish that we picked was the Bangers and Mash. The mashed potatoes were made in the same style as our roast lamb dish, the sausages in this dish were delicious. They were charred just enough so that we could taste their smokiness, the meat was salty and hearty, very well spiced and seasoned. The pork flavour and the spices in the sausages were only further enhanced by the sweet cider that we drank throughout the meal.
No meal would be complete without a proper dessert. We were set on pudding. We tried to order the spotted dick (yes, the name still makes me giggle), but the pub was out of that dessert. The spotted dick, apparently, is a very popular English dessert, a bread pudding spotted with currants. We tried to order it at least three times during our stay in London, and every time, the restaurant was already sold out. So we settled on a chocolate pudding, smothered in custard, which turned out to be an excellent choice. The pudding was dense and rich, the centre of the pudding was so warm, melty, gooey and sticky that if this was the last thing that I ever ate, I think I would be satisfied. I have a deathly sweet tooth. The sticky custard blanketing this pudding also pushed the dessert over the top, I could just eat endless bowlfuls of that custard on its own.
This was an incredible meal at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub. I hope that the next time I stop by the spotted dick pudding will be in full stock.