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British Food, Good and Bad

I just spent a great week in London with the family (see here, and here) and yes, I did run across a few pasties, including these, in the breathtaking food halls at Harrods:


I find it hard to believe that the food halls can be profitable; part of the spectacle is the volume and variety of every sort of food imaginable, and though the prices are suitably dear, it is easier for me to believe the food halls are more loss leader than profit center. Does anyone know?

On another food note: As much as I love London, I am consistently surprised by how very, very bad the food can be. Yes, the more expensive restaurants are usually good, and yes, there are some cheaper places (like this one) that are outstanding. But very often the restaurant food hews to the English stereotype of potted meat, soggy pastry, and vegetable mush. At several meals, it was rare to encounter a single thing that crunched at all or was remotely fresh or colorful. And it wasn’t cheap.

This stood in stark contrast, however, to the takeaway food available even in shops like Tesco Express and Marks & Spencer Simply Food. In both those places, there’s a great selection of fresh fruit and veg (as they call it there) along with salads, prepared meals, etc., at very affordable prices. It would be the equivalent of walking into a 7-Eleven in New York and finding row upon row of clean fresh fruit and tasty greens — not quite as lovely as the Harrods food halls, but quite nice indeed, and probably one-fourth the price.

So why such an abundance of good fresh food in the corner shops, at good prices, and such a lack thereof in the more pricey restaurants? I expect labor costs figure into the answer, and economies of scale — there are a lot of Tesco and M&S shops — but I’d be pleased to hear from anyone who could explain the rest of it.