British Beer Company brings the flavors of Old England to Worcester!
As Worcester’s earliest dining district, one can trace an arc of Shrewsbury Street’s progress from inception to maturity. The earliest pioneers opened restaurants distinguished by cuisines hallmarked by quality, quantity and a blossoming of options hitherto unavailable in town. These were rustic places carved out of old storefronts, factories and garages.
With their success, bolder enterprises followed.
The coming of the British Beer Company signals recognition from beyond Worcester that the “Street” has attained commercial viability. The BBC is a chain of theme restaurants with pockets are deep enough to transform the old Coral Seafood into an American conceit of what a pub in London might feel like. The transformation is profound. BBC has installed an acre of stained glass, plenty of rich wood trim and a central bar that looks like a chunk torn from Westminster Abbey. There’s even an upstairs mezzanine that replicates an intimate corner of an actual London pub.
Joining a friend for dinner, we were seated in a dining area a couple steps up from the main floor, directly below a portrait of Winston Churchill. The British Bulldog seemed to scowl down at me throughout the evening. Could he have been envious of our appetizer, Buffalo Chicken Dip? I daresay his Brit taste might have been offended by the spicy buffalo cheese dip; it kicked in with a tasty low-level afterburn – distinctly American. On the other hand, I’m sure he’d approve of the tender nuggets of boneless chicken we dredged up out of that creamy dip.
And the beer? I spent a week in London last month and sampled some of their tastiest brews. All of it made me long to be back in America, where the brewing rulebooks have been left gathering dust while our brewmasters let their imagination and creativity roam free, sparking a new era of new flavor dimensions. This evening, I had a glass of Wormtown’s Spies Like Us. This Russian Imperial Stout was jet black and had a creamy head that took its time dissipating, a bit of it in each chocolaty-hoppy sip.
This glass of Spies proved to be a perfect match for my entrée, Steak & Ale Pie. The BBC has exactly replicated the proper English pastry crust and packed it with thick stout gravy and tender pieces of beef. Even the crimping of the pastry crust matched what I was served in South Kensington the week before; my only recommendation would be to remove it from the oven a few minutes sooner. My pie had passed the golden brown stage and was well on its descent to black.
On the subject of pastry, the British make their pies with dough that bakes up flaky and crumbly. This is far better than those puff-pastry variants we find closer to home. The BBC manager told me the restaurant’s dough is made by hand. Perhaps I’m obsessing here, but the effort spent on authenticity is greatly appreciated.
My friend’s entrée decision was based in large part on a very enthusiastic recommendation from a trusted friend who gushed about the BBC’s Shepherd’s Pie. The menu proclaims it “made with beef.” Hmmm, the English would call that Cottage Pie but, in New England we don’t really quibble about beef versus lamb. But really, where would a shepherd find a cow?
On presentation, my friend’s pie appeared quite proper. But then, a couple forkfuls into it, he realized he’d been served a variant; a rogue pie stuffed with turkey and cornbread stuffing. Tasty in its own right, but a disappointment after that breathless recommendation.
Once alerted to the mix-up, the BBC’s response to this error was prompt and flawless. Alyssa, our server, acknowledged that she’d clearly ordered the Shepherd’s Pie, and post haste, the manager arrived at the table with sincere apologies and expedited a replacement meal. The Worcester staff may be recently assembled, but its professionalism was impressive by any standard.
Which leads to these observations:
New England Pie (the turkey version): Worth ordering in the format described in the menu.
Shepherd’s Pie: After the wait, we found that it was, in fact, brilliant.
The British Beer Company: Well on its way to perfection.
The British beer taps are installed and flowing. So round up the mates, put on your cockney accent and order a pint. And send Winston a bottle of Johnny Walker; that might satisfy him for a couple hours.
British Beer Company; 225 Shrewsbury St., Worcester, MA; (508) 799-5100; www.britishbeer.com/worcester
By Bernie Whitmore