There comes a point in the evening when everyone needs a salty nibble to complement the next pint. From ageing Scampi Fries to charcuterie boards with posh pickles, London has it all. Whether you're a traditionalist or a new wave snacker, there's something for everyone in our A-Z of London’s pub snacks.
A is for all the crisps
Pub crisps have suffered in recent years due to the introduction of flouncy flavours: salt and vinegar has become sea salt and cider vinegar, cheese and onion has become cheddar and red onion. No. Pub crisps should come straight from the cash and carry box stacked behind the bar in traditionally no nonsense varieties. Tongue stripping salt and vinegar Squares – that’s what the people want!
B is for Bombay mix
We’ve seen many an eager bar beaver choke on a handful of Bombay mix. Dusty, dry and often surprisingly hot, this tricksy player can catch the inebriated unaware. The taste builds, the handfuls get larger, you’re crunching down on a noodle, a chickpea, a weird sweet fruity thing and then bam! A crispy lentil has flown to the back of your throat and initiated a coughing fit the like of which you’ve never experienced. Dangerous stuff.
C is for chips
Can’t go wrong, really, even with rubbish chips. Remember: you’re drunk. Soak them with vinegar, dust them with too much salt and you're good to go. Mayonnaise and ketchup is the way to go with saucing; you must master the double dip and swipe manoeuvre which results in the ultimate coating of both. There will always be someone who says they don’t want any chips, then claims they'll "just pinch one" before eating half the bowl. Order extra to compensate for this.
D is for devils on horseback
These are found only at the posher end of the pub scale but don’t knock ‘em — they’re sweet, salty, crisp, gooey and a whole range of other slightly lame adjectives that work particularly well as descriptors when you’re half cut.
E is for eggs (scotch and pickled)
Eggs come to us bar-side in a few forms, most notably Scotch and pickled. The Scotch egg was once to be found lurking only in the fridge cabinet at service stations, grey and chilly within, orange of crumb without. Suddenly, it became the posh bar snack of choice, tempura coated Gloucester Old Spot pork with runny yolk in the middle. Perhaps a sprinkle of sea salt flakes on top and a splodge of house made brown sauce on the side. Now any scotch egg that doesn’t meet these requirements is a failure. Fair enough.
F is for fries (Scampi)
The Scampi Fry is a legend in everyone's lifetime. These taste bud stripping puffs taste of fish and vinegar and are 100% guaranteed to make your fingers and breath stink for the following four hours. Everyone at the table must eat them or suffer. Never be tempted to try the cheese flavoured, ‘Melting Moments’ by the same manufacturer because they are pure evil, like stale Dairylea in a wafer.
G is for gherkins
We’re not talking about the glorious, fat chip shop gherkins here, but those mean little cornichons which come with every high falutin pub snack. They’re hard, knobbly and viciously sharp, a bit like that maths teacher you hated. Enough.
H is for hot water crusts
By which we mean that glorious pastry which encases the pork pie. Even a bad pork pie can be good, but a well-made pork pie is knee-wobbling heaven. Crumbly pastry (careful not to lose it on the floor now), wibbly jelly, proper chunks of salty fat and meat — yes please. Just don’t serve it with any of those nasty cornichons. Piccalilli or mustard is where it’s at.
I is for indigestion
If you’ve been reading this far then no explanation needed.
J is for jug of prawns
Okay so it’s usually a pint of prawns but we’ve only 26 letters to play with. This can be a lovely, if messy bar snack and we love how they arrive, tendrils all tangled at the top, providing they’ve left the heads and shells on of course. Peeling is half the fun of this – no one wants sad supermarket shellfish in a glass. Garlic mayo on the side please.
K is for kebabs
On the way home.
L is for lots of things on…
Wooden boards, slates, huge platters. The wooden board is likely to be strewn with charcuterie and cheese. The cunning cornichon may make an entrance here, too, leaking its acid all over the place. Slates are tragic, a sign of a kitchen in turmoil, a chef who is flailing so much he’s smashed all the plates and had to resort to using roofing materials to serve food on. Platters are the place for brown foods, lots of and lots of deep-fried frozen items, which always include jalapeno poppers.
M is for meat sticks
Another modern invention, like a posh Pepperami. What’s not to like?
N is for nuts
Plain (no), honey roasted (no), dry roasted (yes).
O is for oysters
Be careful here. Never order oysters in a pub unless you’re confident they serve a lot of them. They can be a perfect drinking snack however — saline, slurpable and customisable with lemon, Tabasco, whatever. We also think they make an excellent hangover cure. Here's our pick of the best in London.
P is for Ploughman’s
The Ploughman’s is more of a meal than a snack but it’s so good it’s going in. At least, it can be. Ham or cheese? Both, please. There should be a well-made salad, which isn't just an afterthought, there should be a selection of pickles, which absolutely must include pickled onions, and there should be a nice fat chunk of decent bread with lots of butter. No chutney, thanks but Branston pickle = essential. Oh, and P is obviously for pork scratchings too.
Q is for quiche
Okay so it was tricky to find a snack for the letter Q. We like quiche, though, particularly cheese and onion and anything containing bacon. London pubs, take note.
R is for rolls (sausage)
Sausage rolls have gone the same way as Scotch eggs, i.e. they’ve been poshed up with great results. No more chewy margarine-based pastry and grey Greggs meat for us. Nowadays it’s rare breed pig inside all butter puff. You’ll need to wash your hands afterwards, but it’s worth it.
S is for scratchings
Pork scratchings are the ultimate pub snack. The king, the queen, the everything. Even the packet versions are worth losing part of a tooth for, although now we’re seeing cheffy versions which can be great as long as they’re properly devoid of bristle. Salty, crunchy and made from pork. Tick, tick and tick.
T is for toasties
Posh toasties have become a thing now, which is all well and good, as melted cheese will always be welcome. We’ve a soft spot for a plain old pappy ham and cheese ensemble though, and we’d do well to take a tip from the Irish here. Our friends over there are masters of something called the ‘toasted special’, which is a very basic but satisfying sandwich sold in pubs. No airs and graces, just inhalable.
U is for unwelcome extras
Wash your hands before dipping into the nuts, guys.
V is for vegetable crisps
The problem with vegetable crisps is not so much their not being ‘proper’ crisps but that they're so often floppy. Just give us a bag of prawn cocktail and be done with it.
W is for wasabi peas
We see nothing appetising about these green bullets of pain. Not only do they look like dried eyeballs, every one in five is a punishing nose flusher.
X is for Xmas
Mince pies and more mince pies. Fine if you like mince pies.
Y is for Yorkshire puddings
We’ve seen these served in various ways, our favourite being as a snack with a dipping pot of gravy. We’re glad to see the back of the trend for serving a whole roast dinner or sausages inside a giant Yorkshire pudding though. It screams bad pub food circa 2007.
Z is for zucchini fries
These trendies are popping up with increasing regularity. Done well, they can be pretty tasty, but so often they’re fat and flaccid. Still, variety is the spice of life and all that, just as long as you don’t try to replace our actual chips. Oh and guys, we call them courgettes in this country.
What have we missed? Let us know in the comments.