Any visitors to England from overseas might be amazed at the number of foreign restaurants that the country has, especially Indian restaurants, which number in their thousands.
Even the good old English “Pub” (which is short for “Public House”), has in the last 20 years changed from serving traditional English dishes or no food at all, to serving more foreign food, to more recently serving carvery meals.
As in many countries, the traditional pub or neighborhood bar used to exist primarily to serve alcohol, and a few offered sandwiches or were linked to restaurants, but with the introduction of stricter drink-driving laws, these premises were forced to look to other ways to attract customers and to make a profit.
Many pubs began to offer food in the last 20-25 years, and while this started as fairly simple food in most pubs, with typical English fare such as:
Ploughman’s Lunch – fresh bread, cheese, salad, pickled onions, relish
Cottage Pie – minced beef and vegetables in gravy, baked with a topping of mashed potato
Shepherds Pie – same as Cottage Pie but made with minced lamb
Steak and Kidney Pie – chunks of steak and kidney in gravy in a pastry crust
Toad In The Hole – Yorkshire Pudding cooked with sausages in in, usually served with mashed potato and gravy
Lasagne – layers of pasta with bolognaise sauce and cheese
With many pubs then offering similar options, and with the popularity of Indian food, some then offered foreign dishes such as curries or other Indian meals, and others opened up full restaurants with a wide selection of meals. Others went in another direction, offering more American style dishes, like Chicken Wings, Burgers and Ribs.
Lately there is a new phenomenon, the “Gastro-Pub”, which is a type of pub that not only prides itself on it’s ales, but on the quality of it’s food. Here you will often find more up market cuisine, but at a price. It’s often “nouveau cuisine”, which to me means food that is attractively presented, costs 3 times as much, but leaves you hungry.
Many pubs are now either changing towards more English food, but a wider choice of offerings, or switching to include a Carvery, which is becoming more popular than ever.
So after that long pre-amble, back to the original question of “What Is A Carvery?”
A Carvery is the closest thing that you will get in England to a Sunday Roast, which used to be a tradition in most English households years ago.
An English Sunday Roast would usually be either Chicken, Beef, Lamb or Pork, served with Roast Potatoes, Roast Parsnips, Yorkshire Pudding (especially if Beef), Stuffing, and a selection of vegetables, usually 3 or more of the following seasonal vegetables, and served with thick brown gravy:
Cauliflower (often with a white or cheese sauce)
Leeks (often in a white or cheese sauce)
Swede (aka Rutabaga)
At the Carvery, customers form a queue to be served, and the chef carves for them the meat of their choice, usually from a choice of 3 types. If you want, you can have any 2 or all 3 kinds.
You then take your plate and help yourself to the vegetables and potatoes, and back to the table to enjoy it. A carvery meal really does go down well with a pint of good English Real Ale.
Unlike many buffets in the USA, many carveries in England only let you go back once, or if you can go up multiple times, it’s for the vegetables only. Prices for food are higher here in England, so to keep the prices down, they limit how much meat you can take. However, for most people, the amount you can get on one plate is adequate, even for me!
The price for a carvery meal varies, and so does the quality, but paying a higher price doesn’t necessarily mean a better meal. Prices vary from around £3.50 ($5) to £7.50 ($10), depending on the pub.