Thursday, February 10, 2000
Only a year after opening store number four in Carmel, a few months ago Britannia Arms opened their fifth British-style pub in downtown Monterey. The same partners oversee locations in Aptos, Almaden and their original site in Cupertino, where the notion to bring a bit of Britain state-side dawned on this group of soccer mates 20 years ago. The concept found a loyal audience from both here and abroad, drawn as much by the friendly atmosphere as the Guinness on tap and bangers with mash.
Occupying the Alvarado Street site that was for a short while the Admiral Benbow, Tony Rodhouse and Michael North take care of local operations. Rodhouse insists that those under the impression that British food is bland may be in for a surprise. "Far from it," he enthuses. "What it comes down to is trying something you might not have ever tried before." But, he points out, if a plate of mushy peas or beans on toast doesn't make you a convert, there's also an ample selection of burgers, sandwiches and even nachos.
"Lots of people get nervous when they're trying something new," underscores North. "I remember the first time I saw a Whopper," he chuckles. "It was so big, it made me nervous. For that reason, if someone asks about the steak and kidney pie, for instance, and would like to try it for the first time, we encourage them to do so and let them know that if it's not to their liking, we're happy to offer them something else from the menu."
On that same subject, it's the steak and kidney pie that is North's pride and joy. And the secret of its success, he admits, is "spicing it up a bit" to keep American taste buds coming back for more. An accomplished patissier, North oversees the kitchens in all five locations. His duties include mix-mastering the many pounds of flaky short crust pastry that crowns another quintessential British specialty: the Cornish pasty.
"I've been making the dough for 20 years, and finally, I have a couple of other people trained to get it just right," he says. "There are a lot of variables to account for, including the weather. And it can't be rolled out immediately; the dough has to rest overnight to give the ingredients a chance to get to know each other."
Once that's accomplished, the pastry covers a filling of savory beef, onions, carrots and potatoes in beef gravy. Shepherd's pie is another British standard: beef, onions, tomatoes and sauce, covered in a crust of mashed potatoes. "Guaranteed homemade mash," North asserts. "We emptied the kitchen of all the powdered and canned stuff--I carried it out myself!"
As intrinsic as meat pies are to proper pub fare, fish and chips must share equal billing. Britannia Arms uses only the flash-frozen variety of Icelandic cod, dipped into beer batter made with Guinness stout. And for the stout-hearted, the Moby Brit promises to satisfy seafaring appetites. It's more than a pound of fish that takes on behemoth proportions, battered, fried and piled high on a platter with fries.
Some of the other house specialties include corned beef and cabbage served with new potatoes, medium-spicy chicken curry with chutney and basmati rice, and prime rib with baked potato on Friday and Saturday evenings. Beer is the beverage of choice, with 24 on tap including a wide selection of European brews. In Monterey, live entertainment gets started on Thursday evenings and runs through the weekend.