British pubs in Sweden: Bangers and trash
Back home in the UK, the pub is the go-to meeting spot for probably all social occasions. Tinder date? Let’s go to a nice local gastropub round the corner. Baby’s christening party? Perhaps hire out the back room of a posh-looking-but-reasonably-priced-townhouse-pub in the Spa town near by (not too expensive though, it’s not like the baby’s gonna remember it). Friend is going through a break up? Go down to the local pub curry night and then boogie away your miseries to old Robbie Williams bangers on the perpetually sticky dance floor.
In moving to Sweden, I presumed these traditions – nay, rituals – would become a thing of the past. And yet in my brief travels around this country so far, I can see a trend of Swedes seeking to emulate the cultural powerhouse of The British Pub.
But have Swedes actually managed to capture the essence, the raison d’être, of the British pub? I decided that I wanted to embark upon some *hard-hitting investigative journalism* on the matter, to see if Swedes could justifiably be calling their pubs “British” or “British-themed.” In order to ascertain whether these pubs live up to the British archetype (Banger) or are in fact a paltry replica (Trash), I go into these pubs with a wide criteria in mind, such as:
- Are mushy peas a mandatory serving with most dishes?
- Are there onion rings stacked on top of or inside the burgers on the menu?
- Is there an old man shouting about Brexit in the corner?
- Are there a group of at least four regulars at the bar, one of them who is called Wayne by his friends at the pub but IRL (beyond the space/time warp of the pub) his real name is Sam?
- Is the floor 75% carpet, 25% beer?
For the purposes of this blog, I will rate four pubs I have been to in Sweden so far:
The Churchill Arms, Uppsala
“The Churchill Arms” in Uppsala, Sweden, markets itself as being the quintessence of British pub culture, and maybe British culture entirely. The menu is a black and white broadsheet. The interior of the pub has *very Ron Burgandy voice* many leather-bound books and armchairs. First off, the drinks menu. It had very Mum G&T memes. By that, I mean many English Mums in particular are very into their gin and tonics. They like to be reminded often (perhaps too often) that it’s “Gin O’Clock.” This felt “authentic English Mum” and I liked it.
The Chuchill Arms has a penchant for candelabras. My take: this is not the 18th century, put the lights on. This is a health and safety issue. If I can’t have my chair slightly in front of the fire door to accommodate seating extra friends around the table in the UK, I am not going to stand for tall exposed flames in Sweden. In the toilets, it was frankly absurd. Look at this stack of toilet rolls:This pub is extremely trusting of its patrons and this is extremely Swedish. Yes, the implicit trust is nice. That is part of the reason why I love Sweden. But look at this huge stack of toilet rolls. That’s a family pack for a good month there. How can they trust their patrons to not take a couple of home? Then I remember this is Sweden, and that they actually look after their population quite well, reducing the likelihood that people would scramble at the chance to nick a loo roll. But is this over-prepared stockpiling of toilet rolls emblematic of how a British pub would treat their patrons? Not a chance son.
The meat of it: the burger (which actually was vegetarian, so perhaps phrasing this segment “the meat of it” is ridiculous), was incredibly good. Not greasy enough for British pub food mind, but sumptuous and creamy and it filled the chickpea burger shaped hole in my heart.
The Horse and Hound, Linköping
I only went here for drinks, but the experience has stayed with me. The Horse and Hound is a needlessly, ridiculous posh name, but very English, so on-brand. For the international audience, perhaps you fondly remember in acclaimed Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant romcom Notting Hill – the moment when Hugh Grant absolutely fluffs it, when he’s trying to hook up with Julia Roberts’ famous hotshot character, and says he’s at the hotel to interview her for Horse and Hound magazine. I like that the pub reminded me of that moment in my teenage years. Plus points for this.
Soon after entering we noticed that they have a little hot pot of boiling water with FREE HOTDOGS. I have never seen this in a pub. Free stuff?! That is not a very British thing at all, and thus very inauthentic (however, they were very tasty). They are served after 10pm which leads me to conclude that they do this solely for their patrons who are a little worse for wear. No veggie or gluten free option though – so nor did it feel very Swedish. I’m judging this pub solely on this basis, and on the basis of their cheap tapestry-esque floor: I’m going to give it: BIG Banger status (after all, they were literally giving out free bangers…)
The Big Ben, Stockholm
I haven’t even been inside this pub yet, but I’m going to judge this pub on the sole fact that there is a 3D sculpture of Big Ben himself coming perpendicularly out of the building. It sticks out in more of a way than the actual Big Ben does (because let’s face it: British Big Ben isn’t actually that Big, is he?) Given the recent omission that the UK are spending £61 million on the big clock’s renovation, and many British citizens are quite frankly appalled that for a few years we won’t hear its “dongs”, I’m going to say that this pub has constructed an incredible homage to the average-sized clock. I’ll give The Big Ben a fair rating once I’ve actually sampled their goods.
Much to the shock to my (few) Swedish friends, I have never watched Sherlock Holmes. Not the Benedict “National Treasure” Cumberbatch version, not the absurdly handsome Robert Downey Jr/Jude Law version – not any version alright?! The only time I’ve been to Baker Street was by chance, to go to Pret a Mangér. But this pub may well change all of that.
It was so good. So many things about it were authentically British and also very cute. There were a group of blokes huddled around the bar looking like regulars, but they were in fact despondent tourists. The barman talked to them in a way I would only expect British barmen to. When one of the patrons asked: “What’s this draught like?”, the barman responded, “It’s…drinkable.” The blunt honesty made me feel very at home.
There was scampi (!!) on the menu, an absolute staple of British pub food. When our food arrived, there was a stick through the centre of my veggie burger, helping to balance SIX onion rings sat on top of the burger bun. This is exactly what a cheap British pub would do. My heart was singing. The condiments rack was bountiful, and they had THIS malt vinegar:
This is the vinegar in every British person’s cupboard, collecting dust, brought out every once in a while for a fish and chip dinner watching Eastenders with your Nan. Reader, I shed a tear.
Only negative: the kitchen was exposed for everyone to see and there was one chef doing everything. In an authentic British pub, there is one chef and the pot wash at least, and the chef is swearing profusely at all times. The Gordon Ramsey stereotype is one of perpetual truth in UK pub kitchens. But then again, the absence of it reinforces what a lovely place Sweden actually is. Sherlock’s rating? An unequivocal Banger. In Sherlock’s, I’ve found myself a home… (that was such a terrible pun, I’ll sign off now).
Do you have any British pubs you want me to review whilst I’m in Sweden? Let me know in the comments. If you’re interested in this frankly ridiculous project further, follow @bangersandtrash on Instagram!