The last time I had coronation chicken was at the Royal Deck Tea Room on the Queen’s yacht, Britannia, now in retirement and permanently moored in Edinburgh. When I found that all I had to do was drive to Fairfield for more, I couldn’t wait. The thought of this delicious lightly-curried chicken salad, a British standard, made my mouth water.
Gruel Britannia (pardon the pun, but it does make you smile, doesn’t it?) is a cozy spot on the Post Road in Fairfield at the edge of a close-knit food enclave. Lunch there can also include some nearby stops for French patisserie or pain, a carefully chosen wine, personally selected artisanal cheese, or a handful of fresh made pasta. You can eat well for days, or at one spectacular meal, just by foraging in this short third of a mile off Exit 19.
Of course we had to have a pot of tea served in an eclectic tea service of fashionably mismatched crockery. The coronation chicken was presented as a salad ($12) on a bed of lightly-dressed mixed greens or as a sandwich ($9) on toasted cranberry-raisin-walnut bread accompanied by a salad of mango, cukes and tomato.
Bangers and mash ($12), another mainstay of British everyday eating, came with a generous ladle of rich brown onion gravy. The sausages were tender and tasty; the heap of whipped spuds, more than I could eat.
You shouldn’t get out of a place like this without a scone. Their house-made example ($5.50), studded with currants, came split in half and loaded with strawberry jam, fresh strawberries, and clotted cream.
The bustling dining room includes seating for two or four, a wide plank communal table and counter seating along the walls. Prints and paintings of English hunt scenes fill one corner. An antique barometer keeps track of the weather. At the far end, the busy open kitchen puts on a show.
Some kids nearby were enjoying grilled cheese sandwiches on thick cut bread. I could see a great looking open-faced tuna sandwich with avocado and tomato salsa on an adjacent table. Everyone there seemed happy and well-fed. Next time I’ll try the fish and chips with mushy peas. What could be more British than that?
It’s tempting to get there at breakfast time for a banger egg sandwich, “proper back bacon” on a butter roll with HP sauce, smoked salmon toast with pea puree, or, of course, the full English. The Brits are known for hearty breakfasts.
London-born chef/owner Karen Hubrich, named a “Best Up-and-Coming Chef” in Connecticut Magazine’s 2020 Best Restaurants, puts on dinner Friday and Saturday (reservations necessary) as well as a Sunday Roast Menu. Menu choices are posted weekly. There will be a special St. Patrick’s Day dinner with three seatings where you can have Irish soda bread, Guinness and proper Irish coffee in addition to the a la carte menu. Reservations essential.
At Gruel Britannia you can stock up on British food specialties. Have a craving for HP Sauce, Marmite, or golden syrup? They’ll fix you up. For sweet lovers, Cadbury chocolates, Fox’s Chunkie Cookies, and Walkers shortbread are all to be had.
Just up the Post Road is Isabel and Vincent, a traditional French bakery. Pick up a baguette or brioche, or perhaps a sampler platter of dessert pastries (recommended by owner Mike Saulsberry) for a dinner party. Don’t forget a quiche for lunch or some pastries for breakfast. Claim a seat at one of the tables to linger. A French language meetup convenes alternate Saturday mornings to chat in the bakery’s native tongue.
Park once at Harry’s corner to shop for wine, cheese and fresh pasta. Harry’s, a comprehensive wine and liquor store has a selection of only the best. Each bottle has earned its place on the shelves and can be intelligently described and discussed by the service-oriented staff.
You might want to shop next door at The Fairfield Cheese Company before you pick a wine. Here too, the staff is knowledgeable and the cheeses well chosen. Need cheese for an hors d’oeuvre, with dinner, or for a cheese course? The mongers will guide you to incredibly delicious choices. We picked up a wedge of cave aged Challerhocker, a firm raw cow-milk cheese from Switzerland.
As I walked into Tutto Pasta, across Harry’s plaza, a lump of pasta dough was lifted out of the industrial mixer. The pasta is made fresh and cut to order. As I watched, a customer placed an order which was rolled and cut right then. “It only takes a minute to cook,” I was told, “and should be used within 24 hours.”
If the mood is for pasta with cheese, then the order of shopping might be: pasta first from Tutto, then some cheese for dressing it from Fairfield Cheese, and then — menu in hand — a recommended bottle of wine from Harry’s. With dessert from Isabel and Vincent, it would be a memorable meal.
I was surprised to see the Queen at Gruel Britannia. I didn’t think she traveled any more, but there she was. I even got a picture of her with Marsha, although she declined to smile. Maybe next time.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.