Venue Review: Big Ben British Pub
The Charlotte Observer
2000 South Blvd.
Big Ben British Pub & Restaurant worked in its original location, a century-old house on Providence Road. A fire put an end to that, but its staff is back pulling pints and aiming at Anglophiles - from FA Cup finals to, say, royal weddings - from new digs in Atherton Mill, in South End.
And I, for one, find it better.
Its patio looks over the light-rail tracks, and is, with frequent live music offerings (including reggae!), an attractive place to settle in. The interior keeps some of the original's quirks (that picture of the Queen at a tap of Young's Special Bitter, for instance, and a London phone booth) but also sports old brick, handsome sconces and big ceiling fans at varying speeds in the warehouse-high ceiling. No, it's not the close, cozy space the original was, but fox hunting prints and soccer details still abound, while the music meanders among Beatles and jazz instrumentals.
The food is primarily traditional (read: heavy) Brit pub fare, from roast beef or lamb to steak and kidney pie to bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes).
Bubble & squeak is terrific, the cabbage blending into the mashed potatoes in a seamless way and the seasoning subtle enough to enjoy the vegetables' flavors. Also worth trying is haddock and chips: one large piece of fish, beautifully battered, with excellent thick, well-fried cuts of potato. The thickest part of my fish was perfectly juicy and light, but the thinner end had gone to toughness. Better to have more than one piece, cooked correctly for the size.
A hearty mix of ground beef, potato, onion and carrot fills the Cornish pasty (yes, spelled like that), but its puff pastry shell proved gummy inside. The chicken curry sauce was much better, thin and good enough to dip chips in. A Scotch egg, that fascinating concoction of sausage wrapped around a hard-boiled egg, went beautifully with housemade relish (you can substitute the famous Branston relish if you insist; I wouldn't).
Those interested in less heavy stuff will find a few options: a grilled chicken breast sandwich and a selection of salads. It would be great, particularly with summer upon us, to have more. Lunch and dinner specials rotate monthly, so look for them there.
Owners and spouses Paula Casey and David Harris - who spent months finding and renovating the "right" space, says Casey - also offer breakfast until 2 in the afternoon: There's the "full" (two eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, potatoes, grilled tomato and mushroom and toast), and less enormous portions and combinations, including a sausage sarnie and bacon butty (both words for "sandwich"). Another pleasant surprise: more than a few desserts, including a marvelous, hot, sweet and rich bread and butter pudding, and dense scones stacked with cream and strawberry jam.
Most unfamiliar menu items are spelled out for you, from bangers to rarebit, but in a cheeky bit of fun, the menu is mum on the subject of spotted dick. (I'll spare you having to ask: It's traditionally a suet pudding with dried fruit and custard.)
The beer menu is respectable, if not staggeringly long - including Boddingtons and Smithwick's (an Irish brew) on draft.
I'm glad the place is back.