Has your Downton Abbey obsession reached unprecedented heights with the arrival of Season 5 (9pm Sundays on KQED 9)? Does your general addiction to Masterpiece Theatre have you craving the English life, with only the small matter of 5,000 miles of U.S. soil and Atlantic Ocean standing in your way?
The Bay Area may not be overrun with bona fide Anglo experiences (the sunshine and cheery dispositions here don’t help), but there are a few select places to enjoy a suitably authentic Anglophile afternoon, without the buzzkill of an 11-hour flight to Heathrow. So without further ado, here are the local spots that make this particular English lady feel peculiarly at home:
As a real-life Brit, stepping inside this painstakingly-authentic Tudor-style pub and hotel out at Muir Beach is actually quite unnerving, so genuine is its recreation of the kind of 16th-century village tavern you might visit on a drive through the English countryside. Happily, its interiors are actually matched by the great pub “fayre” on offer, which includes bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie and Guinness beef stew.
As for where to eat it, the Pelican’s beamed restaurant is absolutely beautiful, but if you’re not in the mood to pay high prices, try the smaller but more wallet-friendly options in the cozy—and more authentic-feeling—bar. On a sunny day, there’s no nicer place to be than the Pelican’s front lawn with a beer (they have a great selection of English ales) after a hike on nearby Mount Tamalpais or Muir Woods. For the full 16th-century experience without the low life expectancy, stay overnight in one of their lovely rooms, several of which have a four-poster bed.
Tip: The Pelican has live music in the bar on Friday and Saturday nights, ranging from lute concerts to not-very-English bluegrass.
Best For Aristocratic Architecture: Filoli (Woodside)
The kind of historic mansions that are ten-a-penny throughout Britain—and Masterpiece Theatre’s programming—are kind of in short supply around the Bay Area. That’s why Filoli is such an unexpected treat: a country house estate located 30 miles south of San Francisco that dates back to 1915. The house itself, built to resemble an English Georgian mansion, is gorgeous: over 40 rooms of beautiful interiors, including a 22 foot-high ballroom, a wood-paneled library and a Butler’s Pantry and Kitchen. It’s also an Antiques Roadshow fan’s dream, with an extensive collection of 17th and 18th-century English antiques. It’s not Downton, but it’s perfect for indulging your lord/lady-of-the-manor dreams (or accepting the reality that you’d probably have been “below stairs”). Outside, there are beautiful formal and walled gardens to explore, set in 650 acres of land.
Tip: Be warned: despite what you’d assume, picnics are actually forbidden on the grounds. So, leave the hamper at home or be prepared to eat it in secret, which is guaranteed to kill your Lady Mary vibes stone-dead.
When Brits grow weary of trying to somehow watch football (i.e. soccer) and rugby matches online, they come to places like this fun, rowdy Haight pub. Mad Dog In The Fog screens these matches live as early as 5am and they still manage to be packed. The bar menu here is decidedly American (the mere phrase “buffalo wings” would throw your average Brit into a tailspin of confusion). However, this is more than compensated for by the frankly massive selection of European beers, as well as their English breakfast options, including bacon and sausage “butties” (sandwiches). If you’re in here before the sun is up, you’re going to need one of these.
Tip: If you’re planning to watch a particularly popular game here, plan to arrive ridiculously ahead of kick-off or risk finding yourself exiled outside on the sidewalk. Unlike in the UK, you can’t even drink your pint out there.
If that “Keep Calm And Carry On” poster came to life and opened a teashop in deepest Noe Valley, this would be it. A deliberately-chintzy, charmingly fussy tea room stuffed with knick- knacks, 1940s-style signage and lace, Lovejoy’s is the place to get your tea, scones, sausage rolls, ploughman’s lunch and everything in between. The main draw here is the famous Lovejoy’s tea service, which ranges from the simple Cream Tea (scones and a pot of tea) to the extravagant Queen’s Tea: a decadent platter including sandwiches, salad, crumpets and petit fours.
After you’ve extracted yourself from all that lace, you can cross Church Street to visit Lovejoy’s Attic, an antiques offshoot selling china, aprons and more. (Afficionados of British TV may already realize that Lovejoy’s is named for the loveable antique-dealing hero of the UK show Lovejoy, played by Ian McShane. Incidentally, this show is also the reason Brits have always found McShane’s recent reinvention as drawling tough guy in US shows like Deadwoodand American Horror Story so jarring).
Tip: Be aware that reservations are almost certainly necessary on the weekends. Plus, there’s a less-enjoyably-retro $10.95 minimum spend per person.
Don’t think too hard on the mythical status this dish occupies in the English psyche; just know that your fish needs to be crisp and your chips chunky. To that end, the best fish and chips in the Bay lies 15 miles south of San Francisco at Camelot Fish and Chips, a tiny, dark pub-restaurant filled with Princess Diana memorabilia just off Hwy 1 in Pacifica. This British-owned spot has been going since 1969 and, despite a few less-than-authentic options like (admittedly delicious) sweet potato fries and hush puppies, the presence of mushy peas on the menu confirms this place’s pedigree.
Even though Camelot’s fish is pollock (in the UK, you’d choose between cod and haddock) something about the batter used in frying their fish makes it the closest you’ll get to “proper” British fish and chips. The frequently-dreary Pacifica weather only adds to the Anglophile experience, so for a true taste of England, order your fish and chips to-go and eat them on the blustery oceanfront while shivering. Brilliant!
Tip: Go the whole hog and order one of their Deep Fried Mars Bars for pudding (that’s dessert to you). They’re a Scottish chip shop delicacy, rather than an English one, but who’s checking?