Experiences of British Restaurants 1940s UK
As explained on a separate page, 'British Restaurants' was not a general term for restaurants in Britain. It was the name given to dedicated restaurants set up to meet the needs of wartime on the Second World War British home front.
Inside a World War Two British Restaurant
British Restaurants were more like canteens than restaurants. Customers collected a tray and queued up to receive their food. This was cooked on site.
We sat on long wooden benches and I believe the tables were covered in American cloth (a fabric with a glazed or varnished wipe-clean surface). The amply-built ladies who served us seemed to have had some military training! They wore green overalls, the uniform of the WVS (Women's Voluntary Service, a support unit for the ARP) (Air Raid Precautions)). This was at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.
British Restaurant tokens
The material of British Restaurant tokens
The top ones from Newcastle seem to be made of Urea Formaldehyde, a thermosetting plastic developed around 1930, which can be in any colour, so is ideally suited to tokens. The bottom ones seem to be the cheaper alternative of cellulose acetate, which is a development of the earlier Celluloid.
There were wobbly fold-up tables and benches, rather like at school dinners, but there were additionally table cloths. These were made of American cloth (a sort of waxy/oil-skin type of material which could easily be wiped clean) and they had check pattern which reminded me of a draught board. This was in the Edgware British Restaurant.
Costs of meals and British Restaurant tokens
We occasionally ate at the Edgware British Restaurant when out shopping. They had some sort of token system for main course and desert, but my mother always took care of that.
We queued at the entrance with our old pennies. Then, depending on the state of our wealth that day we were issued with brown, green and, I think yellow tokens. One was for the main course, one for the 'sweet' and the other for a cup of tea. I think all three cost 10d, but I cannot recall ever being in that gourmet range.
For the main course, I only recall mashed potato with minced meat and maybe peas, but I enjoyed the desserts. There was something like trifle and 'spotted dick' (a stodgy pudding with raisins in it), both served with runny custard. This was at the Edgware British Restaurant.
In Hampstead in the early years of the Second World War, I remember having whale meat in the local British Restaurant. That's what my mother told me it was. I seem to remember that it was light in colour and tasted a bit like pork.
I went to the British Restaurant in Edgware once but all I remember was the very runny custard.
It was at our local British Restaurant that I discovered something about why we eat food in the order that we do today. Let me explain. One day I was in a hurry when I went to the local British Restaurant. So I got my soup, meat and two veg, and pudding with custard, collected my knife fork and spoons, and went to a table to eat my food. The soup was far too hot, the main course was hot, but the pudding was just right. So I started with the pudding and worked backwards to the soup which was just right temperature by the time I got to it. I felt as sick as a dog afterwards, and have never been tempted to repeat the experience again. Obviously we eat food in the order we do for very good reasons.