Is the UK unusually fond of lamb and potatoes?

Rack of lamb

The US ambassador to the UK says he is fed up of being served lamb and potatoes. Does this imply the British have an exceptional taste for the dish, asks Mario Cacciottolo.

If you’re playing host to Matthew Barzun, Washington’s man in London, don’t cook him lamb and potatoes. He claims to have been served the meal 180 times since his arrival to British shores last autumn and he’s had quite enough now, thank you very much.

“There are limits and I have reached them,” he told Tatler magazine.

The implication is that Britons have an exceptional taste for the dish.

In fact, on the international scale, the UK’s annual per capita lamb consumption of 4.7kg is decidedly mid-table at best, according to Eblex, the UK’s organisation for lamb (its figures also include a small helping of goat meat). That’s well behind Greece’s 12.8kg and the biggest consumer of them all – Mongolia, with 45.1kg.

But it’s way ahead of the US, which consumes a mere 0.4kg per capita each year of lamb. Writing in the Times, Philip Delves Broughton points out that almost half of Americans have never even tried it.

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It’s not so much that Britons eat a lot of lamb and potatoes. It’s that the meal has long been regarded as a sumptuous feast.

The Cheltenham Chronicle in August 1919 carried a report of how a woman appearing before magistrates – for reasons not disclosed – gave her husband regular helpings of “roast lamb peas and potatoes” as proof of how well she had treated him. He, by her account, was unappreciative of her efforts, which the magistrates referred to as luxurious.

As far back as 1896, the Lichfield Mercury was encouraging cooks with recipes that involved covering lamb and various vegetables with “a good many new potatoes – as many as required” with which to layer on top of the stew.

Perhaps this should have been explained to Barzun. He’s been getting served what the Brits think is a fine dish, one designed to impress such an illustrious visitor, unaware that they’ve actually been making him sick of the sight of it.

MasterChef presenter Gregg Wallace would happily swap places with the ambassador.

“Lamb is often used in North African dishes but I prefer the traditional method,” he says. “It’s a fatty meat, so I can understand why some people don’t like it, but for me that’s what makes it so delicious. I’d have it as my last meal.”

Still, things could be worse for Barzun. He must hope his diplomatic skills are never needed in Ulan Bator.

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