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We’ve all got quirky food preferences, whether it’s a fondness for faddish favorites or the kind of oddball indulgences only engaged in on the sly. Queen Elizabeth was not known to be much of an experimental eater. In the words of former palace chef Darren McGrady (an endless fountain of royal food anecdotes), "The Queen never was a foodie. She always ate to live rather than live to eat." Most of what might be termed her more unusual food preferences had to do with what she wouldn’t eat — she famously avoided garlic and onions and urged the other royals to do likewise (stinkiness is never dignified), while other items on the no-no list included messy pasta dishes, potentially risky seafood and undercooked meats, and genetically-modified produce.
However, there were certain special foods that the queen enjoyed, and was content to keep eating year after year. Some of her preferences, such as her favorite chocolate cake, her daily cups of tea (Assam or Earl Grey), and the gingerbread cookies she enjoyed at Christmastime, were no doubt shared by countless of her loyal royal subjects. Certain private passions, however, may have been less popular with the rest of the world. Still, when you’re a reigning monarch, you can eat what you like, and after over seven decades on the throne, the queen surely deserved a few indulgences of her own.
Weirdly symmetrical french fries
While fish and chips may sound like the ultimate "prole" food, they were not unknown at Buckingham Palace. In fact, according to Darren McGrady’s YouTube channel, fish and chip Fridays took place every week during his tenure as palace chef. He reveals that he always cooked two versions: a slightly plainer one that he made for the palace staff to eat, and a fancied-up one for the queen and any of her guests.
Rather than batter-dipped, the queen’s fish was coated in panko breadcrumbs, a preparation McGrady describes as "more refined." Her fish wasn’t fried, either, but was baked in the oven, and she preferred cod to any other type. Where things got tricky, however, was with the chips (aka fries to us Yanks). These needed to be cut into neat rectangular shapes and then carefully placed in a perfect little pile. Of course, the queen wouldn’t drown them in plain old ketchup or even malt vinegar or HP Sauce, oh no. Instead, her fry sauce of choice was tarragon hollandaise. Her plate would be garnished with a single pansy as a crowning (see what we did there?) touch. Ooh, very posh! Fit for a queen, you might even say.
Venison burgers with cranberries
U.S. presidents may either be vilified or seen as charming and relatable when they’re caught eating fast food, which is something they may do for effect or out of necessity on the campaign trail. It seems this is less of an issue in the UK, since, as far as we know, Queen Elizabeth has never eaten a Big Mac in her life (even if her grandson was once offered a job that came with a paper crown). She did, however, enjoy a good burger, but only of a very specific kind.
As per the ever-quotable Darren McGrady, what Her Majesty really enjoyed were venison burgers from deer shot on the Balmoral estate. These burgers were dressed in a rather non-standard way, as well. As he told British Heritage, "There’d be gorgeous cranberry and everything stuffed into them." Although he said, "We never set buns out." Apparently, the queen preferred her burgers to be breadless. This implies, of course, that she ate them with a knife and fork, which makes sense for her.
Potted shrimp on toast
In a Q&A session he filmed for his YouTube channel, our old friend Darren McGrady (it’s starting to feel that way, isn’t it?) dished once again on the royal’s favorite dishes and described one of the queen’s favorites: potted shrimp on toast. While "potted shrimp" isn’t a term you frequently see on American menus, it doesn’t strike us as anything that unusual, perhaps it’s just a British specialty of some sort. My London News, however, describes the idea of shrimp on toast as not only "very weird" but "a little odd," so we’ll take their word that this is not typical English fare.
The dish in question was made from local seafood — McGrady describes them as "little brown shrimp harvested from Morecambe" — which he says are then "cooked and marinated in this secret spicy butter." The queen liked her shrimps served on warm toast (is this supposed to be the weird part? It’s not like she ate them on Krispy Kreme donuts or anything), and McGrady says, "When you spread it the butter melts and you have this beautiful shrimp." Okay, so maybe that’s not something you’d have for dinner on any given Wednesday, but it seems like a dish that wouldn’t be too out of place on a brunch menu, perhaps with a side of poached eggs and a mimosa or two.
Steak that’s overcooked by most people’s standards
Here in the U.S., we are pretty judgmental about certain food issues. For one thing, you’re almost certain to be vilified if you express a preference for a steak where the cow isn’t practically still mooing. Many people insist that anything over medium-rare is a travesty, while others fear that the char could even make you ill. (Spoiler No. 1: Any red meat can do so. Spoiler No. 2: We’re discussing the food preferences of a woman who survived to the age of 96.) Well-done meat also simply takes longer to cook, heavens forfend, which might annoy a steakhouse chef. Nonetheless, you like what you like, and if you are a prominent person such as former POTUS Harry Truman or Queen Elizabeth II, if you want a well-done steak, well, that’s exactly what you’re going to get.
Grant Harrold, a man who once served as butler to several different royal households including the queen’s, told My London News, "The Queen likes beef well done," adding that he found this, "really interesting… [and] quite funny." As he explains, "That’s not normal for most people like her. Most people like it rare or still kind of walking." Normal, schmormal. As Give ‘Em Hell Harry (Truman) once said, "Only coyotes and predatory animals eat raw beef."
Bananas cut with a fork and knife
Queen Elizabeth had a pretty healthy diet, all things told — it must have been, as her longevity speaks for itself. Among the nutritious snacks she enjoyed was fresh fruit, including bananas, but she had some very particular ways of consuming this item. As Darren McGrady revealed in his memoir, "Eating Royally," she would not only eat but peel her bananas using a knife and fork. Very proper.
Malta Daily shared a video of an etiquette expert demonstrating the royal method of banana consumption. Apparently what you do is, with the banana on a plate in front of you, take your fork and knife and cut off both ends. At that point, slice vertically through the skin to expose the flesh of the banana, then use a fork to take small bites of the fruit. Sounds complicated, but oh so regal. And, honestly, we’re open to trying it.
Shrimp risotto made with champagne
Much press has been given to the queen’s famous fondness for champagne, or of booze in general, with one main source, again, being the ubiquitous Darren McGrady. McGrady did admit to CNN, however, that he may have been misquoted, and Her Majesty really didn’t knock back four drinks per day. Nonetheless, she was hardly a teetotaler and was seen to hoist a glass of bubbly on more than one occasion. The Royal Household even released a Platinum Jubilee Sparkling Wine with a label patterned after her coronation robes.
A different type of sparkling wine was also used to make a special dish that was a favorite, not only of the queen but of the entire royal family: Queen Victoria Risotto, a dish created by former Kensington palace chef Enrico Derflingher. The risotto, he told Country Living in a 2017 interview, was made from Sicilian red shrimp, herbs, parmesan, and Italian sparkling wine. While his risotto might not have single-handedly ended the Cold War, he did say, "The baptism of the dish took place during the first encounter between Ronald Reagan and Michail Gorbachev." It must have been well-received, as he went on to serve it to his next boss, George H.W. Bush, at his post-palace White House gig.
Boozy chocolate mousse
While Queen Elizabeth often ate quite a simple fare on a daily basis, she did have a weakness for chocolate treats. One of her favorites was a chocolate mousse that was quite the family favorite, according to John Higgins, a chef who once worked at Buckingham Palace. As he tells it, "Trust me, the plates were clean when they came back from the royal family." The mousse, he says, was "a simple dish," explaining, "Good food doesn’t have to be complicated." As per his recipe, however, this palace favorite isn’t your typical mousse from a mix. Instead, it blends a combination of milk and dark chocolate with heavy cream thickened with gelatin and gets a little kick from a shot of single-malt Scotch whisky. (He says Glenfiddich, from Scotland’s Speyside region, is the preferred brand.)
Darren McGrady also made mousse au chocolat for the royal family, but he used a slightly different recipe, as he incorporated eggs and flavored it with coffee, as well as the Scotch-based liqueur Drambuie. He says the queen liked it so much that when the family was at Balmoral, she’d even have him pack it in plastic containers for their picnics. So which boozy mousse did Her Majesty really prefer? We may never know, but as a proper homage to her, we’d suggest trying them both.
An out-of-favor aperitif
Have you ever sipped a glass of Dubonnet? If so, we’re guessing you may be in the minority — either that, or you’re in the UK, and you’ve only very recently added it to your drinks repertoire. This aperitif was popular back in the ’70s when it was advertised by such luminaries as Pia Zadora, Farrah Fawcett, and Tom Selleck, but even then it had somewhat of a reputation as a "drink for little old ladies" (as per the latter commercial). A 2022 YouGov poll, however, found that less than half of all Brits had even heard of the stuff, and only 16% said they liked it.
Well, all that has changed in recent weeks, with Drinks Digest reporting that the stuff has even sold out in some UK stores as people are raising a glass in memory of Dubonnet’s most famous fan: the late Queen Elizabeth. This not-too-strong (14.8% ABV) fortified wine is French in origin, but is flavored with such quintessentially British-sounding ingredients as quinine, blackcurrant, and tea. It can be sipped straight as a pre-or-post dinner drink, but the queen’s favorite way to enjoy it was mixed with gin in a cocktail. If you want to try the QEII (not its official name, but we’re endorsing a change in her honor), it’s made with two parts Dubonnet and one part gin and has a lemon twist as a garnish.
Very dark, very strong chocolate mints
When it comes to dark chocolate, some like it and some do not, but even those who do are split into two different camps. Some folks prefer the older-style chocolate bars with a moderate cacao percentage (60 or below), but for others, the more bitter the better, as an exceptionally strong flavor is conflated with more health benefits. We’re not sure whether Queen Elizabeth was someone who saw even her treats as a way to sneak in some extra nutrients, by all accounts, she did prefer her chocolate on the higher end of the cacao spectrum.
As Darren "Yes, It’s Him Again" McGrady says, the queen’s favorite brand of chocolate candy is British-made, of course, but it isn’t Cadbury’s, notes Insider. Even Cadbury’s Royal Dark bar is just 46% cacao, and for the queen, it was 60%+ or go home. What the queen liked to nibble on was Bendicks Bittermints, which are essentially York Peppermint Patties on steroids. The chocolate is 95% cacao and even the mint filling is, as one Amazon reviewer describes, "quite bold," while another says the candies, "pack a punch."
Cake made with broken cookies
When Nadya Hussein, late of the "Great British Bake Off," was invited to bake the royal birthday cake a few years back, she admitted that she had no clue about her sovereign’s preferences so went with an orange-flavored creation. We’ve no doubt it was received politely, but according to Darren McGrady (via YouTube), the queen would probably have preferred a chocolate one. In fact, he says that, when given her choice, the queen would have chocolate cake for both birthdays (the real one in April and the official one in June).
While the queen’s favorite birthday cake was a triple-chocolate creation complete with chocolate cream filling and ganache topping, she also had a bar of go-to everyday chocolate snacking cake. This cake was made with one not-too-typical cake ingredient: biscuits, but not the kind we see in strawberry shortcakes. As any Anglophile knows, "biscuit" is the British word for "cookie," and the rich tea biscuits used in the queen’s favorite cake are, as per Biscuit People, very plain and mainly used to dunk in tea. They must make for a pretty great cake ingredient, though. Prince William is also a fan, as he requested the same recipe be used for the groom’s cake at his wedding. Want to try it for yourself? McGrady’s shared this super-simple recipe on YouTube.
Bread and jam every single day
In Russell Hoban’s 1964 children’s classic "Bread and Jam for Frances," the eponymous Frances eats her favorite food day after day until she gets sick of it, thus learning a valuable lesson in why little badgers (and people) need to eat a variety of different foods. ("Green Eggs and Ham," published just a few years earlier, touched upon the related theme of trying new things, so obviously dietary kidlit was big in the early ’60s.) Meanwhile, across the ocean, the reigning Queen of England was already in her fourth decade of eating bread and jam every day… although, to give Her Majesty her due, the rest of her diet was as varied and nutritious as any mid-century dietitian could wish.
According to (who else?) Darren McGrady, the queen had a favorite teatime treat called jam pennies that she ate on a daily basis ever since she was five years old. The dish couldn’t be much simpler as it consists of small, circle-cut sandwiches of Frances’ old favorite, bread and jam. (The queen’s preferred flavor was strawberry.) We’re not entirely sure we believe McGrady’s assertion that Her Majesty ate jam pennies every single day for 91 years, as what with the Blitz, her coronation, a couple of zillion occasions of state, not to mention all the world traveling she did, surely she missed a day here and there. She did, however, seem to have enjoyed this simple nursery treat throughout her long life.
Scrambled eggs with not-so-typical seasonings
Queen Elizabeth wasn’t much for a fancy breakfast. By most accounts, a bowl of cereal was how she typically started her day, and it would most likely be one of the plainer types such as Special K or cornflakes. Kelloggs even created a mashup of the two called "Queen Flakes" in her honor, although this special edition cereal meant to commemorate her first 70 years on the throne was embellished with gold leaf, diamonds, pearls, and macadamia nuts, and there’s no record of Her Majesty ever downing a bowl. (Just as well, since having the reigning monarch choke on a gemstone would probably lose Kellogg’s royal warrant.)
Every so often, however, the queen would indulge in a heartier breakfast, one which included eggs. Rather unusual eggs, as it turns out. The Supercharge Your Life blog claims to have come across a recipe from the palace kitchens for scrambled eggs made to the queen’s specifications and apparently the eggs (which had to be brown, never white) were flavored with lemon zest and nutmeg. Hmm, interesting, but there’s no reason why that seasoning combo couldn’t work well with eggs. If you serve them with kippers, though, as the palace kitchens were occasionally wont to do, then it seems the smoked fish taste might drown out any subtler flavors going on there.