Sam Hooke

Top 10 British things to do in Seattle

While living in Seattle, it was fun when we came across British things that reminded us of home. Most of the time we just happened to stumble upon these things, though we were actively seeking out the best place to get proper fish & chips. Now that I’m back in the UK and can reflect upon on my 3.5 years in Seattle, I thought it would be interesting to record them all here:

The list §

10. London Plane Trees §

One of my biggest pet peeves is people equating the UK with London. There’s far more to the UK than London, and in some ways London feels like its own country. Regardless, there was something comfortingly familiar in finding that Occidental Square, the focal point of Seattle’s Pioneer District, is lined with London Plane trees: the most common tree in London. These trees are particularly resistant to pollution, so are well adapted for cities, and have quite a distinctive bark. Walking down the street with London Plane trees looming overhead brings back memories of the tree lined streets back home. They are easily overlooked, but once you spot them, you’ll find yourself looking up and taking in their simple splendour.

When you’ve finished admiring the trees, there’s quite a few things to do in the area. You’re in the middle of Seattle after all! I would recommend Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, which is just a block away. It is a museum about the gold rush, in which thousands of prospectors bought their supplies in Seattle, before heading up to the Klondike (in modern day Canada) to try and make their fortune.

9. The Fancy Accent Tea Company §

Don’t worry, this won’t be the only time tea makes the list. In a city famous for coffee, there’s a surprisingly large number of tea establishments. The first one I’d like to introduce is aptly named “The Fancy Accent Tea Company”. It’s run by Claire, who moved to the USA from the UK in 2008. She quickly discovered that many places in the USA do not know how to properly make a cup of tea, and started the company in 2015.

I met Claire at the Fremont Market in Seattle, and enjoyed browsing the selection and choosing some interesting teas to buy. She was very knowledgeable about the teas she had, and I picked a variant of Earl Grey (though cannot recall the exact name). Her market stall travels around various markets, fairs and festivals in WA and OR, and longer term she is planning a tearoom at Westport.

8. World Market §

While USA supermarkets have a lot more choice than British supermarkets, they don’t have everything. Some familiar items from home were very hard to find, but World Market, true to its name, has a great selection of products from across the world: which includes the UK!

World Market is a chain, and is listed as a “Home Furniture Shop” on Google Maps, but that description is a little misleading. It sells plenty of food and drink, as well as assorted household items. There is one store in Seattle near Pike Place Market, though I’d caution against driving there because the underground car park was seemingly designed for the Mini Cooper. Alternatively there are stores elsewhere, such as Bellevue and Southcenter (by SeaTac).

Some of our regular purchases were Elderflower pressé and biscuits (the British kind).

7. Football (soccer) game §

Although playing football during break time was effectively mandatory as a child in the UK, I’ve never been interested in the sport itself. I don’t have a favourite team, don’t know the difference between this league and that, and definitely have no chance of explaining the offside rule.

And yet… there was something oddly familiar about going to a soccer game in the USA.

6. Premier Meat Pies §

The word “pie” is a false friend: ask anyone in the UK what a pie is, and they will describe something savoury, such as chicken pie; while in the USA they will describe a type of dessert, such as pumpkin pie. Of course, both countries have savoury and sweet pies, but it was surprisingly hard to find a decent savoury pie in Seattle.

One such place is Premier Meat Pies. They are based on the pier near Pike Place Market, but also have a shop at Seattle Center near the Space Needle. They have a good selection of savoury pies, and even some Cornish pasties.

5. MoPOP §

Among its vast collection of film props, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) has some distinctly British items, such as: wands from Harry Potter, Daleks from Doctor Who, and swords from The Lord of The Rings. My personal favourite was Sting.

4. The Crumpet Shop §

As we enter the top four things get a little controversional. We enter the realm where the US does British things better than the UK.

The crumpet itself originates from the UK, and is readily available in any supermarket. The Walburtons brand of crumpet is a household name, and I’ve been eating them as long as I can remember. They’re great for breakfast, a quick lunch or a small dinner. Heat up, slap on some butter and you’re ready.

However, it turns out you can do so much more with crumpets!

The Crumpet Shop, in Pike Place Market, has figured this out. All crumpets are hand-made on site. They have a wide selection of toppings, which will horrify purists, but for everyone else they will just tuck in and look forward to their next one. On top of that, if you order tea, you get free refills. Imagine that, tea on tap!

While you might not have room for seconds or thirds, don’t worry, you can buy a six packet of crumpets to take home. Or a dozen. Just do so before they sell out. And while you’re at it, but some maple butter.

3. Metropolitan Mart Bakewell Tart §

I’ve eaten more Mr. Kipling Bakewell tarts than I should admit. I’ve been to Bakewell, namesake of the tart, more than once. And I’ve eaten the “original” Bakewell tart several times.

Despite this, I must reluctantly admit, the best Bakewell tart I’ve ever had comes from… Metropolitan Mart, Seattle, WA, USA.

It does not look like a traditional Bakewell tart: it is square. Unlike Mr. Kipling, there is no icing. Yet the pastry is just so moist and flaky, the flavours so well balanced, and if you heat it up and add some ice cream you’re on to a real winner.

People often praise Metropolitan Mart for its cookies, but if you ever get the chance, please, try their Bakewell tart. And while you’re at it, if you could please pick one up for me.

Just try to ignore they fact they also sell individually packaged Yorkshire puddings for $1.50 each. Yes, one Yorkshire.

2. McLeod’s §

The UK is known for fish & chips. Whether you’re on the coast on an hour inland, there will be a fish & chip shop nearby. They are not all made equal, but they would all agree that fish should be battered.

While many places in Seattle claim to sell fish & chips, almost all of them get it a bit wrong. Rather than whole fish, it is cut into large pieces; and rather than battered, it is breaded. Yes, technically still “fish” & chips, but a bit disappointing if you’re used to how it’s done in the UK.

Fortunately we found a few places in Seattle that do good fish & chips. A closer runner up was Ivar’s, a local chain which currently has 18 locations across the Puget Sound. They are well worth checking out.

But our favourite had to be McLeod’s (that’s “ma-clouds”, not “ma-cle-oids”) in downtown Ballard, Seattle. Compared to British fish & chips they’re a little upmarket. Their peas are minted rather than mushy, but their fish is whole and battered. They also import beer from Scotland, and for dessert serve a fantastic sticky toffee pudding. It’s definitely a sit-down type meal, not a wrapped-in-newspaper type meal, but given how good it is we can overlook that difference.

1. Miro Tea §

The UK is also known for tea. We are a nation of tea drinkers. Any café in the UK will undoubtedly serve tea, and yet, your options are often so limited.

You’re spoilt for choice in the UK if you need two hands to count the number of options that have available. There will be English Breakfast (or “normal tea”), probably Earl Grey, rooibos, and maybe some herbal options (which, to be pedantic, are not technically tea). At a stretch they might have green tea, though don’t be surprised if you have to ask for no milk.

But what about Darjeeling? Jasmine? Oolong? Pu’er?

Miro Tea has a wall of tea. They have it all, and if you’re not sure what to get, they can help you decide. They understand the subtle differences between them all, and brew each cup to perfection (yes, they use a timer).

It is the best tea café I have ever been to, and can be found in downtown Ballard, Seattle. If you’d like to go but your friends would prefer coffee, that’s okay, Miro Tea does coffee too. Everyone wins.

Honourable Mentions §

The following items did not make the above list for various reasons, either because they are:

  • European rather than British;
  • Not in Seattle, but are in the Puget Sound area;
  • Places we heard good things about, but did not visit personally;

10. Safeway International Section §

Creeping in at the bottom of the list is Safeway, the supermarket, which has a surprisingly good international section. You can often get some good biscuits (again, British).

9. Williams-Sonoma §

It’s a little upmarket, but Williams-Sonoma has a good selection of Fortnum & Mason products, including shortbread and loose leaf tea. There’s one on University Village, Seattle, and in Bellvue.

8. Woodland Park Rose Garden §

Hyde Park in London has a Rose Garden, and so do many National Trust properties across the UK. So it is no surprise that the splendid little Woodland Park Rose Garden brings back memories of home.

7. The British Pantry §

Across Lake Washington from Seattle, in Redmond, is The British Pantry. It sells many homebaked and imported British items, including more traditional Bakewell tarts, though I definitely prefer Metropolitan Mart.

6. Trader Joe’s §

It was a pleasant surprise to find that Trader Joe’s sells crumpets. Unfortunately they seem to expire quite fast, and the ones from The Crumpet Shop are better, but if you can’t make it downtown for crumpets then Trader Joe’s has you covered.

5. IKEA §

While IKEA is undoubtedly Swedish, and the nearest one to Seattle is in Renton, there’s something nice and familiar about the endless zig-zagging corridor through the showrooms. And once you get to the café, you can have Sweedish meatballs, just like IKEA back in the UK.

4. Queen Mary Tea Room §

I heard great things about the Queen Mary Tea Room in Seattle, but unfortunately never went there myself. They appear to be in a little bit of financial trouble at the moment, so if you’d like to help them out, take a look at their website.

3. Proper Fish §

In our quest for proper British fish & chips, we were recommended Proper Fish at Bainbridge Island by several other British people. I never went myself, but pass on their recommendations.

2. Red Telephone Booth §

Across the Puget Sound from Seattle, in the heart of Poulsbo, is a Red Telephone Booth. While other places may have similar looking booths, such as Lockspot Café in Ballard, what’s special about the one in Poulsbo is that it’s genuine: the booth was shipped from the UK to Poulsbo.

1. Ebey’s Landing §

The winner of the honourable mentions goes to Ebey’s Landing, a scenic area to hike on the coast of Whidbey Island. Depending upon the ferry, it’s about 1.5 to 2 hours to drive from Seattle, but it is worth the journey. Even though it’s still very much the PNW, something about the scenery there is just distinctly British. The rolling green hills and view across the Puget Sound have uncannily similar vibes to the South Downs.

Closing thoughts §

I’m not sure what it says about me that seven out of ten items from both lists were food or drink related?