(Technically this is “Edwardian Supersize Me,” because if this show loved anything more than getting its hosts drunk it was renaming the show every two weeks, but we’re going to try and hold things together. There are enough confusing things later.)
Welcome to the Supersizers rewatch! We begin at the beginning, with the pilot that brought together Giles Coren, restaurant critic and perpetually awkward man of general questionability, and Sue Perkins, commentator-at-large who is probably dressed by snarky animated bluebirds every morning. Giles is sort of in love with her, which is his most redeeming feature. (Sue is also demonstrably fond of him, which keeps it from being creeptown.)
While each episode is delightful in its own way, there’s definitely a structure in place: visit a doctor for a cursory “this is what the past does to you” frame story (spoiler: the past was often unhealthy but sometimes healthy, news at 11), ‘live in’ a house typical of the era, slap on semi-functional period garb, invite people over for awkward and/or amazing times, deal with cursed aspic at least once. So, we’ll intro each episode with a rubric, hit the major meals, and enjoy extremely fuzzy screencaps of special moments between two champion eaters.
Chef Grade: Sophie Grigson, A+ cheffing
Best Guest: Simon Berry, wine merchant from a line of wine merchants since 1698, much more chill about wine than I would be given that family pressure.
Best Food Moment: During the hotel-dinner-party finale, they whip out a silver duck press, squeeze the blood out of a duck, and use the blood as a sauce with which to cook another duck. “How it tastes does not matter so long as you have a sterling silver duck press for your guests to coo over”: The Edwardians in a nutshell.
Worst Food Moment: Giles makes a bold play by drinking “beef tea” made from room-temperature raw beef juice; Sue wins, when she has a picnic for one that literally drives her to tears.
Equality Now!: While Sue cries into rice pudding, Giles downs a steak, sausages, bacon, and cheese toast in a chophouse. Flip-side, though, we also touch on the advent of the vegetarian restaurant as a hotbed of suffrage activity for women.
Worst Thing Giles Says: Nothing too bad, actually! (He’s still on his best behavior.)
Best Sue Thing: Inquiring after a lady’s embroidery in three languages, then passing out from boredom.
Moment Giles is Most in Love with Sue: Tie between helping her onto her stool during breakfast out (very Persuasion!), and playing hubby during their at-home dinner party.
Most Random Moment: Giles gets drunk and talks around the idea of handball for like thirty minutes.
ASPIC.: You bet! An enemy awakens.
Quote of the Week: “Can I have your slime?” (It’s about soup, it’s okay.)
The drinking begins! (Follow along here!)
Fair warning: each episode begins with a trip to the doctor. There’s usually one “startling result” per week, so I might mention that at the end, but otherwise I’m not interested. So this recap begins with the soon-to-be-standard clarinet and oboe tweedling, as our pair appear in their Edwardian finest and meet Sophie Grigson, who introduces them to that well-burdened table and explains it is one day’s Ewardian food, because array=wealth (we will run into this a lot).
And with that, breakfast! (Note: this gentleman who reads the foods in the pilot is replaced in all other episodes by a man we’ll nickname Carson for Downton reasons, because that dude judges every food ever eaten in the entire past, no matter what it is, and it is, quite frankly, marvelous. You don’t yet know you miss him here, but later you’ll look back and realize how much you missed him here.)
BREAKFAST: Porridge, Sardines on Toast, Curried Eggs, Grilled Pork Cutlets, Coffee, Hot Chocolate, Bread, Butter, Honey.
(We’ll be looking at this parsley differently, one meal from now.)
Their first meal together! They’re on their best behavior, so everything is still very polite. When Giles offers Sue a goopy-looking curry egg, she says, “That’s one of the more unpleasant things I’ve seen,” which is the culinary equivalent of a Jeep full of teens riding up to the cabin in the woods and admiring that it’s just as remote as Old Man Withers said it was.
This meal also indicates what’s to come: Sue gets in a note about how this dish was manufactured in India “for the colonial oppressors,” while Giles eats with suspect table manners.
They cut IMMEDIATELY to lunch. (It’s the pilot, we’re hurrying things up – such a rush we don’t even get a title card for it!)
LUNCH: Sauteed kidney, mashed potatoes, macaroni au gratin, broiled oxtongue*.
* Sophie mentions she’s a believer in eating all if you’re going to eat some, and that tongue is delicious, except this one’s been boiled for several hours, and when she pulls the skin off it looks like a home improvement show where someone’s fixing wiring.
Sue, who describes the tongue with a series of “gross”es because that’s all they’re letting her say at this point, is already yearning for greens. Giles offers her the parsley. They split it. Bless.
(These are the faces of people who will be superdrunk best friends in under 72 hours, it’s okay.)
TEA: (Created, as Giles says in VO, “To bridge the long, hungry minutes between lunch and dinner.”) Coconut rocks, fruit cake, madeira cake, bread, butter, toast, hot potato scones.
Not pictured because it is just a pile of beige. Sue and Giles compare shades of sepia they are eating/wearing, in the tone of two people who have been locked in a doctor’s waiting room overnight and are trying to make the best of it.
DINNER: Oyster patties, sirloin steak, braised celery, roast goose, potato scallops, vanilla souffle.
Wow, we are FLYING through day one! This is clearly before the producers knew to get them drunk, give them a historical activity, and film it.
The saddest celery in the world accompanies the steak, which comes just before the goose, which comes before the vanilla souffles, which Sophie races through the house in a futile attempt to keep them from collapsing before she gets to the third floor. She lectures the souffles for their disloyalty, because adorable. No comment is made on whether this affected their deliciousness. I would like to think a fallen vanilla souffle is still pretty tasty, but we’ll never know! Shrouded in mystery.
Speaking of mystery, Giles got roped in for Raw Beef Tea duty, in which he goes into a totally different kitchen than the one we’ve seen earlier, then puts raw beef and room temperature water into a jar and leaves it sitting out as per the cookbook.
The off-camera producers just laugh. DRINK BEEF JUICE LIKE WE TELL YOU, COREN.
While they wait for whatever happens to warm beef juice to happen, he makes invalid toast with ground beef on buttered toast, but let’s be honest, that was just to give him something to coat his stomach for all the vomiting later.
He drinks. (“Do you…want me to drink it?”)
Then he finishes it. Then, even as his face twitches, he says, “I might make some more.” Giles Coren, condensed into 20 seconds.
The next morning, having grossed out everyone in the house, Giles is forced to take their show on the road, as they head out for breakfast at Simpson’s – upstairs, where ladies are allowed. (Howard’s End shout-out!)
BREAKFAST: smoked haddock, scrambled eggs, kippers, cold cuts, game, fruit, bacon sausages, deviled kidneys, kedgeree. (Just so you know, a typical menu, and a typical spread:)
They go for it. Sue tries to extrapolate what will happen to her by the end of the week and settles on Grumpy, pretending it’s because of the food and not because of Giles. Giles makes mention that all this overplenty led to diet fads, one of which they are determined to investigate at their very next meal!
LUNCH: Oysters, foie gras terrine, potted shrimps, road cod with asparagus is parsley sauce (hey, TWO greens!), mutton hotpot, squad, rhubarb and clotted cream, friandises.
They are joined by Professor Tim Armstrong, who calmly walks them through the trend of the day: Fletcherism, in which you lean forward and chew each bite for one minute, until your saliva has pre-digested it. He then sportingly leads the silent trudge through mastication.
Giles insists his Fletchering led him to a greater appreciation of the herbs in his terrine. Sue’s only conclusion: “You wouldn’t have wanted us in a window seat.”
Then Sue’s off to Claridge’s for tea. (I secretly wonder if they were relieved when drunken antics took over at least a portion of the show, because this is a lot of sober eating.)
TEA. Pilot Butler, demonstrating why he got fired, says only, “Sandwiches,” while the chyron specifies: foie gras sandwiches, egg sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, drop scones, devilled ham toasts, potted shrimps, Charlotte Russe.
Historical note: gloves on throughout the eating process! Godspeed, eaters of the past.
Back home, Sue practices asking after someone’s embroidery in French, German, and English, while trying not to pass out from boredom. Doesn’t work.
Meanwhile, several hours later and in another dimension, Giles is outside at night in his athletic outfit, getting drunk, eating small pies, and playing handball “where I went to school,” which I imagine was a boarding school that raked him over the coals, based on his personality now. He chats enthusiastically to the camera about Edwardian athletes, and finally tries a pie (“Do you know what this is?” he has the wits to ask. It’s just lamb, though. A treat like raw beef juice doesn’t come along every day!)
Next morning, Harrod’s, shopping with Sophie for groceries for the big homebound dinner party. Things are looking much more comfortable; when Sue and Giles stay for breakfast and she can’t hoist herself on the stool, he leaps to her aid and lifts her.
When I first saw this I wondered if I had imagined that while she’s laughing, he has the body language of a teenage boy helping the crush of his young life and quietly freaking out about it; turns out I had not!)
BREAKFAST: rotisserie chicken and duck, diced carrots, potato, pink champagne. Giles, talking about the aptness of pink champagne to the Edwardian era, in VO: “It was pretty, bubbly, and exclusive.”
But according to wine merchant Simon Berry, who throws adorable shade on the Edwardian method and palate, that might have been for the best.
(His tiny alcohol Bible tells him the Edwardians were tacky.)
Still, that doesn’t stop the visiting Giles from shopping around, including for the warming ginger liqueur that Edward VII needed to warm him up…while he was driving. (Then Giles is weighed on the barrel-weight, looking as awkward as you can possibly imagine that to be.)
Things vastly improve for him that evening at the dinner party, where some lovely guests (including historian Juliet Gardiner and politician Roy Hattersley) have gathered for a meal whose sheer magnitude they cannot possibly understand yet, and Giles gets to do his favorite thing in the world and pretend to be married to Sue.
(“I wonder if Edwardian couples kissed in public,” he says after kissing her on the cheek, adding as if he can’t help it, “that was probably tatamount to a porn film!” ARE WE MARRIED FOR REAL YET, SUE? THAT WAS AN EDWARDIAN MARRIAGE, NO TAKEBACKS.)
DINNER PARTY: took two screenshots to capture, because look at this food.
We open with luxury melon, which Hattersley points out was eaten because it was hard to come by, more than anything. Speaking of which, mock turtle soup! (Giles points out in VO that the Edwardians liked turtle soup so much that they fished it almost to extinction, which is why they’ve gone mock.)
Giles: “No, that looks nice! I wish I had some on mine. Can I have your slime?”
After an entree of crab mousse and a boiled leg of mutton, Hattersley peaces out, very wisely. Sue stands up to mark his going; Giles murmurs defensively, “I didn’t stand up because he wasn’t a lady.” Sue is immediately shown drinking heavily. I do not think this is a coincidence. Over the quail and suet pudding, they turn to open argument where she tries to send him upstairs to do jigsaws while she talks politics with the guests; it proceeds in short order to them trying to launch strawberries across the room with spoon catapults.
In the kitchen, Sophie literally squeals at a disappointing jelly that just barely manages to hold a shape of any sort.
ASPIC, YOU BASTARD.
It comes to the table amid well-deserved applause, though Sue looks at it as if she knows, KNOWS, she and aspic will meet again.
After a day off, it’s time for a two-meal split. Giles goes to a chophouse and eats steak & kidney pie, grilled chop, sausage, stewed cheese on toast, and claret with a group of older gentlemen food enthusiasts (this show pulls liberally from the Older Gentleman Food Enthusiasts Club).
And Sue gets on a train to eat the worst meal of the week! [Note: this show has such a small budget that the producers had to save her a seat by putting a newspaper down. GLAMOUR!]
LUNCH WITH CRYING: asparagus, some tower of inexplicable food, fried Irish sprats, plover’s eggs in aspic, smoked salmon cornet, salmagundi, rice pudding with prune compote, macarons, champagne.
Intercut with Giles having a grand old time with men chomping steak and slightly resenting the presence of women, Sue has to work her way through the menu above, which starts out hilarious and quickly becomes unbearable, as she tries desperately to drown out one taste with another, only to find out each one is worse than the last. Particularly bad is the salmagundi – anchovy, apple, garlic, and caper (“that looks like gerbil bedding”). By the time she reaches the rice pudding, she’s a woman on the verge, and it’s so sweet it tips her over the edge into tears.
(There are other people in that train car. Imagine how awkward it has to be when the person eating in front of the cameras starts to cry. Just, imagine it a second.)
She pulls it together quickly, and talks about the idea of the Edwardian women who stayed upstairs because they couldn’t face this parade of overwrought food. (We’ll get there!)
Finally, a historical activity! Sue and Giles run through a series of Edwardian practical jokes. They make it cuter than it has a right to be.
Then it’s time for suffrage, marked by a vegetarian meal – veg restaurants sprang up throughout the Edwardian era, and as they served no alcohol, women could go unescorted and talk up a storm of politics.
LUNCH: vegetable soup, lentil stew, postponed mushroom pie, ginger beer.
So many colors! Also, footage of suffragettes! (Who were told to take the vegetarian option in prison because prison meat wasn’t to be trusted.)
They briefly discuss vegetarianism in literature, then proceed to compare burps. Apparently he let out one after the lamb cutlet that literally startled her. HISTORY.
In order to give his burps more room to breathe, they head for a picnic! (It’s a bunch of food, I can’t even, I think the The Edwardians Were Nonsense theme has been established.)
Sue drinks tea and grumps about nature; he calls her “my dear” because pretend-married counts if you are Giles, and everything is derailed by his actual burping. They both crack up. This is a small scene, and the food hardly even gets a mention as they eat it, but it was around this time that I realized the producers had included it because by then it was sort of fun just to watch them bicker and burp. (And it IS. Who knows why.)
For our final meal, it’s THE SAVOY, the place where you could invite people to dinner who you’d never actually have in your house, for a third of the cost of eating at home.
This entire dinner is truly a spectacle, often with foods being paraded around in one form, then back to the kitchen for finishing and plating in another. Sue and Giles have settled in, and the guests seem much more at ease than previously as a result. The first courses – soups, two fish dishes, lamb – fly by.
Making a play for heaviest dish – roasted chicken, stuffed with rice, foie gras, and black truffles, covered in a truffle mushroom cream sauce, with quenelle of veal tongue and chicken, and shaved truffle on top.
AND IT STILL DOESN’T WIN, because next is the Duck.
THE DUCK. In which one barely-cooked duck is compressed in a silver duck press until the blood comes out, where it’s combined with the blended hearts and livers of the ducks in a sauce spiked with champagne as a sauce for the other duck.
It’s admittedly fascinating, even though no one seems to think the resulting dish tastes like anything but blood and money.
Sue has a little trouble with the asparagus course, which she silently hopes only Giles has seen:
But ends up charming the entire table with it, because she’s Sue.
Dessert is peach Melba with sugar cages, served in an ice swan, because of course. (Giles, in VO: “By all accounts, she was a bit of a bitch, but she gave her name to some fabulous food.” Thanks for that, whoever wrote that and also Giles.) Sue treats the final course of their Edwardian journey with all the gravity it deserves.
Giles also said his farewells to the era, as we find out in Sue’s last confessional: as he kissed her goodnight, he burped into her face. Her pronouncement: “Duck a la presse.”
You can almost HEAR someone running in to lock these two down for a contract to do more of this on TV, can’t you?
And they did! Next episode: WARTIME.