A pile of flour. Mounds of rising dough. Croissants. Jam tarts. Each with a tiny mouth, singing along to the Paul McCartney song "We All Stand Together."
This isn’t a pastry chef’s fever dream—it’s one of the commercials featured in the Walker Art Center’s British Arrows Awards screenings. Showing now through December 30, the program is the Walker’s most popular each year “by far,” according to the center’s assistant director of public relations, Rachel Joyce. (Proof-positive is the fact that many 2018 dates are already sold out.) The 73-minute screening is a showcase of dozens of award-winning commercials, from heartwarming Christmas spots to sobering public service announcements. There's plenty of the quirky, self-deprecating comedy the Brits are known for—plus special themed menus at the Walker's restaurants.
If the idea of watching over an hour of advertisements seems a bit odd, bear in mind that these are like Super Bowl commercials on steroids. “British audiences won’t be sold to,” says Charlie Crompton, chairman of the British Arrows board of directors. “We want an entertaining message that engages us. It’s always a soft sell, and our advertising is all the better for it.”
Janey de Nordwall, managing director of the British Arrows, agrees. She describes British commercials as “beautifully crafted, telling a story to engage—they get into the hearts and minds [of viewers] with characters and story.”
What can audiences expect from the lineup? “It’s an engaging and eclectic show,” says Crompton. “Singing baked goods, meerkats with Russian accents, dishwasher tablets… There are very important ads too, [such as] the mayor of London addressing knife crime. We’re pushing the boundaries, and perhaps in America you can’t.”
If you want to make a night of it, the Walker is offering a pub fare menu of British-themed options in the Cityview Bar (located in the former Gather restaurant space). In addition to familiar favorites like fish and chips, bangers and mash, and sticky toffee pudding, there are some vegetable-focused dishes as well as entirely vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free choices. We enjoyed the savory tarte tatin, made with a housemade puff pastry and topped with goat cheese, beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, and fresh herbs.
The lamb and biscuits are quintessential comfort food, although the Brits were a bit baffled by the name. (As Great British Baking Show fans may recall, a British biscuit is akin to an American cookie.) But whatever you call them, the crumbly cheddar creations pair well with the thick lamb stew.
Save room for dessert—the Bakewell tart was one of the highlights of the menu, with a rich shortbread crust, crumbly almond frangipane filling, and a bright burst of raspberry preserves.
Walker restaurant Esker Grove is also getting into the spirit, with a three-course British-themed tasting menu for $35. While you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu (diners get to select each course from two or three options), we particularly recommend the beet salad with smoked trout and the quince, almond, and praline tart, its sweetness balanced with a dusting of fresh thyme.
Another standout is the Sunday roast, served with roasted carrots, mushroom jus, and Yorkshire pudding: a dead ringer for a popover, but made with duck fat that adds an extra level of flavor.
Like the British Arrows commercials—short spots that stretch viewers’ expectations about advertising—the food showcased at Esker Grove and the Cityview Bar challenges assumptions that British cuisine is lackluster or limited to greasy pub grub.
“It wasn’t so long ago British food was a joke,” says Crompton. “When I was younger, we had terrible food. There’s very good food to be had now, and you can seek it out anywhere. It’s a very exciting time.”
Details about the British Arrows Awards screenings, Cityview Bar, and Esker Grove are available on the Walker Art Center website.