Union Jack

The fish and chips at Union Jack, with a side of mushy peas, stands as a symbol of “proper British grub.” (Union Jack British Pub and Restaurant/Submitted)

When Dr. Sukhi Ghuman speaks about the hub of British culture, this native of England’s East Midlands region and longtime resident of Nottingham waxes nostalgic about the pub.

This is a place that he calls “a congregational point” where “assembly is a social necessity.” And it was his longing for this atmosphere after moving to Arizona a decade ago that inspired the 2021 opening of his Union Jack British Pub and Restaurant near Scottsdale Airport.

A second location opened earlier this year in Mesa, which triggered “more phone calls, e-mails and Facebook messages than we could handle from people asking us to open a location in Tucson,” Ghuman said.

Lest he be rebuked for robbing Southern Arizonans of our rights to properly assemble, he and his partners decided to expand the congregational concept to 800 E. University Boulevard, in Tucson’s Main Gate Square, with plans to open in mid-October.

“The demand from Tucson has been massive,” Ghuman said. “Our location near the university is perfect; it connects to the campus’ international feel and this block is very well integrated with the broader local community.”

Congregating in true British style requires a nod to tradition. This is exemplified by Union Jack’s fish and chips, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, meat pasties, and the like, along with standard American pub fare like burgers, wings and salads. But Ghuman’s menu offers other, lesser-known culinary connections to his homeland that his fellow British expats will surely celebrate.

Branston pickle is a garnish that accompanies several items on his menu. Ghuman described it as a chutney-like sauce, made with diced vegetables, with a medium-thick texture and a slight crunch.

“If you haven’t had Branston pickle, you’ve not lived,” Ghuman said. “Once you have it, you’ll definitely be back,” he promised, noting that one of his favorite dishes as a child was a cheese and onion sandwich with Branston pickle.

Green peas are also a staple at British pubs and guests have a choice at Union Jack — regular or mushy.

“Mushy peas are exactly what it says,” he grinned. “Mushy. peas.”

He said mushy peas, which are served as a garnish or as a side dish of their own, are “a beautiful complement to fish and chips, with plenty of salt and vinegar on both the fish and chips.”

The desserts provide opportunities to congregate over confections as well, with five distinct expressions of the traditional British pudding. Though the sticky toffee, golden syrup and chocolate fudge varieties got my attention, I felt a responsibility as a journalist to do some digging into the spotted dick.

Ghuman said Spotted Dick is a British dish dating back to the mid-19th century, a steamed pudding with the texture of sponge cake made with dried fruit. It’s typically served with ice cream or custard.

“And it’s got spots all over it,” he quipped.

While “proper British grub” is central to congregating, as Ghuman pointed out, the restaurant’s full bar truly anchors the spirit of assembly. This is done with a wide selection of European ales and lagers, American brews, and other libations for sipping in this “dimly lit, old school, and unpolished setting.”

So, what’s Ghuman’s prescription for the perfect pairing at Union Jack?

“I always get an ice-cold pint of Carlsberg in me first,” he said. “Then I have a sausage roll, with Branston pickle, and an ice-cold Harp lager.”

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