We were in London this weekend… and for no reason other than it seemed like a really good idea at the time, we decided to visit a traditional London Pie & Mash shop for our lunch.
We went to Manze’s in Chapel Market… a decision mostly influenced by 3 key factors:
(1) It wasn’t too far away.
(2) Time Out have it listed on their page of “London’s best Pie and Mash shops“.
(3) Giffgaff’s mobile data service was borked that morning (grrr!) and Chapel Market was one of the few places I thought I could successfully navigate to without the aid of cybernetic augmentation (AKA GPS and google maps!)
Fortunately, my sense of direction prevailed, and we got there easily. The shop looks like this:
And, through the magic all-pervasiveness of google street view, you can even have a virtual wander around the shop interior. Here’s the table we sat at:
Isn’t technology wonderful?
Anyway, the place certainly looked like the real deal. But what was the food like? First up, pie and mash:
Pie and mash is a traditional East London dish, dating from the 19th century. Back in days of yore, pretty much the only meat that working class Londoners could afford to eat was eel — a fish that thrived in the filthy waters of the river Thames. The eel would be served in a pie, along with cheap mashed potato, and accompanied by a sauce known as “liquor”. The liquor was a green sauce, made from the water that the eels were cooked in, flavoured up with parsley and other herbs.
As the Thames’ eel population declined though overfishing, cheap cuts of mutton or beef were minced up and used in the pies instead… but the liquor remained. Nowadays, the pie you get with pie and mash will almost always be minced beef, but it’ll still be served with the traditional liquor. It seems like a bit of an odd combination, if you don’t know the history. (Actually, it’s a bit of an odd combination even if you DO know the history).
We were pretty hungry, and opted for “large” pies… (you could also opt for “small” or two “small” pies on one plate – which is — confusingly — actually a bigger serving than the large pie). The mashed potato is traditionally scraped along one side of the plate (just like you see in the photo); I can only guess that’s to act as a kind of dam for the liquor, and to make the plate easier to carry without spilling its contents.
Verdict: I really wasn’t very impressed. I like pies. A lot. And I’m also quite fond of mashed potato. And this is a shop which specialises in selling those EXACT two things. I was, therefore, expecting some kind of near-religious experience. What I was actually served was some of the blandest mashed potato I’ve ever eaten, and a barely-passable mince and veg pie.
The potato didn’t have any flavour to it at all… no hint of butter, or salt, or milk… or even the flavour of a particularly good mashing potato. It was just white, mashed vegetable matter. As for the pie; I don’t know if that’s how it’s *meant* to be served, but the top was nicely browned, but the bottom crust was barely cooked – it was more like the texture of pasta than baked pastry … a bit like if you’ve cooked a frozen pie but got the oven temperature wrong, so the top burns and the bottom barely cooks at all. The filling was OK; the meat was cooked through, but the root vegetables were a bit tough. In summary: not a particularly edifying pie experience at all. I could walk into any Newcastle chip shop, and get a pie ten times as tasty as that one, for half the price.
The only redeeming feature of the dish was the liquor, which at least had a bit of flavour about it. But… on the whole, it was probably the blandest and least-interesting plate of food I’ve ever paid for in a restaurant/cafe.
However, Pie and Mash shops are not just famous for their pie and mash. They also sell THIS epicurean cockney delight:
Jellied Eels! … and, obviously, we couldn’t pay a visit to a Pie and Mash shop without sampling this stuff too. Though we decided a single bowl shared between the two of us would probably be sufficient for our needs 😉
I’ve never had eels before. The flesh wasn’t too bad — it tasted like cheap, white fish; you’d certainly never mistake it for cod or haddock, but it was perfectly palatable, and might even make a tasty dish if it was served hot in a nice sauce. Jellied eels are, however, served chilled… and — as such — taste pretty much like what they are: cold, white-fleshed, not-quite-premier-league fish.
The skin was slimy, fatty, and unappetising in every way … and quite a chunk of each slice of eel was occupied by the spine of the fish … so it was quite picky stuff to eat. The jelly — which is apparently made to a different secret recipe by each pie and mash shop — just tasted like slightly-briny water to me.
We picked our way through the white meat, and decided we’d probably had a sufficient amount of jellied eel for one lifetime.
The total bill came to thirteen-pound-something. It was certainly a memorable experience, and at least I can now claim to have eaten Pie, Mash, and Jellied eels in an authentic London Pie and Mash shop … but I couldn’t help looking enviously at the customers of the branch of McDonalds three doors down as we made our escape…