London is considered one of the finest cities in the world for eating out. There are 36 Michelin stars to be found across the capital’s eateries and as wide a range of gastronomic styles as one could wish for. But in the land of the hungry cockney, pie and mash is king.
I have eaten at different ends of the London restaurant spectrum, though undoubtedly not at its extremes. I used to like to slum it at Wong Kei’s in Chinatown back in my student days, when the focus there being on low prices and turnover, rather than friendly waiting staff, so to speak. But it was cheap, inoffensive food and I was poor, so what the hell. I have also had the good fortune to eat at a Gordon Ramsay establishment, a couple of delightful, wallet-bruising places in Covent Garden, and my current favourite Indian Restaurant in London, Babur, which handily is about ten minutes from where I live and well worth a trip to South London.
But I have for too long failed to avail myself of a decent, honest, traditional bit of gor-blimey-guvnor Pie & Mash.
Last week I rectified that error. Finding myself a man of leisure I decided to have lunch (they don’t open evenings) at Manze’s Eel & Pie House in Peckham. I’ve passed that place so many times on a bus that my curiosity and appetite simply would not be denied any longer. I had to try it and my wife decided to come along too, though I had to disabuse her on the way there, of her strange notion that they served Eel Pies. And. Eel AND Pies.
Manze’s Eel & Pie House is a family run business, with shops in Peckham, Sutton and the original in Tower Bridge Road, opened in 1902. They claim to use the same 110 year old recipes, with allowances made only for changes to hygiene and food quality standards. The Peckham branch opened its doors in 1927 and looks every inch like they’ve done no more to it than keep it clean and refuse to redecorate – all wooden benches and white and green tiled walls.
The crazy pace of life in London and dizzying array of food choices means that a bit of comfort food is occasionally essential and the original and best comfort food is pie and mash. They offer one type of pie here – minced beef and gravy – one type of mash (no need for any Heston Blumenthal experiments here, just potato, mashed!).
And liquor. It’s not what you’re thinking. They also serve eels (stewed or jellied), though dwindling stocks are making this more expensive and a less common menu item. The liquor comes from the water from stewing eels, with parsley and their ‘secret ingredient’.
Before we go further, I passed on the eels.
Pie and mash it was then, and as I said, it isn’t what type of pie, it is how many. The menu is the model of simplicity; 1 pie & 1 mash, 2 pies & 1 mash, 2 pies and 2 mash… and so on. I plumped (pun intended) for the double pie, double mash option since I figured this would not be a regular visit and so I’d push the boat out. Not that it was extravagantly priced of course. Far from it.
On ordering, the hot plates were opened and the food served immediately. My wife was still getting seated when I slid her plate in front of her. That, dear readers, is fast food. Fast, hot, simple, honest, delicious food. The mash was homely, tasty and just right, the pie was meaty and moist inside, perfectly crisp and crusty without. The liquor (a new one on me) was tasty and generously applied (see picture) and judging by the full tables and queue out the door, I was not alone in being a very satisfied customer. Much like the chap behind me, I must presume, who went for three pies with his mash.
A hearty recommendation for an authentic dollop of good old-fashioned London eating – taste and value done quick and simple. Lovely jubbly.
(And fear not if you live outside the capital or can’t fit around their tricky opening hours. They deliver too. Stroll on!)
by Rob Young
Rob has recently written and published his first book ‘Gatecrasher’. It’s a cracking read and available through Amazon.