And I really mean PROPER pie and mash, which comes from the pie and mash shop. I do not mean shortcrust pies or ‘pies’ (not in my book!) half topped with puff pastry, runny insubstantial gravies with the odd piece of meat and mashed potatoes whipped up with cream and butter. Not that there is anything wrong with a bog standard pie, but it’s not the same as what you get from a pie and mash shop.
And what is the pie and mash shop? Well, there are only a few left in London now, and some others that pretend to be the real thing but oh so are not. Usually they still sport their original Victorian interiors – tiled walls and narrow benches designed for you to eat and go, not hang around at your leisure.
You order at the counter as soon as you walk in from a menu limited to pie (minced steak pie – no choice), mash, eels (jellied or stewed) and soft drinks. Unless you say otherwise (and why would you?) then your pie and mash will be served with liquor – a parsley sauce originally made with the liquid used to cooked the eels, but I doubt they do that nowadays.
The pies are eased out of their metal cases onto the plate, followed by a mound of mash which is literally scraped onto your plate, and then liquor is sploshed on top. You pay, pick up your knife, fork and spoon and find a seat and dig in, after seasoning your plate with chilli vinegar, salt and white pepper. It’s the ultimate fast food, but unlike MacDonalds, KFC, PIzza Hut and the like, the food is freshly made, wholesome and healthy … and will keep your tummy full and satisfied for the rest of the day.
I grew up on the stuff as both sets of grandparents lived near Elephant and Castle, and so each weekend when my brother and I visited our Nan and Grandad we’d start off Saturday morning by a quick torment of Grandad by making the phone ring by dialling 1571 until I think he genuinely wanted us dead (it kept us amused for hours, and he never wanted to risk not picking up the phone in case there was a genuine caller), then going with Nan to do the week’s shopping at East Lane market, then take a detour to M&S so my brother and I could choose a few treats (typically spoilt by our grandparents). We would then have the choice of lunch at the pie and mash shop or MacDonalds. Invariably we chose pie and mash and so walked down to Arments on Walworth Road (which was originally opened in 1914), keep a sharp eye out for our other less popular Nan (hiding if we saw her) and each have pie and mash with loads of liquor. Beautiful.
I dreamed of pie and mash for many years after our grandparents left the area and we had no reason to go back just for the food. One day Andrew and I were walking around Angel in North London, near where we lived, and I suddenly noticed Manzes pie and mash shop on Chapel Market. I must have walked past it without noticing 100 times, but as soon as I saw it I could have cried. I dragged Andrew inside (he had no clue about pie and mash, growing up in Wales) and ordered double pie and mash twice, with liquor on the side for Andrew.
Oh it was one of the best things I had ever tasted. The flavour of the pie was the same as I remembered from growing up, the mash was the same silky texture, and the liquor was the same glorious green. I loved seeing the mash scraped onto the plate in the same way I remembered from my childhood, and watching regulars eating their dinner with spoons (the traditional way to eat pie and mash, but something I never got into the habit of).
I can stomach stewed eels nowadays, but the thought of jellied eels still makes me retch. Luckily they are normally sold out by the time we get there!
I went back to Manzes yesterday for a new year’s treat of double pie and mash, and it tasted as glorious as ever. If you haven’t tried it, please do, and let me know if you like it in the comments section. For around a fiver you’ll have a hearty, filling, nutritious meal and you’ll never look back. My new year’s resolution is to have pie and mash more regularly – it truly is the food of the gods!