Well, as it turned out, Tom's pie-and-mash dreams were not to be realised in Waltham Abbey after all. Instead my sister took him, via the Docklands Light Railway, to Greenwich, where another noted pie eatery is to be found. He came back with a number of photos, which I have unashamedly stolen from him to post here.
This was Goddards at Greenwich.
From my recent researches into pie-and-mash shops in the English capital, it is apparent that, though these establishments have clearly undergone a renaissance, they have always been there in some numbers, and further, they are often rather fine and imposing places. So why, in all the time I spent in London in my life, did I never notice them? Not for the first time, I have concluded that I must have spent much of my life walking round with my eyes closed, at least to anything I didn't consider important. And in my youth, as with many people, what was important mostly consisted of myself, and by occasional and tenuous extension, the people around me, insofar as they related to me and what they might be thinking of me. So I suppose I just wasn't looking out for pie-and-mash shops.
To return to Tom and my sister's excursion. Tom chose chicken and mushroom, with the mystical and long-sought-after liquor. My sister, who was somewhat bewildered, opted for traditional minced beef; she dithered when asked if she wanted liquor or gravy, so Tom took charge and ordered her liquor, stating that he had come all the way from France to taste again of pie liquor, and she could do likewise.
A little while ago on the radio I heard that in many restaurants eager foodies are annoying the staff and other customers by obsessive, in-your-face photographing of their food, not just quick souvenir snaps but messing about with lighting, climbing on their chairs to get a better angle, etc. From dipping my toe into the increasing plethora of food blogs, some of them very posy and self-important, with people travelling vast distances to visit and write up various highly regarded eating places, and illustrating their reviews with some very professional looking photos, this doesn't surprise me. The radio commentators' view on it generally seemed to be that chefs and restaurants, and their users, having blown up the whole matter of eating out into such a grandiose, theatrical and exorbitant affair, had no one but themselves to blame, with which I'm inclined to agree.
Sad to say, though, it is to be seen that my nearest and dearest have succumbed and joined this group of self-appointed restaurant food photographers, whom the Urban Dictionary has wittily dubbed the pepperazzi. However, since it enables me to vicariously enjoy at least a little of the experience, I'm not complaining.
Sister was rather disappointed with the minced beef, but the chicken and mushroom, Tom said, really was excellent, with an enormous piece of white chicken meat at the centre of it, surrounded by the mushroom garnish, rather than the scrips and scraps of chicken in bland sauce that such preparations usually comprise.
The liquor, he said, from the first mouthful, was everything he remembered it to be.
The final verdict: an eloquently empty plate.
I was also happy to see these pictures of the interior, which I think has no little style and elegance. The seats look like church pews. Pie shops generally seem to favour dark green and cream décor, it's traditional and old-fashioned, and I suppose it also goes with the pie liquor. There are some other nice photos here at the shop's website.
I hope no one concerned would mind appearing in these pictures, I don't usually do this but feel the people and their attitudes do express something of the atmosphere of the place, of quietly convivial satisfaction, security and tranquillity.
Tom, who always professes not to be a great people-person, was quite smitten watching these two old boys tucking into their food.
So, all in all, the adventure was gratifyingly successful. I was sorry not to have been there, but I expect I'll have another opportunity; by the look of it, the pie shops will be around for a while yet.
(I'll also post some of his other photos from the trip, from the railway, next time, as they are rather good, and certainly more interesting than anything that a grey and rain-sodden pre-spring round here has to offer.)