Sunday, April 14, 2013

Pie-and-mash regained, and Tom joins the pepperazzi.

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.

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. 

 Post-pie satisfaction.


(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.) 


Roderick Robinson said...

I offer another caption for satisfied Tom. In a 1940s movie called The Cure For Love, Robert Donat - get that, Robert Donat, with his accent - plays a working class sergeant from Lancashire who is receiving a lesson in sexual etiquette from that well-known sexual technician, Thora Hird.

RD, a shy lad, is being urged to practice "fait accompli" in ensnaring the highly desirable Renée Ascherson, coincidentally one of my heart-throbs at the time. To be up front and personal, in fact. Thora employs an analogy involving her now dead husband.

"He used to go into pubs and if he saw a pint on the bar, he'd creep up and drink it. After, he'd say to the pint-owner: 'I've drunk it, should I have done?'"

Robert Donat says sardonically that he must have got a lot of black eyes.

"Aye," says Thora, "but he got a lof pints too."

And given that slight look of defiance on Tom's face my suggested caption is: "I've etten it, should I have done?"

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, what a lovely post. And this: "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 painfully true. Thank you, Lucy. (alison)

the polish chick said...

brilliant and accurate assessment of youth. and not just youth: methinks i didn't pull my head out of my bottom until my thirties!

marja-leena said...

Fascinating look at another bit of British culture and food. (Great photos, Tom!) I wonder if we walked past that place when we were hunting for a place to eat, with hungry grandchildren in tow after our lengthy 'Greenwich Tour' several years ago. We ended up in a pub and had English fish and chips. We would not have had a clue about pie-and-mash back then.

Ellena said...

Can this pie be compared to a quiche?
If the liquor is the gravy, I hope it's not liquified eel.
My grandmother talked about some New Years Eve tradition involving eel. No idea what it was all about. I did not want to listen to it. Eel is not my favorite type of fish, oh nooooo.

marly youmans said...

Roderick Robinson needs to be an 18th-century novel. I think he would be quite enjoyable.

The liquor looks much less lurid than your earlier borrowed picture--that liquor looked as though it would glow mightily under black light. The place looks jolly... I didn't realize there were varied contents to the pies.

You nailed youth. Have three of those in the house at the moment...

Lucy said...

Thanks chaps.

RR - he does look rather pleased with himself doens't he? I am still bouleversée by that description of Thora Hird...

Alison - from your writing I cannot believe you were ever like that when you were young,

PC - your thirties IS young. Just wait.

I wouldn't wish to be too unkind to the young, that kind of self-consciousness and anxiety is horribly painful and well worth being free of. I'm sure in fact there were people of my age then who were much more observant of and interested in things around them than I was, and other older ones who continue to be ignorant and self-absorbed. I think I would say I probably paid more attention to the people round me then, albeit for the reasons I gave, and more to things now. The received idea is that it is somehow worthier to be interested in people, and I spent a lot of time wondering what made them tick. Now I am more and more of the conviction that I haven't a clue and care less and less. But my physical surroundings, their history and context are far more important to me now. Of course one benefits from the experience and increased knowledge that comes with age to appreciate those things, and that appreciation is not divorced from one's interest in the people who inhabit and inhabited them.

ML = thanks. There seems to be a bewildering choice of places and things to eat in much of London now; I wonder if your grandchildren would have enjoyed pie and mash?! There are other things you can eat there, including vegetarian pies!

Lucy said...

(New comment in case I exceed the character limit!)

Ellena - I don't know if your quiche and ours are the same, but a quiche as I know it is open on a pastry base, and contains savoury elements in an egg-based filling. A pie in British parlance essentially has a pastry lid on it, even sometimes no pastry base under it, and usually the main ingredients, whether savoury or sweet, in some kind of sauce. Here in France, such lidded pastries do exist and are known as 'tourtes' rather than 'tartes', but they seem regional and not widely available. Indeed, here in Brittany quiches are not particularly popular in my experience, though sweet tarts are universal.

As to the eels, the 'with eels' on the sign is misleading: the pies are not served with eels! Eels used to be put in the pies, but now are served as a separate menu item, jellied or stewed. There is a possibility, though, that the pie liquor does contain some of the stewing jus of the eels, which doesn't make it taste of fish but introduces an elusive element of savouriness - umami - and viscosity that enhances it. Our Dutch friend says smoked eel is an unrivalled delicacy, and the eel fisheries which catered to the London trade in the past were often Dutch fleets. Stories about the catching and preparation of those fish do rather confirm your distaste however!

Marly - I have often thought that about RR, ci-devant Lorenzo da Ponté, ci-devant Barratt Bonden, now finally settled in his actual given name. The minced beef is the most traditional, but they have widened the choice. Good luck with the youthful ones; they can be ever so sweet though, and very brave and honest...

Zhoen said...

Easy to miss the obvious.

I rather like quick snaps of meals. The excessive and intrusive photo-bloggers are the problem.

So glad the meal satisfied. Too often a long deferred pleasure is not as good as the memory.

Nimble said...

What an enjoyable peek into the pie shop, thanks!
Perfectly photographed food is creepy once you notice the perfection.

Lise said...

Pas le temps ce matin de faire la traduction. c'était juste pour vous envoyer un petit coucou.
Pour information, j'ai vu que vous avez une vitrine Goddard, my name is Godard.
Bonne journée

Natalie said...

What annoys me in the way that mash is served is those perfectly round hard balls! I can see it's because of practical and economic reasons but to me, mash ain't mash unless it's a large formless mound of creamy, soft, potato-y mush over which the rest of the dish can wallow.
But glad that Tom found his remembered

Lucy said...

Thanks again.

Z - yes, I agree, people on holiday or having a treat taking a quick picture is absolutely fine. I was surprised the meal wasn't disappointing, especially as the liquor recipe apparently varies from shop to shop, and I was sure it must have been built up impossibly in his memory, but no, apparently it ticked the boxes.

Nimble - glad it pleased. I do quite like pretty food photography, I must say, but it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt!

Lise - bonjour! Il y a beaucoup de noms de famille anglais de l'origine française, dont ceux qui sont venus des Huguenots, surtout à Londres et le sud-est. Goddard est peut-être un tel nom - je vais faire des recherches!

Natalie - I know what you mean, it does make it look a bit school dinner-ish too. Sometimes the mash is smeared all over the side of the plate, however, and at the Waltham Abbey shop, a bizarre combination of both: a big smear topped by two boules which the Pie and Mash Club review described as looking like two little boobies in a push-up bra (gives you an idea of the general tenor of the literature of that august gastronomic body...). Now I think about it, Tom did once buy a large ice cream scoop thingy, and suggest it might be a nice way to serve mashed potato, but I would have none of it, since, like you, a prefer a large, formless mound. I think the madeleine moment was all in the liquor though!

Tom said...

As this post in part concerns me and my MOT trip to the UK, I felt it might be appropriate to add a comment of my own.
The idea of seeking out a pie shop has been around for some little while now, particularly as the ingredients of the key element - the liquor - tends to be a closely guarded secret. There are recipes on the web, but how close they come to the real thing I do not know. Recently, the Hairy Bikers used a recipe which included garlic for heavens sake.
The moment we entered the pie shop, (Lucy's beautiful sister and I), the world changed. the decor - green and cream - brought back hints of childhood memories of the Eastend of London. But the moment I tasted the liquor for the first time in too many years (65 at least, would you believe?) aaaah, the joy! the salivatory ecstasy!
It was like living in an eternal now, decades shrunk into a non-temporal passing! (If you're still okay with that paradox, let me continue.)
It was like being home in a place that was not any home I had in the material, so-called real world. The other people had, seemingly, been sitting there for decades, people who were total strangers to me, but people I knew very well.
The two old guys opposite us were luv'ly. The fork of food raised towards the mouth and held there whilst some particularly interesting tidbit or reminiscence was passed on, before allowing the food to continue its journey, upwards and onwards.
I cannot believe how quickly I downed that plate of deliciousness. Also on the menu was "double pie and mash" and even "triple pie and mash." I guess some people get really hungry!
Enough! enough! The salivary juices are beginning again.

Zhoen said...


Please start a blog, or at very least guest-blog here. You are a treat, thank you very much.

Tom said...

Zhoen, thank you for your compliment. I would feel uncomfortable about being a guest-blogger on Lucy's site. As far as starting a blog of my own is concerned, I cannot see many (if any) people being interested in my areas of interest. There would also be a problem of time. It is certainly true that I have long wanted to converse with a circle of people with my interests, but......Maybe some other time.

Thank you again for your comment.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Tom, now you've made me curious: what are those areas of interest you think no one, or hardly anyone, would share?

I agree with zhoen that you are a natural blogger.

Rouchswalwe said...

Having just come through a bout of stomach flu, I am back for a third roll through this wonderfully juicy post. Tom, I am very happy that time welled up to bend around your taste buds with verve and vim. Around these parts, we'd probably refer to such a dish as soul food. But I feel that this was much more, especially in that fine green place. Mmmmm. Thank you for aiding the return of my appetite.