For some reason I am partial to a plate of pie and mash. It’s comfort food. Which is really odd, because you accustom comfort food to your childhood. But I cannot honestly remember ever eating it as a kid. I know my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc all did, but as I was brought up in a small town in Hampshire. London traditions were quite foreign to me. Maybe it was through their stories of eating it when they were young that it kinda got stuck that way.
I’ve visited many pie n mash shops over the years since I’ve been living in London. Some good, some bad. But all had a great feel to them. It’s a living history when you walk into those shops, with their wooden benches, tiled walls and marble tops and counters. I’m sure some folk feel like they are in another era when they go for their quota.
Pie n mash was, and still is a poor mans dish. Originally from the East End, made with scraps of left over meat from the butchers, cooked with a gravy and put under a piecrust. Served with mashed potato’s, jellied eels (which were in plentiful supply at that time), and smothered in liquor. Which was made up of the water that the eels were cooked in and a shed load of parsley to give it that green look. No food colouring here.
Today, there are still a number of pie n mash shops scattered around parts of London. But their numbers have declined somewhat, but in these credit crunching times, a few new shops are opening up. The food is still cheap and cheerful. It’s never going to win any culinary awards, but it does feed the stomach and the soul.
Manze’s were one of the original “eel n mash” shops in London. The branch on Tower Bridge Road is still open and thriving after 120 years. Some things never go out of fashion. As you can see by this video here.
The branch half way up Chapel Market was opened late 2008 or early 2009 (I think). It’s decked out in the traditional way. Rows of wooden benches with those high backs, that gives a bit of privacy whilst you eat.
I’d been meaning to eat in there since I first saw it, but as with most things in my life, it never happened. But the other day I made an effort and strolled down to Chapel Market for some pie n mash.
The shop was kinda full, which just goes to show even the old favourites are still in vogue in some quarters. Placed my order of large pie and mash at the counter. The waitress told me the large pie was mince beef and onion. I thought that was how they should be. I wonder what other options they have. The smaller ones did not look too keen so I gave them a miss.
Normally you get a scoop of mash from those old ice cream scoops, but here she scooped it up by a spatula and scraped onto the plate with all the finesse she could manage. The mash on one side, pie on the other and the liquor in the middle. Quality. I collected my cutlery and found a booth that never had kids or old folk in it. I can’t deal with eating near kids or old people. Don’t ask.
On your table are salt, black pepper (should be white), malt vinegar and chilli vinegar. Believe you me, you need to add some as it can be rather bland. But they know this and that is why they are there.
The mash was smooth. Needed a lot of seasoning, a touch of butter wouldn’t have gone a miss either. The piecrust was really flaky and tasty. The inside was ok, onions needed cooking a bit more, but it was ok. The liquor needed a heavy dose of vinegar to put some life into it. But without the vinegar “it ain’t nothing” as someone once told me.
All in all it wasn’t a bad meal. Filled my belly and nourished my spirit, as all good foods are supposed to do.
As I left and took a picture of the front, some guy came up to me and told me this place was on the route of the knowledge. So if you jump in a cab and ask for Manze’s on Chapel Market they should be able to bring you here with no problem.
If you’ve never had pie and mash before, give it a try. You will be eating a piece of London history, but be warned don’t expect the food to knock your socks off, instead it will give you a gentle comforting experience. One that you may want to go back for more.