There was a time when Pie And Mash shops were as ubiquitous as Fish and Chip shops in London, now I only know of three. When you think chip shops outnumber other fast food restaurants by about 3 to 1 you get an idea of just how many have vanished. Actually, up until a couple of week ago I only knew of 2, one in Whitechapel and another in Greenwich, but driving through that rather desolate fringe settlement Croydon the other day I spotted another. So I set out this lunchtime to see how this tiny throwback was getting on. Cockney's of Croydon is actually something of a revelation.
It certainly looks the part, huge wooden backed benches separate large tables adorned with even larger bottles of vinegar (most of which seem to be recycled Jack Daniels bottles). However, the walls were adorned with some very nice black and white pictures of the proprietors making pies and, seemingly, some of the regulars eating lunch, the guys here obviously aware of the anachronism of the place but celebrating it on the walls. These guys make the pies on the premises and they come in one flavour: beef mince.
The pie and mash turns up smothered in green liquor, these days just a parsley sauce, back in the day it may have included liquid from the stewed eels that are also permanent fixture on the menus; all of it ready to be spiked with the traditional British condiment of choice for the last couple of hundred years, vinegar. This is food with simple warm flavours and textures. This isn't food to excite the palate, this is pure Northern European stodge, ribsticking, keep out the cold food. It is a pity that there aren't a few more of these places left, not for the nostalgia hit but for the fact that this is part of London eating that is all but gone.
Addendum: Found this rather good description of East End food from Peter Ackroyd's London: A Biography which seemed to conjure eating in London a hundred years ago:
There is a vivid account of East End food at the beginning of the twentieth century in Walter Besant's East London, with descriptions of salt fish for Sunday morning breakfast, of slabs of pastry known as "Nelson, " of the evening trade in "faggots, saveloys and pease pudding" and of course of the...pie houses or "eel-pie saloons"...a typical "cockney" menu would comprise of saveloy and pease pudding, German sausages and black pudding, fried fish and pickle, pie crust and potatoes, faggot and mustard pickle. Stong tea and lashings of bread and butter were the other staples of life