GRUB!: Pie and Mash

Monday, November 21, 2011

It’s been too long since we indulged in any local delicacies and this weekend I had the perfect opportunity to seek out a classic.  This is because I’m now working in the Far East (of London) which has historically been a very working class area, and one of the time-honoured foods of  London’s working class is pie and mash.

First I should clarify that over here pie is always assumed to be meat pie unless otherwise stated.  Fruit pies exist but are much less common; in the UK the default setting for pie is meat.  And mash is mashed potatoes of course.  So pie and mash is meat pie – usually minced beef (hamburger) – with mashed potatoes.  There’s a third critical element to traditional pie and mash, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

So there I was at work in deepest darkest East London on an odd split-shift Saturday morning facing a long break before I’d next be needed. Clearly there was no choice but to dragoon a couple of coworkers - one of whom cleverly knew the way - and head to a traditional local pie and mash shop.

G Kelly Pie and Mash Shop
G.Kelly Noted Eel and Pie Shop, Est. 1937
Ok, I suspect you're wondering about the "Eel" part of that sign, and there's really no way to talk about pie and mash properly without talking about eels (of course). This is partly because they're both proper working class foods. Eels were cheap, nutritious and readily available - coming right from the Thames itself. Hence they, like pie and mash, became a staple for London's poor.  There are two common cooking methods for eel. The first is to boil them in water and vinegar and then allow the mixture to cool.  Because eels are, as Wikipedia charmingly says, "a naturally gelatinous fish", a sort of jelly forms when the cooking liquid cools resulting in a batch of the delicacy known as jellied eels.  (Aside: Yes, I realize that the day is coming when the blog topics become thin on the ground and I'll have to take up the "Steve's Weird Food" Challenge once again and at least try some jellied eel, but let's hope that day is a long long way off, because a big ole plate of jellied eel is a terrifying thing to behold.) Thankfully eels are also served warm with the broth they're cooked in.  That broth is the "critical third element" I mentioned earlier.  Fortified with lashings of chopped parsley which turn it an odd green colour, eel broth becomes something called "liquor", the traditional accompaniment to a proper meal of pie and mash.  Pie and mash and liquor - that's what I was after.

And so my hardy companions and I headed off to G. Kelly's, which is situated on a particularly old thoroughfare, as you can see by this picture of the street sign:

I told you it was old.  Apparently it's the oldest known trade route in Britain (taken by Boudicea on her way to burn the Romans out of London).  
A properly traditional pie and mash shop is decorated with white tiles on the walls and has white marble tables and counter top, and I am happy to report that G. Kelly's had both, along with a woman behind the counter who referred to everyone as "lovely" - and that's a noun here, not an adjective, as in "That'll be three pound sixty, lovely."  When pressed for time "lovely" gets abbreviated to "luv" but either way, it's great.  

Emma and Jo at the white marble counter of G. Kelly's.
The menu at G. Kelly's is extensive. You can have pie and mash, or double pie and mash, or double pie and double mash.  Pie comes in beef mince, chicken and - surprisingly - vegetarian mince.  Liquor is optional, but very traditional.  You can even have just a bowl of mash and liquor if you're not in the mood for pie, but why would you possibly go to a pie shop if you weren't in the mood for pie?  We, of course, were very much in the mood for pie and all three of us had a single beef mince pie with mash and liquor and a mug of hot tea.

My plate of pie, mash and liquor.  Note the mash is scraped off the serving spoon along the edge of the plate.  Apparently even this is traditional.
I can't say that Kelly's pie and mash was like a party in my mouth. The mash was lovely, but the liquor was oddly bland and the pie was average: pastry a bit tough, filling a bit meager.  Then again you really can't complain when a lunch of real food made by real people, including a nice cup of tea, comes to £3.60.  Pie and mash is still cheaper and more nutritious than a Big Mac and fries.  And after our pie we had... more pie!  G.Kelly's stretches to some lovely little fruit pies in cherry and apple, along with rhubarb or apple crumble. They even had mince tarts, which taste like Christmas!  All in all it was a resoundingly successful and quintessentially East London little outing. G. Kelly's was as proper a pie and mash shop as you could hope for (except possibly for the inclusion of the vegetarian option) and came complete with local punters in flat caps eating pie and mash while filling out betting slips.

Roman Road even has a reasonable street market on Saturdays, so we had a wander through that as well. The market runs quite heavily to cheap clothing that looks like it "fell" off the back of a Top Shop truck, along with a few fruit and veg stalls and the usual jumble of other merchandise with suspicious origins, but it was diverting and festive.

Third floor... ladies wear... lingerie...
And because I was lucky enough to be with friends I got them to take a picture of me, standing in the churchyard of Bow Church, a lovely little spot tragically located in the middle of a traffic island.

Me and Bow Church
Me at Bow Church. (In my super hi-vis cycling jacket.  I got it on Amazon, which boasted that it was waterproof AND breathable, which turned out to be a complete fabrication.  Waterproof, yes, but that jacket is about as breathable as mustard gas.  It's like wrapping yourself in clingfilm (that's saran wrap for the folks at home).  Still, I wear it whenever I cycle because being sweaty is better than being dead.)  
And that's the story for this week.  Now please excuse me while I go finish the ironing and the next episode of "Master Chef" where, sadly, they never do pie and mash.


Anonymous said...

Clicked on the "behold" link and am now very afraid of ever tasting jellied eel!

eme said...

I wonder if G. Kelly is a long lost relative of mine?

Unknown said...

One of my favourite types of sushi was Unagi (BBQ'd Eel), until I read about the gellied kind. Yuk!

Nice blog, shame about the food. Glad to see the blog still gets out out of the house on the weekends.

Rob H.

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