For most of my life since I have compared many varieties of pies. In fact I would say I have become a Connoisseur of the Meat Pie, but in almost half-a-century I have yet to taste a sample anywhere near the quality and flavour of the meat, the taste and texture of the pastry of a Manze’s Pie. But devouring that exemplary pie was only a part of this particular dining out experience. The whole ambience of eating at Manze’s Pie and Mash Shop was awesome.
Luigi Manze, was an Italian immigrant who came to London in 1878 and by 1929 his family had founded an empire of fourteen Pie and Mash shops in the East End of London. Manze's remains to this day a well known and much loved institution. Their aim was to serve good wholesome food to poor people during the depression, and the menu was and is, always the same: meat pie, mashed potato, liquor (sauce); stewed or jellied eels, to eat in or take away.
Photo by James Rose
Outside Manze’s Pie and Mash Shop in the heart of Walthamstow’s High Street Market are stalls with galvanized trays full of live eels awash in ice and water. Graded and priced according to size, once selected the eels are killed with a swipe of the knife, cleaned and chopped into segments in a trice, then wrapped in newspaper and dropped into your shopping bag.
Inside the shop, nothing has changed since it was first fitted out in 1929. Walls are lined in quaint Victorian brown, green and white tiles and ornate mirrors. The hard dark wooden dining booths have high-backed narrow bench seats and white marble-topped tables, clearly designed with the slight, emaciated physique of the Victorian worker in mind, though these days the clientele are likely to be well-fed tourists seeking out authentic London experiences.
The counter is just inside the door, and with methodical precision the meat pie is tipped straight from the tin onto a thick china plate, a huge wooden spoonful of mashed potato is scraped along the edge of the plate, then lovely thick green “liquor” poured over it. Gormandisers could order “double” or “triple” mash or pies. You’d be given a fork and spoon, no knife, and with the precious plate held high above the crush of the queue, its off into the dining area of the shop to find a space to squeeze into one of those tiny booths.
Photo by essexjan
Recipes for the pies and liquor are closely guarded family secrets and despite many efforts to recreate that wonderful meal at home, I have never managed it. I am not the only one, for there are many questions, explanations and demonstrations on the internet from English migrant expats who either ask in a plaintive tone, or reply to those requests in a bombastic manner. Apparently the secret of that tasty liquor, slightly green in colour, is to use the water from the stewed eels, for nothing is wasted in the traditional ways of this frugal establishment.
Visit the Manze's website