Pie And Mash at Square Pie

image

Pie and mash is something of an East End institution. Like jellied eels, this is simple fare that you’d expect to be served to market stallholders for a tasty hot lunch. It’s one of those dishes that has been given a ‘gourmet makeover’ – and clearly the more irony that can be squeezed out of cooking well something that is traditionally as far from foodie-heaven the better for such makeovers.

“No, I’m not saying it’s Fray Bentos, heated in a¬†greasy spoon’s¬†microwave”

The problem I have with Square Pie’s pie and mash isn’t so much that it isn’t good – it’s a perfectly palatable and enjoyable lunch – it’s just that it isn’t really so much better than any other pie I’ve eaten. What’s great about a proper English pie (and yes, I’m a purist who believes there simply has to be pastry all the way round, not simply on top, and woe-betide those who cook some puff pastry separately and then plonk a miserable rectangle onto some stew) is that it’s warming comfort food. Made from straightforward ingredients, that have frequently come from the cheaper end of the spectrum (or the cow!) – hint: kidneys don’t feature solely for their taste – pie offer hearty food without too much mucking about. I’m not advocating that Square Pie should muck about more – there are many other places with frankly over-thought-out fillings – but just that if they’re not going to, it’s hard to detect that gourmet flair.

So this is a (good) standard pie with, yes, above-average mash and a healthy slosh of gravy. I’d happily eat it again, but I reckon I could do so in a variety of venues. No, I’m not saying it’s Fray Bentos, heated in a greasy spoon’s microwave, but I hope I’d never find myself quite that desperate (or unable to eat a Full English!).

Middle of the road.

Pulled Pork at Pitt Cue Co

image

Was it worth waiting in line for 90 minutes to eat at Pitt Cue Co? In a word: yes. Yes. Yes yes yes. A thousand times: yes. I’m tempted to actually type ‘yes’ a thousand times. I don’t mean writing it once, copying and pasting until I have ten, then copying and pasting till I have a block of one hundred, then copying and pasting that till I’ve written it a thousand times. I mean actually typing it a thousand times. And probably with ‘Shift’ held down – nope, no Caps Lock.

“A sauce that was no doubt bad for you, but had such a wholesome, homely taste that you couldn’t really believe it”

This place is just fun. I admit that I’m a bit behind the curve. I’ve wanted to go for ages, but this was my first visit. Yes, on plenty of occasions the mammoth wait has put me off. And whilst a lot of that is down to the (justified) buzz about the place, it’s also a lot to do with the fact they really don’t have many covers.

To be fair, we only waited about 45 minutes outside, and once inside we started on the Picklebacks – PCC’s signature ‘cocktails’, which is, in fact, a shot of bourbon chased by a shot of pickle juice. Yes, you read that right – the juices they use to pickle their gherkins. I know you’ll roll your eyes and not believe it but, honestly, it’s surprisingly good. We got through nine. Outrageously good and horribly messy rib tips kept us going, until, finally, we got a table.

And it was worth it. Boy was it worth it. The pulled pork was look-no-teeth tender, with a sauce that was no doubt bad for you, but had such a wholesome, homely taste that you couldn’t really believe it. And you know what? It actually tasted of meat. There was actually animal, rather than blasted-out-of-existence mush, in spite of the best efforts of cooking for no doubt hours and hours. Perfect.

“Virgin Picklebacks all round!”

I’m glad there were a few of us, because we got a chance to share sides, every one of which was delivered exactly right. Bone marrow mash had a richness that ended forever debate about how to make a proper mash. Baked beans proved that, yup, Beanz don’t (necessarily) Meanz Heinz. Chilli Slaw was spicy and crunchy, rather than limp and wet. And sprout tops were green but tasted naughty while definitely one of our five-a-day.

And yes, those pickles – brined in that juice – crunchy, sweet, sharp. Virgin Picklebacks all round!

5/10 of Time Out’s top 100 dishes