Pie And Mash at Square Pie

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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.

Tarte Tatin at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

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Having made the rookie error of opting for Mother’s Day to eat a Chowdown Showdown dish, and without even booking months in advance, we ended up in Galvin Bistrot de Luxe. It turned out to be not such an error, since they were serving a three course set menu for much less than ordering three courses would normally cost a la carte, including in the evening (it appears people take their mothers out for lunch, not dinner).

“As French as apple pie”

Okay, so going to a French bistro and ordering roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and roast root vegetables was a mistake. Especially when the restaurant in question takes its attempt to mimic the typically English dish so seriously that it refuses Rachael’s request for her beef to be served pretty much bleu, and instead insists we have it medium rare (and proceeds to serve it to us medium).

The Jerusalem artichoke soup with a truffle cream (and artichoke crisps!) to start was genuinely delicious, and they poured great wine as you might expect.

All of this was, of course, an irrelevance, since we’re here to judge a single dish alone – namely the tarte tatin.

“Enough to make even the harshest Great British Bake Off judge happy”

Happily, the (mischosen, but still disappointing) main was unreflective of the dessert, which was genuinely formidable. The pie was caramelised to the point of almost being burnt, which isn’t a criticism since it had developed earthy as well as sweet notes. The pastry was flaky (and not soggy) enough to make even the harshest Great British Bake Off judge happy, offering a crisp riposte to the tender apples that had bite but little resistance to a spoon.

Overall, an indulgent, comforting sweet as French as apple pie!