M. Manzes Pie and Mash Shop
The sweet starchy smell of mashed potato that drifts in the street hits you almost at the same time as the din and clink and clunk of cutlery, washing up and heavy ceramics being dropped on cold marble. A little after midday, the early lunch queue is already spilling out of the door of the small Victorian shop front and is gathered from the January cold under the shops dark-green orning. Taking my place in line behind a couple of gray haired gentlemen in flat caps, a pair of high-viss-vested workmen fall in behind me and I am edged closer. Peering through the large steamy glass windows, I spectate the team of women working aggressively behind a long counter that runs the length of this narrow shop. The oldest pie and mash shop in the London.
"oose avin two mugs a' tea den? – yes darlin?"
The line carried me inside and up to the counter it's decision time. I'm too busy taking in my surroundings and am confronted with a firm-faced, shouting middle aged woman. Her sturn expression, surrounded by wrinkles induced by thousands of cigarettes is framed by the green and white check collar of her dark green catering jacket. The mechanical rhythm of pouring, ladling and scraping and scooping comes to a grinding halt.
"eeerm?" I'm out of my territory here, totally befuddled and I start to panic. The men in the high-vis are hungry and impatient and my soft West London upbringing is starting to show. I skim read the menu, made with little yellow and white plastic letters stuck to a perforated black board, that sits next to a picture of Posh N Becks (loyal customers) and bottles of sarsaparilla.
1 PIE 1MASH. 1 PIE 2 MASH. 2 PIE 2 MASH. 1 MASH 2 PIE. 3 MASH 2 PIE. 4 MASH 3 PIE.
I feel like Ive just slipped into episode of Monty Python.
"Pie and Mash please"
Lifting the lid on a steel cauldron sunk in the counter, after partly disappearing in a cloud of steam, one of the women slaps three scoops of 'mash' onto my plate, using the edge of the plate to scrape all she can from the large spoon like scraping mud of a pair of boots. She moves to he next station and another woman takes here place. From a blackened metal tray a golden pie is turned out on my plate upside down. The lady flips it upright with a pinch of her fingers.
I'm not sure what she is offering me but I say yes and the plate goes back to the start through a line of hands. A ladelful of gloopy green liquid, not dissimilar to something you might see in Ghostbusters is poured over everything on my plate.
The place is packed. Sitting at one of the wooden benches, on the other side of a marble table two men are discussing Milwals chances in the F.A cup. If they win their next game a trip to either Hull or Newcastle awaits them and optimistically the two men are waxing about a weekend on Tyne-side. After-all can you wax about a weekend in Hull? The sound of scrapping plates, washing up and east-end accents resonste of the cream and green ceramic tiles that line the walls and every few minutes a bell rings and the ropes of a dumb waiter, blackened by generations of sweaty-palmed tugging, vanishes into the ceiling only to return loudly, loaded with a piping hot tray of fresh pies.
Manze was established in 1902 by Michele Manze, the present owners' Grandfather. They has served traditional Pie & Mash and Eels (jellied or stewed), in these authentic surroundings for over 100 years and they still use the same recipes today for the pies and liquor as were used in 1902, and according to Maureen, one of the kind ladies working here, the only changes made have been to improve quality and to meet the higher food standards. The que builds up and I'm pleased I got in early. A pair of Japanese tourists, guide book in hand peer in but don't have the balls. And I can understand why. The ladies are tough faced and the whole thing is very 'school dinners', down to the gray plastic tray were you grab your cutlery and the heavy mug of steaming tea poured from a tired metal urn. But you shouldn't come here for culinary excellence and pie, mash and eels is not the perfect meal.
The mash was dry and the pie was a bit stingy. The liquor was warm but had no flavor and the eels, that were more jelly than eel, speak for themselves.
But Manzes is not about perfection. Nothing here is trying to be perfect but to quote the words of those imperfect boys from up north, Oasis 'True perfection has to be imperfect.'
And people don't and should not come here for a gastronomic perfecting. This was and still is working class food. Meals designed to be eaten fast, that are cheap and filling. Food designed for the hungry dock workers of Bermondsey and where a man could fill up after a hard day heaving sacks of sugar in Hartley's Jam factory. Today the warehouses of the east end are full of offices, yuppies and Mac computers and the jam factory is luxury apartments where balsamic vinegar and rocket have replaced jam. The work in the area, like many once industrial parts of the U.K has changed and the people living in the east end have changed too. But M. Manzes has not and for this reason alone it is perfect. And who knows, as the economy falters, and this time it is the service side that is screwed, perhaps working class restaurants where good food is served for all the right reasons will prosper.
Milwall traveled to Hull on January 24th