"What can I get ya, luv?," the elderly lady working behind the counter asks with a twinkle in her eye. "A pie and double mash... And a Diet Coke to drink, please," I answer, acting as though I order this dish every day. I watch as she puts a meat pie on a deep plate and adds two spherical scoops of mashed potatoes. "Liquor sauce?," she asks. "Yes, definitely!," I smile enthusiastically. She hands me the plate and holds out her other hand, "That'll be four pounds, fifty." OK, this is where my whole "pretending I'm a cool local" scheme begins to fall apart. I reach for my money, but when it comes to British coins, I'm really at a total loss--I have to inspect each one individually before giving it to her. She laughs out loud and says, "Here love," reaches into my palm, and I trust her as she quickly takes out the correct amount.
I saw this restaurant, "A. Cooke's: Traditional Pie, Mash, Liquour & Eels," last month in the "extras" on a Sex Pistols concert DVD called "They'll Always Be An England". Guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook used to live in this area of Sheppard's Bush and they give a personalized tour of all their old teenage haunts. When they stop in at A. Cooke's, they rave how it had always been their favourite pie and mash shop in London and still is to this day. The steaming dish in front of them made my mouth physically salivate watching--a mutton meat pie and mashed potatoes covered with a green parsley sauce called "liquor", which they said is made with a secret recipe (despite its name, there's no actual alcohol in it). "You have to add lots of the chili vinegar too though, that's what really makes this!," Steve Jones tells the camera as he douses his plate with a dark liquid from a squeeze bottle.
Now I'm in the exact same restaurant with the same food in front of me. I grab a fork and large spoon and find a table at the back among a dozen or so pensioners. The first mouthful is really nice--this is beautiful, hot, thick, comfort food on a damp and dreary day. I add a good helping of the chili vinegar and give it a try. What happens next is an explosion in my mouth! Oh my God, it brings tears to my eyes it's so good! I should have known--the Sex Pistols have never steered me wrong musically, why would they when it came to food? This is real traditional Cockney chow--the lunch and supper of working class champions.
I meant to savour this meal, to make it last, but I devoured it in less than five minutes flat.
On my way out I ask the woman at the counter, "You know I saw this place on TV? You mind if I take a photo?" "Oh, get on with ya!," she giggles like a schoolgirl, "Of course ya can!" She backs away when I aim the camera, trying to escape being in the shot, but it's too late, I've already caught her.
Back on the Tube, on the Hammersmith Distict Line, I think back to the pie and mash I just ate. I'm shocked when my mouth suddenly bursts in salivation. I'm full and yet my mouth is watering just thinking of it? I want more already?! Amazing! Next time it will be "double pie, double mash", and if that was any indication of just how good Cockney food is, I'll be having a large side order of jellied eels along with it.
Never mind the sort of junk food you get the world over, pie and mash with parsley liquor is London's very own soul food. It pre-dates fish 'n' chips and although you won't find pie and mash sold in the main tourist areas, it still hangs on in pockets around the fringes and still attracts a loyal following from some surprising people.
The pie will be best beef, the pastry is delicious, the potatoes mashed to perfection and the parsley liquor much nicer than it looks (it's bright green!).
Traditionally, eels are served as well, stewed or jellied. Personally I can take or leave the eels - it's worth bearing in mind that the eel became a London speciality in the days when the Thames was so filthy only eels could live in it!
Favorite Dish: Pie, mash and liquor