Perfect Pastry: London’s Best Pies
As winter closes in (and blimey has it closed in), here at Just Opened we start looking for the kind of comforting, familiar, and most importantly hot food that will sustain us through the coming months. And what could be more familiar and comforting than a nice freshly-baked pie, stalwart of British cuisine for the majority of the last few hundred years, if not even further back?
If they were good enough for diarist Samuel Pepys, who was very fond of venison offal ‘umble’ pie, amongst others, all the way back in the 17th century, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t derive just as much pleasure from today’s pastry artisans. But to save you the research yourself, and the indignity of a substandard pie, here is our pick of the best in town.
Golden Pie, Lavender Hill
There is absolutely nothing exceptional about Golden Pie, which mysteriously appeared in this rather unlovely part of town in 2012 but feels like it’s been there for a lifetime. It’s a completely unreconstructed pie & mash shop, selling eels and liquor alongside the usual meat and pastries, and we’re not sure how much of their offering is made in-house, if any. But the thing is, it’s such a lovely friendly little place, and so ludicrously cheap (pie, mash & gravy is £3.50) that it’s very hard to complain about any of it at all. So we won’t.
Golden Pie, 188 Lavender Hill, SW11 5TQ
Mariner’s smoked fish pie at Bob Bob Ricard, Soho
Star of a thousand Instagram posts, the fish pie at Bob Bob Ricard is as immaculately constructed and visually stunning as more or less everything else they do – which is to say, a lot. The filling is a heady, cheering mix of smoked haddock, mussels and potatoes amongst many others, and is more than worth the price of admission alone, but the real accolades must go to whoever came up with a way of getting that astonishing BBR-branded crust on top, gleaming mahogany brown and geometrically precise.
Bob Bob Ricard, 1 Upper James Street, W1F 9DF
The Wigmore, Marylebone
Like many restaurants, the exact contents of the pie at the Wigmore change with the seasons and the whims of their chefs, which is entirely as it should be. On our visit in the summer it was a very good chicken and leek, though we notice that today’s menu boasts a hearty venison and red cabbage. Either way, we’re sure they come with the same delicate flaky pastry and silky-smooth, buttery mash. And that’s a hell of a good start in our book.
The Wigmore, 15 Langham Place, Regent Street, W1B 3DE
Rochelle Canteen at the ICA, St. James
Similar to the Wigmore, the pie at the latest outpost of Margot Henderson’s Rochelle Canteen depends on what’s in season, and yet with her cooking chops behind it, you can pretty much guarantee it will always be worth the effort. Today it’s a “partridge, trotter and prune pie”, and if you don’t want to immediately trek across town to St. James and order it with a glass of nice red, then you’re made of stronger stuff than us.
Rochelle Canteen, The ICA, The Mall, St. James, SW1Y 5AH
Steak and kidney pie at Rules, Covent Garden
You can’t mention traditional British food in London without mentioning Rules, which has been in the same spot on Maiden Lane for an astonishing 219 years. At this time of year their house pie is a steak and kidney, which comes either in the usual pastry crust or in a steamed suet casing (with oyster for an extra quid). Part of the hefty price tag is, admittedly, the lovely surroundings, like sitting in a red velvet-lined jewellery box, with slick service to match. But the pie is also a thing of wonder, full of lovingly slow-cooked steak and offal, and soaked in a thick beef-stock gravy.
Rules, 34–35 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7LB
The Marksman, Hackney Road
Uber-gastropub the Marksman has the enviable pedigree of two of its founding chefs having worked at St. John, and so you’d expect their takes on the great British pie to be something special. This week, they’re advertising a pheasant and chanterelle version for two to share, which we’ve no doubt is just as knockout stunning as a chicken and mushroom we were lucky enough to try earlier in the year. Oh, and although this isn’t strictly a dessert pie feature, do leave room for the Marksman brown butter and honey tart. You can thank us later.
The Marksman, 254 Hackney Road, E2 7SJ
The Drapers Arms, Islington
Pies at the Drapers are always good – we have particularly fond memories of a chicken and tarragon from last summer, generous of size and flavour. But there’s an extra incentive to order their current offering, the festive-sounding “suet crust turkey & chipolata pie”, as 50p is donated to Action Against Hunger. So you can stuff your face with North London’s finest meat and pastry work, and not feel too guilty about it once it’s all gone.
The Drapers Arms, 44 Barnsbury Street, N1 1ER
The Holborn Dining Room, Holborn
Well, we were hardly going to exclude the Holborn Dining Room from the list, were we? Calum Franklin’s exquisite works of pastry art have taken London – and the wider world – by storm in the last few years, and he seems to be only increasing the ambition and scale of his operation at the Rosewood. Due to open this week is the Pie Shop, a dedicated space for Franklin and his pie elves to work their magic, and to give lucky Londoners the chance to snap up wonderful things like a slice of the Christmas pâté en croute, or the hot water crust pork pie, or the curried mutton… this man is a driven pie fanatic.
If you’re very lucky, at the right times of year you may see even more spectacular things on offer, such as the grouse pithivier, looking like something from a royal banqueting table and surrounded by a decadent game and port reduction jus. And yes, we know it’s not technically a pie, but you really should try his beef Wellington (served on Wednesdays) for much the same reason. Like everything he does, it’s a work of art.
The Holborn Dining Room, 252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN