Restaurant reviews are not really my scene. I find that it is not my place to judge other peoples food, and besides, food critiquing is very personal. What is one mans Chateaubriand is another’s Big Mac.
Furthermore, my husband and I eat out rarely. This is due to several reasons:
1. Financial limitations. Pub meals are usually overpriced which I suppose correlates with the food often being overcooked.
2. There are not many good eateries nearby. If you enjoy pub meals ALL THE TIME, then you’re good to go, but as far as local restaurants go, No Can Do, as Hall and Oates once caterwauled (unless you count a greasy spoon as a restaurant).
3. We prefer home cooking.
However, there are some establishments that need to be visited, if only once in a lifetime. Yesterday I had the great pleasure of visiting the oldest Pie and Mash shop in the country, Manze, in Tower Bridge Road.
From the unassuming green exterior to the evocative interior with its rickety wooden benches and 1950s ambience, Manze is an all encompassing eating experience. As you tuck into your Pie and Mash, stained green by the parsley scented liquor, you feel as if you have been transported to a time less complicated. Outside there are double decker buses pulling up every few minutes, homeless people begging for change and McDonalds wrappers littering the streets.
The food of Manze is old-fashioned. It hasn’t changed in nearly 100 years. The recipe for the rich meat filling, the crisp pastry and the simple brothy gravy that floods the plate, so different to shop bought pies, remains unaltered. The mash is made daily with real potatoes, not a wallpaper paste substitute and the parsley liquors secret ingredient is still closely guarded. The menu isn’t filled with deep fried Mars Bars or Burgers and this is why the simplistic food is always great. They concentrate on what they do best and the line for their famous pies often overspills onto the busy street. You can easily imagine the shop being filled with mods, lining their bellies before an amphetamine fuelled ride out to Brighton or East-End gangsters matter-of-factly discussing their next heist or assassination of a rival gang member. Then of course there are the regulars. They remember the fact that during World War II, Manze had a not inconsiderable empire of 14 shops. All but the London Bridge Road shop have now closed down due to changing appetites and fashions. However, in the late 90s, in no small part because of the resurgence of London as the hip place to be, Manze opened two more shops. I was told by one of the proud waitresses that Manze had appeared in US food tome, Gourmet, just last year and in an episode of Bourdain, he is charmingly enamoured with the restaurant.
It is a testament to our fondness of food from our childhood that whilst some foods are temporarily discarded, they are never forgotten. Lets hope that Manze remains part of British food heritage; Pie, Mash and Jellied Eels being as quintessentially English as Oliver Cromwell or the Kinks.