Skip to content

Favourite Pie & Mash Shops (Part One)

March 31, 2011
by the gentle author

I have grown so skinny these past months at the end of Winter – chasing stories around Spitalfields – that I decided to undertake a tour of my favourite Pie & Mash Shops in the company of Spitalfields Life contributing photographer Sarah Ainslie, in order to explore all the delights on offer and put some meat on my bones into the bargain.

Pie & Mash Shops have a special place in my affections because they are unique to East London and inextricably bound up with the cultural and historical identity of this place – becoming destinations where people enjoy pilgrimages to seek sustenance for body and soul, by paying homage to the spirit of the old East End incarnated in these tiled, steamy temples dedicated to the worship of hot pies. Let me admit, it is a creed I can subscribe to wholeheartedly.

Taking our cue from that golden orb in the sky, Sarah & I decided to commence in the East and work our way West across the territory, beginning with G. Kelly, established since 1937 at 526 Roman Rd. Here we had the privilege to be welcomed by the lovely Sue Venning – resplendent in her white uniform – the proprietor who greets everyone universally with a brisk yet cheery “Yes, Love?” – commonly reciprocated by “Hello, Gorgeous.” It was a delight to walk into this sympathetic, clean and bright interior, adorned with daffodils and lined with marble and tiles, gleaming under the globe lamps.

“My Aunt Theresa on my father’s side married George Kelly who opened this in 1937,” explained Sue, introducing the intricate web of relations that connect this establishment to the two other Pie & Mash Shops by the name of Kelly, all independently run today by increasingly distant relatives as the generations pass by. “Samuel Robert Kelly opened up originally in Bethnal Green in 1915 – he had three sons, Samuel who took over in Bethnal Green, Joe who opened in Bonner St and George who came here to the Roman Rd. My father Bill (George Kelly’s brother-in-law) ran this with my mother Bea, until he died in 1969, and then I took over from her in 1990.” she outlined with a relaxed smile and a practised efficiency that left me reeling.

Arriving with the first customers of the day, I was fascinated to discover that my fellow diners were from Suffolk and Kent, and had gone out of their way to be there. In particular, the couple from East Anglia were up to visit their nan who lived nearby, and Sue confirmed that many of her customers were those who had once moved out of the East End, for whom a return visit to her Pie & Mash Shop was an opportunity to revisit a taste of home. Yet Sue retains a solid constituency in the Roman Rd. “People know each other here,” she confirmed fondly, “You know their orders when they come in, they don’t need to ask.”

We hit the rush at G. Kelly, 414 Bethnal Green Rd, (connected only genealogically to G. Kelly, Roman Rd) where Matt Kelly, proprietor for the last fifteen years, baker and third generation pie man, had his work cut out in the kitchen to meet the lunchtime demand for pie and mash and liquor at £2.65. Diners here eat off elegant cast iron tables beneath framed portraits of  local boxing heroes of yesteryear and everyone is at home in one of this neighbourhood’s cosiest destinations.

At the head of the lunch queue was Mrs Julia Richards. “I’m going to be ninety-eight,” she bragged with a winsome grin, the picture of exuberance and vitality as she carried off her plate of pie and mash hungrily to her favourite corner table, pursued by her sprightly seventy-year-old daughter Patricia – both superlative living exemplars for the sustaining qualities of traditional East End meat pies. “I’ve been coming here over fifty years,” revealed Patricia proudly. “I’ve been coming here since before it opened!” teased Julia, her eyes shining with excitement as she cut into her steaming meat pie.“They used to have live eels outside in a bucket,” she continued, enraptured by memory, “And you could pick which one you wanted to eat.” We left them absorbed in their pies, the very epitome of human contentment, beneath a hand-lettered advertising placard, proclaiming “Kelly for Jelly.”

Up at F.Cooke in Broadway Market, once we had emptied our plates of some outstandingly delicious pies, Sarah & I enjoyed a quiet after-lunch cup of tea with the genial Robert Cooke  - “Cooke by name cook by nature” – whose great-grandfather Robert Cooke opened a Pie & Mash Shop at the corner of Brick Lane and Sclater St in 1862. “My father taught me how to make pies and his father taught him. We haven’t changed the ingredients and they are made fresh every day,” explained Robert plainly, a fourth generation born-piemaker sitting proudly in his immaculately preserved cafe, that offers the rare chance to savour the food of more than century ago.

“My grandfather Robert opened this shop in 1900, then he left to open another in the Kingsland Rd, Dalston in 1910 and Aunty May ran this one until 1940, when they shut it after a doodlebug hit the canal bridge.” he recounted. “My mother Mary came over from Ireland in 1934 and worked with my grandfather in Dalston, alongside my father Robert and Uncle Fred. And after they got married in 1947, my grandfather said to my parents, ‘Here’s the keys, open it up,’ and they returned here to Broadway Market, where I was born in 1948.”

It was a tale as satisfying in its completeness as eating a pie, emphasising how this particular cuisine and these glorious shops are interwoven with the family histories of those who have run them and eaten at them for generations. Yet beyond the rich poetry of its cultural origin, this is good-value wholesome food for everyone, freshly cooked without additives, and meat pies, vegetable pies, fruit pies and jellied eels comprise a menu to suit all tastes. Reluctantly, after three Pie & Mash Shops in one day, Sarah & I were finished – but even as we succumbed to the somnolence induced by our intake of pies, we took consolation in dreamy thoughts of all those pleasures that await us in the other Pie & Mash Shops of the East End, yet to come.

This is Dean Cecil who bakes the pies at G.Kelly in the Roman Rd.

Sue Venning at G.Kelly, Roman Rd – her Aunt Theresa, who married George Kelly, is the woman in the dark coat, pictured in the black and white photo, standing outside the shop in 1937.

Liquor (Parsley sauce) and mash at G.Kelly

G.Kelly, 526 Roman Rd.

At G.Kelly, Bethnal Green

The prizefighters of yesteryear fondly remembered in the Pie & Mash Shop in Bethnal Green.

Julia Richards, nearly ninety-eight - “They used to have live eels outside and you could pick your own.”

Regulars, Julia Richards and her sprightly daughter Patricia Wootton aged seventy, at the favoured corner table at G.Kelly, Bethnal Green.

G.Kelly, 414 Bethnal Green Rd

Jellied Eels at F.Cooke

Robert Cooke under the clock commissioned by his grandfather Robert Cooke from a clockmaker in Hackney in 1911.

Robert Cooke, fourth generation pie-maker -”Cooke by name, cook by nature.”

Pat with a tray of pies at Broadway Market

F.Cooke, 9 Broadway Market, since 1900.

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

24 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    March 31, 2011

    what? what? you put the parsley sauce ON the pie? **rushes off to consult grigson, English Food, and white, Good Things in England.

  2. March 31, 2011

    Hej

    A lovely trip down memory lane for me…Thank You!
    And now my tongue is hanging out for Pie n Mash…lol!
    But definitely not on the menu tonight, in the middle of the Swedish forest.
    I was born in Bethnal Green Hospital nearly 46 years ago…
    Born & brought up on Pie n Mash, have visited all of these shops, and sadly my local one as a child growinp up in the East End, Well Street market, closed several years ago :-(
    Awwwww Pie n Mash, best food ever!
    LOVE PEACE enJOY!
    Julie
    x

  3. Vanda permalink
    March 31, 2011

    On my next visit to the UK, I will have to make a stop at one of these shops. Pies look divine and the jellied eels look very interesting, will have to sample some.

  4. Lee Daly permalink
    March 31, 2011

    I’m sat here drooling, and seriously thinking about making the 400 mile round trip for 2 and 2 with licquor.

    Aw ma gawd!

  5. March 31, 2011

    Hurrah for this – I’m a huge pie and mash fan. Raised on it at Cooke’s Kingsland shop, where, as Julia says – you could watch eels being chopped into wriggling bits in the left window. A great spectator sport for an 10 year old boy.

    Of all the outlets featured Cooke’s in Broadway Market is my favourite. I know it’s off your patch, but I tried Cooke’s of Hoxton on Tuesday – the owner looks just like Robert Cooke..

    PS watch out for me in Pellici’s this Friday lunchtime if you’re about..

    For some supplementary reading have a peep at my y reviews of the same eataries here
    http://planetmondo.blogspot.com/search/label/happy%20eater

  6. Joan permalink
    March 31, 2011

    Our local was in Watney Market – I’m sure Sandra Esqulant would be very familiar with it. Pie and mash and the all important liquor was a regular treat in our house – I can still ‘taste’ the very particular consistency of the wet pastry. Wouldn’t dare try it now though for fear of disappointment. One of the few remaining pie and mashes here in Newham – Robin’s in East Ham – has just closed due to falling demand. It’ll probably go over to the fried chicken so loved by local school children.

    Best wishes,

    Joan

  7. Denise Hoffman permalink
    March 31, 2011

    Thank you for bringing back so many wonderful memories….. I too can taste and smell the one of a kind, wonderful flavours – the steam of the vinegar on the hot liquor wafting mmmm….. My family and I would always drive to Cooke’s in Dalston – just for the convenience. But when I was very young living on Glyn Road, Clapton, there was a local pie n mash shop along Chatsworth Road called Arthur Thom’s. long since gone now I’m afraid. My older brother starting working there as Saturday boy peeling 100′s of potatoes. Living in the US now, I only return home every other year or so, but just last summer, my brother drove me back to the East End so I could get my “fix”. Yes, happy memories indeed…

  8. JohnB permalink
    April 1, 2011

    None of your many posts have made me more homesick or more hungry, maybe I should open a P&M in the Middle East…..

    And don’t forget south of the river, not just the East End! Manzes, Tower Bridge Road and Peckham; Cooke’s in the Cut, Waterloo (now gone); Goddards in Greenwich (the oldest established P&M in London). I’m salivating…..

  9. April 1, 2011

    It’s a bit tougher if you’re veggie, but I still enjoy my double mash and liquor, at Cooke’s on the Goldhawk Road. Lovely.

  10. Kevin Lynch permalink
    April 3, 2011

    Along with Robin’s in East Ham, Peter’s Pie & Mash Shop in Watney Street near Shadwell station has recently closed.

    Shame we can’t make them heritage sites or something.

    Support your local pie and mash shop!

  11. Jan Tidiman permalink
    May 7, 2011

    There is also a Robin’s Pie and Mash shop in Romford, divine.

  12. June 12, 2011

    i love jellied eels but i have a morbid fear of both the mash in pie and mash shops…and of course the liquor. much as i admire the metrosexualist, david beckham, who is said to fed ex pie, mash and liquor to LA on a regular basis, and even though roy orbison loved britain as much for the P, M & L as our early appreciation of his falsetto tones, i can’t go there.

    it’s funny tho because even here in west london, all the pie and mash shops are called Cooks (with or without an E). What’s all that about.

    I just nominated Spitalfields Life as best blog in the Observer Foods Awards. Maybe you should too.

  13. Kenny smith permalink
    July 24, 2011

    As a young apprentice carpenter working just off the Burdet Road, Every lunchtime was at Charlies Pie n Mash without fail, Long since gone, I am now 78yrs,and still remember it.

  14. August 23, 2011

    Love pie and mash, but why do these shops always make use of marble-topped counters and tables? Added to the usual lukewarm meal, (and likely an open door), your grub is always cold!

  15. Terry Jones permalink
    February 27, 2012

    My favourite Pie’N'Mash shops, still go to Cookes when I can too

  16. susan williams permalink*
    February 27, 2012

    oh my god my child hood memorys there bethnal green …… i was born and lived till age 11 and my nan took me to kellys every week as a treat .. pie and mash and pie to eat on way home yum xxxxxx miss it so much xxxx

  17. Helen permalink
    April 23, 2012

    Brings back memories of childhood holidays at Nan and Grandads – walk over the bridge to 414 Roman Road or down the Roman to the other one.
    The pie and mash shop was a must.
    So glad they still exist – wish they were available in Brisbane

  18. May 29, 2012

    I am a Genuine cockney living in South Africa. Left London 15yrs ago to retire here for medical reasons. I am going back to London in 2 weeks for my last visit, to say goodbye to family and friends and savour the delights of the East End. I could write a book about the East End, and am expecting many changes,not all good. But, the expense and trouble will be worth it when I savour that first bowl of eels and the first P&M for 15yrs

  19. linda thomas permalink
    September 23, 2012

    just wondering if the family that run cookes pie and mash shops could be long lost relatives of mine as my maiden name was cooke.

  20. tim rundall permalink
    February 3, 2013

    Many’s the time I’ve spent in or around Brick Lane over the years, either with mates in Dalston, Business in Whitechapel, Deals in the Mile End Rd, Pints in the Rodney Head or the one round from the old brewery, and finally above a curry house where my buddy lays his weary bones at night… I’ve had many a curry in a hurry, many a rabbit out of habit, but the one thing that still makes me squeal, is a pie some mash and a Jellied Eel… now I live on the South Coast but next time it won’t be the Bagel shop I want the most, I’ll be heading to G. Kelly to pamper my belly.

    Thanks for your fantastic blog – I’ll be back for more, for sure, now I’m out the door….

    X

    T. Rundall formerly of that manor

  21. Paul Herbert permalink
    July 24, 2013

    Hi,
    I was born and grew up in east london and must say traditional pie mash and liquor is the food of the gods. my first words i spoke beleive it or not, was pie and mash and i said it to my mum while sitting on the counter of the pie and mash shop in Woolwich SE London when i was only knee high.
    I emigrated to australia some 18 years ago and still long for this wonderful dish, and seeing photos here on this site has me drowling like a dog after a bone. alas no such thing here as pie and mash, nothing even close.
    so every one over there eating this superb food enjoy and savor every bite you dont know how lucky you are.
    paul
    New South Wales
    Australia

  22. July 24, 2013

    there is also a COOKES pie and mash shop that has a full menu including fruit pies ,this is located in the shops of Hilldene off of Straight Road Romford ,their meat pies are i think the best of them all and the portions of mash are very very generous too

  23. September 9, 2013

    For Denise Hoffman have a look on my link, you may get a surprise

  24. frank hadley permalink
    February 16, 2014

    after enjoying pie and mash since the 50s in the east end, i moved away to essex and had to travel to romford to robins pie and mash shop. i am delighted to say that robins have opened in southend-on-sea. right in the middle of town.after reading about the many pie and mash shops i have to mention harris’s in roman road near bonner street. now gone. it was run by mrs harris and was a big favourite in the area.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS