I arrived just after two in the afternoon, but the lunch service at M. Manze was over, and the servers refused to feed me; the rules at London's oldest pie and mash shop are that strict. So, I returned the next day at noon sharp. Approaching the busy counter, I yelled out, "Two pies and mash!" A server flipped two golden, pastry-wrapped, palm-size beef pies from their individual tins onto a plate. Another dolloped mashed potatoes alongside the pies and inquired, "Liquor?" I nodded, and she ladled the parsley sauce over the mash. I took a seat and constructed the perfect forkful: crisp crust, well-seasoned minced beef, and starchy potatoes all in one bite, dripping with verdant liquor. As London workday lunches go, none better comes to mind.
M. Manze, a family-owned establishment on Tower Bridge Road in southeast London, was founded in 1902 by Michele Manze, an immigrant from the southern Italian village of Ravello. Although it is now the oldest, and one of the last remaining, London shops of its kind, it wasn't the first. Pie and mash shops date to the 1870s at the latest, and those businesses build on an even older tradition, starting in the 11th century, of hawkers' selling meat and fish pies from boxes slung around their necks. M. Manze, like most pie and mash shops, used to serve its mash and liquor—a traditional, thickened parsley sauce—with three kinds of pie: minced beef, mutton, or eel. Those slippery fish—once abundant in the river Thames and also imported by Dutch traders—appealed to working-class Londoners seeking cheap protein. Not only were they baked into pie; they were stewed, jellied in their rendered fat, and sold live from vats. The mutton and eel pies, having fallen out of fashion, are no longer available at M. Manze, but you may still order stewed and jellied eels, prepared according to Michele Manze's recipes.
While older generations continue to appreciate the eel dishes, almost everyone else comes for the beef pies, which are baked at the shop every morning, with beef that is minced daily and pastry that is made by hand. Thankfully, judging from the roaring lunchtime trade, that specialty shows no sign of going the way of the eel pie anytime soon.