Barney's Pie & Mash is the new kid on the block. It's hangin' tough between an off licence and a security gate shop in Garnett Way, Walthamstow.
Since the 1800s, your Manzes, Cookes and Kellys have passed their cockle-warming home-cooked feed down the generations. But many establishments are now shutting up shop. Is it really possible for a newbie to succeed in an era of eye-watering rents, and sophisticated palates?
Pie and mash shops were part of growing up for many Londoners. The cheap, simple dish was brought to us by emigrating families of Ireland and Italy, setting up home over here.
White-tiled walls greet you at Barney's, pictures of years gone by in the manor. But there are touches of 21st century enterprise; their already-famous Big Boy chilli vinegar is sold for £4.50 a bottle — so popular, they're all out today. You can pay by card and there's a loyalty card scheme.
There's also a toilet. Pretty basic you might think, but many pie and mash shops don't have one.
"I'm saving myself for rhubarb pie and ice cream"
While the guv'nor, Tommy, serves two people before me, I strike up a conversation with one of the fellas at a table.
Freddy — a Canning Town native, now of Wanstead — fondly recalls in his cockney accent Lediards and Cooke in Stratford; George's on Hermit Road and Mrs Olley's in Rathbone Market. All are gone now. Freddy chows down one pie, one mash, explaining between mouthfuls: "I'm saving myself for rhubarb pie and ice cream".
Opposite Freddy is his pal, Martin from Sunderland. He's an anathema to the myth that northerners don't like liquor, or "that green stuff". He's lived here over 20 years now and, like Freddy, is all-too glad that Barney's is going against the tide.
"I never made pie and mash until I decided to open this gaff"
I'm next in line and order old reliable, double pie, double mash (£7). "Want burnt pies?" Tommy asks. I've not been asked this in years. "Yes, yes I do". As he prepares the grub, I ask Tommy if pies are in his blood? "I never made pie and mash until I decided to open this gaff."
Tommy, it turns out, was sick and tired of being sick and tired and wanted to change career. "I was plumbing and had enough. I had a gardening shop for four years, the internet was taking over.
"The landlord said 'why don't you do a food shop?' I thought about it and said to myself, 'what haven't we got round these parts? Pie and mash came into play. I knew nothing about it apart from eating it. I said to myself 'how hard can it be?'".
Using his life savings, Tommy set to work. "I was introduced to someone who could help make pies, so I had to announce an opening date. Two weeks before opening, they pulled out. I still didn’t know how to make a pie.”
Tommy then received a call from a pal in the pub who knew someone who'd made pies before. He got a recipe.
"I was making pies from 5am on the morning of the grand opening until 10pm that evening. It was a lifetime experience. I made 200 pies that day. I'd never made liquor until opening morning either.
"You can't just go to a pie mash shop and ask 'how do you make liquor!'".
Spoon and fork in hand, I delve into my double pie, double mash — a good helping of smooth potato is wiped onto my plate. There are many people who lose their minds over whether mash is scooped or wiped. Me? I don’t care as long as it tastes good.
"It's a taste of the past"
Sitting near me is Fiona and her son Jason, Barney's regulars and pie mash enthusiasts. But why in particualr come here, I ask Fiona? "The place is great value for food like this, it's a taste of the past in my local community and I love the eels." (These are fresh from (unrelated) local family run business, Barney's Seafood.)
"I started eating this stuff late on in life. I've got a lot of catching up to do," says Fiona.
Jason takes his time, as his mum gets chatting to Tommy and Freddy between each mouthful. You can't artificially create an atmosphere, but Barney's feels as though it was born with one.
"He ended up smashing back 22 pies, 11 mash and liquor in one sitting"
For dessert, there is raspberry, apple, cherry and rhubarb pie (£2), and scoops of ice cream for £1. They sell gravy too — none of these things would you expect to find in a dyed in the wool pie and mash joint. But Tommy knows a little flexibility works wonders for business.
Towards the back of the shop are Chris and Peter. Peter, in a Rolling Stones t-shirt, recalls the time he was 15 years old, in Cookes on Kingsland Road in Dalston. He ended up smashing back 22 pies, 11 mash and liquor in one sitting. He's not sure he'd repeat that now. Peter is a Leytonstone's Noted Eel and Pie House fan but says Barney's is a close second and continues to improve.
"Even Goldilocks would like it"
Chris moved out of London a few years back and is visiting mates while hitting a few different pie shops. Incredibly, today he's done seven places, single pie and mash at each. He finishes up and heads off to his bed for a rest.
There's a good amount of cockney banter bandied around the shop. Strangers talk and laugh. We find out Peter was a bodyguard, Freddy worked on film sets and Tommy owned a seafood stall in the 90s.
Ray-Ban-wearing Ben from Leytonstone says that to him, Barney's is like Leyton Orient. It's his second team, or in this case, pie and mash shop.
Everyone is agreed that the food is excellent. Tommy's pies arrive hot, never cold or undercooked. His mash keeps getting better; the liquor hasn’t changed since day one and doesn't need to. It isn't watery and not too thick. Even Goldilocks would like it.
Barney's is a welcome, if unexpected, addition to a 200-year-old trade. Open nearly two years now, it's won over the pastry-chomping plaudits. Go along, check it out. Try beating Peter's record. Actually, probably don't.
Barney's Pie & Mash, 6 Garnett Way, Walthamstow