I spent this weekend with Steve in London and took him to Alpino, a classic British caff I had discovered in Islington last year. When we walked up to it, the window had block letters advertising ‘Italian home cooking’. With a sinking heart, I walked through the door only to find that it had been ‘de-caffed’: taken over by new owners who had ripped out the old formica tables and leatherette booth seats and the heart and soul of the place. The new owners said that it had been vacant for about 6 months before they took over and offered us a menu and a table, but we politely refused.
I was really sad to see the passing of yet another unique business, a place with character, somewhere real, not just another link in the Starbuck’s/ MacDonald’s chain or a bland and forgettable eatery. We walked back up Chapel Market to M. Manzes, a traditional eel (jellied or stewed), pie n’ mash vendor. No eels today because it was Monday (‘Whew’)
The place has been untouched for at least the past century and is a listed building, so no danger of coming back one day to find Ikea tables and chairs.
According to pie aficionados, the perfect meat pie should be slightly burnt on the outside and slightly doughy on the inside, to the point that the uninitiated might think that it should have been cooked for longer at a lower temperature. Served with lumpy mashed potato and parsley liquor (a green sauce based on a crude, floury roux), the contrast in flavours and textures is always a winner: burnt pastry, soggy pastry, stewed minced meat, all doused in bland liquor, cut through with chilli vinegar and copious amounts of the spice that spawned a famous cockney joke:
“I have an orgasm every time I sneeze.”
“Really? What do you take for it?”
I personally found the pie insipid and the mash, well, over-mashed. Apparently the branch in Chapel Market is outside of the Manze family which may account for the wishy-washiness of the food. Next time we’ll have to check out the Manzes on Peckham High Street.