Early on in the film version of the Who’s Quadrophenia, set in the summer of 1964, the mod protagonist, Jimmy, and his rocker friend, Kevin, go for a bite at a typical working-class London eatery—the pie and mash shop. But not just any pie and mash shop, or a made-up one on a studio set; they go to A. Cooke’s Pie & Mash Shop on Goldhawk Road in Shepherd’s Bush.
“Cooke’s is a part of the history of Goldhawk Road,” the Who’s Pete Townshend recently told the London Evening Standard. “For my part, this was where the Who took flight in 1963, where we performed one of our first shows as the Detours.”
In 1979, the year the film came out, Phil Daniels, who plays Jimmy, told New Music Express about the day he met Townshend, which was when he was shooting the scene at Cooke’s: “Townshend came down one morning to the pie and mash shop while we were filmin’, just for publicity, I think, press and stuff, but I go mad. I see Townshend there, I think to myself, What! What! Pete Townshend he’s brilliant, brilliant.” They ordered pie and mash during a break and were famously photographed together eating it.
At one time, Johnny “Rotten” Lydon was almost cast as Jimmy, as director Franc Roddam thought it would be an interesting way to connect the punk scene of the late seventies with the mod one of the preceding decade. Though Lydon didn’t make it into the movie, I happen to have found a different connection: an extra on the DVD of Julien Temple’s 2008 documentary There’ll Always Be an England shows former Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook giving a walking tour of their old stomping grounds, during which they pay a visit to Cooke’s. “We used to come here as kids and really stuff ourselves,” says Cook. “It cures all ailments,” adds Jones, who claims to have once eaten eight pies in one sitting. “Actually, I think I’m allergic to it, but I don’t care. As long as I get that taste.”
Pie and mash shops were born in the eighteenth century on London’s East End, where they fed the working classes at low prices. Meat pies were for those with a little extra money to spend; many would order the cheaper eel pies, as the River Thames was then overflowing with the creatures. (Eel Pie is also the name of Townshend’s recording studio and publishing company.) Sadly, Thames eels are now an endangered species. The shops also began to become endangered, falling out of popularity in the late twentieth century as the English turned their back on their traditional cuisine. However, in recent years, they’re starting to become popular again as purveyors of nostalgic comfort food.
But Cooke’s has become a flashpoint in the current struggle over the revitalization of Shepherd’s Bush, just one skirmish in an ongoing battle between developers and preservationists. The shop, along with others on Goldhawk Road, has been earmarked to be torn down and replaced by condos, what Townshend has dubbed a “yuppie flat” development. As he said in February, “I realize change is inevitable, but to think of Shepherd’s Bush without Cooke’s is inconceivable.” Last November, before a short acoustic show at nearby Bush Hall, Townshend invited a select group of the concertgoers to join him at Cooke’s for a meal.
The address has housed a pie and mash shop since 1891. Cooke’s, established in 1899, took over the space in 1934. Alfred Cooke, the A. Cooke on the sign, was the great-grandfather of the current owners. A local council planning committee first approved the plan to redevelop the area in February. Dozens of scooter riders, young and old, held a rally to save Cooke’s that month, and another one September 15. In May, England’s High Court ruled that the development plans were flawed and thus illegal, but the council is pressing on in spite of the ruling and protests. “We’ve already beaten them once in the court and we are sure we can do it again,” said the shop’s owners in June. “We don’t want to move, and believe we’ll still be here in ten years’ time. We have had so much support, not just from our celebrity customers . . . but also from the wider community.” In July, the Portobello Pop Up Cinema in London held a benefit to save Cooke’s, with a screening of Quadrophenia. Roddam showed up to introduce the film and offer his support for the shop.
Now, it happens that Roddam is also responsible for creating the television cooking game show franchise Masterchef, which has become an international sensation with many iterations (“At that point, good food was only for rich people,” he has said of the show. “It was like, No, hang on a second. Let’s democratize this”). So the first thing I did when looking for a pie and mash recipe was to search the show’s online recipe database. And as luck or fate would have it, I found one, from an episode of Celebrity Masterchef, contributed by Nick Pickard, an actor on one of Britain’s top soap operas, Hollyoaks.
Mind you, there are hundreds of variations on pie and mash, so please don’t write angry e-mails saying it’s nothing like the ones your Aunt Mathilda used to make. This one was quite satisfying to my American palate, and I think you’ll like it too.
Beef Pie and Mash with Parsley Liquor
Adapted from a recipe by Nick Pickard at the Celebrity MasterChef website
For the pastry:
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 pinch salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes, plus extra for greasing
3–4 tablespoons cold water
1 egg, lightly beaten, for brushing
For the filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups diced onion
1 pound ground beef
1 garlic clove, minced
6 mushrooms, finely chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 cube beef bouillon
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
⅔ cup red wine
1¼ cup beef stock
For the mashed potatoes:
3 large russet potatoes, peeled and quartered (keep in ice bath until ready to use)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup half and half
Freshly ground black pepper
For the liquor:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1¼ cups chicken stock
½ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chile vinegar, for accompaniment
Pulse flour, salt, and cubed butter in a food processor until mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add cold water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing, until mixture starts to form a ball of dough. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead gently until smooth, about 1 minute. Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Heat oil in a large frying pan. Add onion and sauté until softened, 4–5 minutes. Increase heat, add ground beef, and cook until browned all over, breaking up the big chunks, another 4–5 minutes. Add garlic, mushrooms, thyme, bay leaf, pepper, bouillon (crumbling it as you do), flour (sprinkling it), wine, and beef stock. Mix well, bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings to taste, then set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Generously butter either 4 individual pie dishes or one 9-inch pie dish. Remove pastry from fridge. Roll out to a thickness of ¼ inch and press into pie dish or dishes, ensuring that base and sides are covered completely with a slight overhang. Cut out circle(s) for the pie lid(s). Remove bay leaf and thyme sprig from filling, then spoon into pie dish(es), topping with pastry lid(s). Press down on edges to seal. Brush pastry generously with beaten egg. Bake 30 minutes, or until golden-brown and crisp.
Boil potatoes in heavily salted water for 15 minutes or until soft. Drain thoroughly, then mash with butter and half and half until smooth. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.
Melt butter in a pan until foaming, then add flour and stir to combine. Slowly add chicken stock, whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until thickened, 4–5 minutes. Remove from heat and add parsley and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you want, puree sauce in a blender.
To serve, place each individual pie or slice on a plate, spoon some mash alongside it, and drizzle everything with liquor.
Ron Deutsch also blogs at chefducinema.com.