There’s a quote from William Golding’s much-studied and much-SparkNoted novel Lord of the Flies that asks, “What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?”. We asked ourselves something not dissimilar while researching this pie guide and mainlining Rennies. London is good at pies. Savoury ones, sweet ones, and ones with a prehistoric-looking bit of bone marrow plonked in the middle. And over the course of eating an inordinate amount of them, we like to think the moniker Lord of the Pies fits us quite well. So, whether you’re looking for something with key lemon or kidneys, this guide will show you the way.
Aside from sounding like a particularly useless footballer’s nickname, The Camel is also a fantastic little pub in Bethnal Green serving lovely pies from Pieminister. These are proper, whole pies, fully dressed with not just a lid but a bottom and sides too. The extensive fillings range from chicken, smoked bacon, and tarragon, to Somerset goat’s cheese, sweet potato, spinach, & red onion pie. All come with mash, peas, and gravy. And all are delicious.
Willy’s Pies is one of London’s biggest lockdown success stories. A former chef at Brat, Rochelle Canteen, and St. John, it’s safe to say that Will knows his way around a meat-filled pastry. The pies are available to buy every Monday from 9am - be _very_quick, because these things fly - and their fillings change weekly. Some recent good’uns have included pork shoulder and celeriac, or chicken and leek, and you definitely want to throw a slice of treacle tart in there too.
There are plenty of silver spoons on show at Sweetings, but the only one you should care about is your own. It should either be getting involved with their school dinners-ish apple pie and custard, or plopping a generous lump of soft fish pie on to your plate, or both. The oldest of old school seafood restaurants, Sweetings deals in two and two things only: comfort and privilege.
If there was any kind of justice in the world - justice for our stomach after a few pints of Guinness, at least - then every pub in London would serve pies as good as The Camberwell Arms. The beef, ale, and bone marrow behemoth is a strong contender for best beef pie in the city which is, we’re sure you’ll agree, a very meaty title to give out. It’s got everything you want: golden brown suet pastry with a crunch, a deep, glistening sauce, and generous hunks of melt in your mouth pink beef. This is a destination pie if ever we’ve eaten one.
It may shock you to hear this but there is only one restaurant in London that has its very own exclusive pie room. A pie emporium. A celebration of all things pie. That restaurant is the Holborn Dining Room. They range from the traditional (steamed steak and kidney) to the untraditional (curried mutton with curry sauce) and all are fantastic. Best of all is that you can get them to-go from their hatch as well. Imagine a Greggs chicken bake went to finishing school and you’re on the right track.
J. Sheekey’s fish pie is a bit of a legend, which might read like an odd thing to say about an artfully decorated portion of mashed potato and creamy fish. But it’s true. The classic seafood spot has been making this since day one, with cod, salmon, and smoked haddock inside, and it hasn’t changed since.
A pie is not a guaranteed fixture on Rochelle’s menu but when it’s on, it’s a guaranteed order. Their suet pastry is a solid but crumbly and crunchy revelation, the kind of thing that, thousands of years ago, civilizations would probably have built palaces from, had they not eaten all of their supplies. What’s underneath the crust changes - mint-flecked lamb, leek and wild mushroom, prune and trotter - but your satisfaction won’t.
London’s traditional pie and mash shops have dwindled in number over the past decade or so, but M. Manze’s, first opened in 1902, is still going. You know what you’re getting with a proper pie and mash shop, and if you don’t, then just double up. Double pie and double mash, liquor, and a lot of malt vinegar.
St. John’s pies are the best kind of pies. They’re big, they’re sloppy, they’ve got a bit of bone sticking out of them, and (inevitably) half a glass of wine spilled next to them. The crust is suet, just like Rochelle Canteen, and the fillings are positively decadent. One week it might be pheasant and trotter, the next a classic beef and kidney. Like all proper pies, these are big sharers. Oh, and those crispy bits stuck to the dish? They’re the best bit.
Few pies gain stardom as quickly as Gloria’s lemon meringue pie has done, but what else would you expect from a restaurant that designed foliage perfect for paparazzi to hide in outside. Their wobbling, towering, Jaws-like dessert is one of finest sweet pies in London. The meringue is soft and sweet and the lemon doesn’t hold back: it’s got the punch to pull off its inconspicuous look.
The restaurant equivalent of a warm embrace, a drink too many, and one of those dribbly sofa naps, it’s no surprise that Maggie Jones’s creamed fish pie is the business. If artful piping gets you salivating, then wait till you see the mashed potato on this puppy. It wouldn’t look out of place on Bake Off, if it didn’t have a perfectly creamy and salty mixture of smoked and fresh haddock and prawns underneath. A boiled egg features too, as it always should.
Everything at the Drapers Arms is done to a standard that makes you lean back in your chair, undo your top button, and exhale with pleasure. A performative ‘cor’ rarely goes amiss either. Unsurprisingly their pies have the same effect, and, even better, a donation to Action Against Hunger is made for every pie bought. The fillings change but the feeling their pies give doesn’t, so be it steak and red wine, or chicken and tarragon, you’re going to be happy.
Search our Instagram long enough and you will find a frankly NSFW video of a very juicy pie from Kerridge’s. Sod it, here it is. This little pig cheek’s grenade is a juicy number and though it leans on the pricey side, the clotted cream mash with black pudding, and the jug of devilled sauce, make it a pie worth trying if you’re feeling flush.
Everyone loves a saucy pie and that’s what the Newman Arms specialise in. These are classic, country pub-style numbers full of creamy chicken and leak, or beef and ale, complete with a flaky lid on top. It’s like pie 101 and it doesn’t disappoint.
Like everything in London, the Marksman is likely to be quite offensive to anyone from outside of London. A pub that’s more restaurant than pub, and a pie-server that will cost you more than £20 a head to share. That said, their pastry lidded creations do taste very good. Be it short rib and truffle, chicken and leek, or any other variety - the pie delivers. The price, that’s a London thing.