Slice through the history of London and you’ll see pies galore: they were name-checked in Samuel Pepys’s diaries, infamously filled with human flesh in the London legend of Sweeney Todd, and a staple meal for the working classes of the East End in the nineteenth century. Bottom line: Londoners love a pie. And some of the capital’s best restaurants lift it from its humble origins to something worth drawing up a chair for.
London's best pies
This modern British pie and mash café sets itself apart from the anything goes culinary maelstrom of tourist-heavy Covent Garden Market with a combination of low prices and high quality that’s generally alien to this part of town. The menu offers both traditional fillings such as steak and stout, minced beef and onion, or chicken and mushroom, and more unusual combinations – think butternut squash with goat’s cheese, or salmon and cod with prawns – all encased in pleasingly firm pastry. Add sides such as creamy, well-whipped mash and rich gravy, and you’ve got yourself a tasty, satisfying meal for under a tenner.
The stand-out pie at this enthusiastically outlandish spot is typically flamboyant – Humble Pie in name only, it’s a mixture of mushrooms, pecorino cheese, leek, black truffle, pearl barley and champagne and comes in at £18.50. But bear in mind that you’re also paying for the uber-styled Orient Express look and fun vibe of this one-off, so go with the flow and push the ‘Press for champagne’ button while you’re at it. The mariner’s fish pie is another favourite, crammed with salmon and haddock in a thumpingly rich cream, and topped (controversially, perhaps) with puff pastry.
Pies are so important they get their own section of the menu at this best-of-British chain. The offering changes nearly every day, with meaty options ranging from ham hock, leek and mushrooms to a cut-above version of a classic chicken pie (one of the most popular), plus out-of-the-ordinary veggie selections including broccoli, Stilton and walnut. All come with a scoop of perfectly creamy mash (or well-cooked chips), as well as steamed greens and flavourful gravy. There’s also a good fish pie with a mashed potato topping.
We can’t wax lyrical about pies without tackling dessert. Apple pie is the quintessential sweet treat; for a sublime, deep-filled version, head to Chicken Shop. This stylish restaurant gives chains such as KFC a kicking in the taste stakes with its upmarket fried chicken, while its apple pie trounces McDonald’s paltry effort. It’s hard to resist and only a fiver.
This Soho institution is both a throwback to the golden age of chippies, with its table service, retro furnishings and trad menu, and a restaurant that moves with the times – its fish comes from sustainable sources, the crisp batter is laced with beer, and the fishcakes and pies are lovingly made in house. Choose from no-surprises pie fillings of steak and ale or chicken and mushroom (and a vegetarian option), all served with gravy for just shy of a tenner. A side order of chips and a squirt of tomato ketchup from the knowingly kitsch plastic tomatoes on the tables, and away you go.
The old-fashioned glamour of this Theatreland fish restaurant has been honed over more than a century of service. So has the restaurant’s acclaimed fish pie – rich, comforting and oozing its creamy filling in just the right places – which takes pride of place on the menu as a well-deserved star turn. It’s a bestseller for a reason and, although at £17.50, it’s not the cheapest pie you can buy in London, it does come with the opportunity to spot celebs on nearby tables in this ultimate luvvie heaven.
It’s not just us Brits who have the concept of the pie down pat; the Scandinavians do a pretty neat line in pucks of filled pastry, too. This Finnish delicacy is not a pie as you and I know it; it has more in common with a pasty. A circle of rye pastry gathered around a filling of cooked rice or mashed potato and slathered with a mixture of melted butter and boiled egg, it’s a snip at £2. Consequently, it’s more of a snack than a main event – which leaves you ample stomach space for one of the Bakery’s addictively squishy, sugar-topped cinnamon buns.
This smart Soho hotspot formerly offered a daily pie as part of its line-up, usually crammed with seasonal ingredients and covered in a tip-top pastry crust. Nowadays, a pie is a less regular apparition on chef Jeremy Lee’s menu – so if you see one, be sure to order it. Lee’s less-is-more approach makes his dishes simple but expertly executed affairs. Past pastry-based hits have included pheasant, duck and mallard, plus Elmer Fudd’s favourite: rabbit pie.
London’s oldest restaurant wouldn’t be doing the city any culinary justice if it didn’t have at least one pie on its menu. True to form, this one is a classic: a generous and traditional rendering of steak and kidney pie filled with delicate chunks of meat and thick, flavoursome gravy, with a hand-raised pastry crust. Nothing is overly elaborate or served with great fanfare in this most British of restaurants, but it’s all done well, so that dining here proves a deeply cosseting and comfortable experience. The only downside of ordering a pie at Rules? You miss out on game, the restaurant’s speciality.
This pie purveyor with a difference is no square: alongside a host of traditionally filled pies – think steak and Guinness, chicken and bacon, and steak and kidney (all made with a shortcrust base and a buttery puff pastry top) – there are tasty vegetarian options such as mushroom and asparagus, lighter, lid-only versions for the diet conscious, snacky ‘canapies’ and other pastry classics such as sausage rolls. In short: pie heaven.
Find even more pies in London
From Kensington to Kennington, Lewisham to Leytonstone, Time Out has visited London’s remaining traditional pie and mash shops. These are some of the city’s best suppliers of the original British fast food, so grab a table and get stuck into pie, liquor, mash and even eels.
Owners Sam and Anton seem genuinely surprised that their Brixton Hill café has won so many fans. They shouldn’t be. Coffee at this cheery corner spot is the real deal. Beans from Mission Coffee Works, Old Spike Roastery and Bristol’s Little and Long are brewed up with just the right amount of obsession. A black V60 was mellow enough for slow sipping; flat whites are velvety and fruity. Big windows with counter seats let in lots of light at the front, while the darker back room has all the hipster trimmings with bare bricks and bare bulbs. But we really love the off-beat touches: old copies of National Geographic stacked on tables and shelves of used paperbacks for borrowing. On the counter sandwiches include brioche buns stuffed with bacon, brie and maple syrup or avocado and halloumi on pumpernickel. Pastries, quiches and gluten-free cakes are supplied by Kat Bakes London. Go on, tuck in.