For a classic British staple, Tom heads to a backstreet pub in London’s Mayfair.
Pie and a pint. For the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever, this is as substantial a lunch as you’ll find anywhere, the very definition of edible good cheer. And at The Windmill, a Young’s pub tucked away on a quiet Mayfair side street, they take both pie and pint very seriously indeed.
You walk through the old-fashioned pub, on the ground floor, up some steep, rather narrow stairs and into the discreet, smartly utilitarian dining room. No fuss or frippery, rather white tablecloths, good wooden salt and pepper grinders, and proper service, led by that unflappable Renaissance man Dominic Rowntree. Who also finds time to write the excellent Samphire and Salsify blog.
A pint first, obviously, Young’s London Original, clean, with a good bitter bite, and some meaty bits and pieces that go beyond the usual British bar snack. Pert, just-chewy chicken hearts, neatly skewered. They may seem a touch adventurous, but there’s nothing threatening about that taste. And bone marrow straws, soft and rich.
Good fresh crab is mixed with chopped egg, and spread thick on delicate slices of old-fashioned white bread. A mouthful of lamb is dressed with anchovy and olive, gloriously grown-up. We move from pint to well-priced Burgundy, and get stuck into those pies. My friend Ewan has ox cheeks encased in a wodge of pastry. He nods his approval, and it disappears sharpish. ‘Proper’ is his two-syllable retort. Chips are the only disappointment, lacking the crisp crunch of the truly great.
My steak and kidney pie is a handsome thing, turned out of its tin, roundly monolithic. The shortcrust pastry, burnished and glossy with egg wash, strains valiantly to contain the joyously tender meaty mass within. All drowned in a thick gravy, with a generous scattering of kidney too. There’s more gravy, in a small jug, on the side, not so much afterthought as equally essential addition. It’s the sort of pie that might inspire, if one was that way inclined, ballads and paeans, odes, epics and songs of praise. I haven’t much truck with culinary nationalism, but if there were a World Cup of pastry-encased classics, this would make it past a fraught semi-final shoot-out. And perhaps even go all the way.