While Traveling through London with my wife and niece I thought it finally time to see what all the rave was about.
On the left side of Bell Yard, going down from Carey Street, you will find a two-story pie shop standing quaintly on Fleet Street just across from J. Williams and Hodges.
Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop is home to one of, if not, the best meat pies you’ll ever have the privilege of eating.
A little bit before noon, if you’re anywhere on Fleet Street you’ll be able to take in an aroma that is indescribable. It’ll lift you off your feet and you’ll soon find yourself waiting what will feel like hours – thanks to the line outside – to just get in the shop. You’ll sit down and have your order taken by who I can only assume is her son, Tobi. Shortly after, you can see Mrs. Lovett carrying up a tray of pies from the bakery in the basement below. Such a hard working woman that one, doing all that work herself, day in day out. And once you get a pie in front of you you’ll wonder why she hasn’t been anointed a saint.
The flavours are undoubtedly one of a kind. Unlike anything either of us have ever tasted. I applaud her and the ingredients she uses because I don’t think I’ll ever find another meat pie as rich and full of flavour as hers.
The buttery crust that flakes off in your mouth; the vegetables that hold their structure; the herbs and the way they enhance that almost one of a kind meat with the gravy that accompanies it – oh, the gravy! Everything from the aroma to the taste of Mrs. Lovett’s pies just defy any notion of how great you thought meat pies should be.
I asked Tobi, if I can have a word with his mum for this article. He said she hardly has time for him but I insisted. I came by the next morning per her request and she sat down with me.
Like I said, she’s so busy I felt like I was going to be a burden. But she was at ease and seemed like she had all the time in the world to talk. After numerous attempts at trying to find out her secret she finally caved and simply said “it’s all about the meat.” And went on – “herbs and vegetables you can get from any ol’ place, but the meat is what makes the pies stand out.” Of course, I tried to get more details and find out her favorite cuts but all she said was she gets it [her meats] specially delivered by a butcher she’s known for ages. Continuing on the subject without spilling the bits I longed to hear, she goes on explaining how she makes the dough for the pie’s buttery crust while she grinds the meat herself downstairs in the basement. “You’ll have to give it a good grind – I go about 3 times – really makes things tender and works out any possibility of grizzle.”
As she was describing how she had come up from a poor childhood, in from the back door came a Mr. Sweeney Todd, the barber who owns the shop just above Mrs. Lovett’s establishment. He was carrying boxes towards the basement and I can only imagine it was the famed cuts of meat that make this place so unique. Looking like he’s not used to seeing anyone but her, he seemed a little startled when he noticed me. Mrs. Lovett confirmed my suspicion and told him to just place the cuts from the butcher down by the stairs. A brief introduction didn’t seem to relax because he still had a worrisome look about him, but it cleared up soon enough and he asked me if I’d like a complimentary shave. Describing how they’re business partners, him and Mrs. Lovett, I figured why not. While heading upstairs my wife and niece knocked on the door, having finished their tea. They accompanied me to Mr. Todd’s barbershop where he gave me the closest shave I’ve ever gotten. Even sang a song to my niece which she described as beautiful and hummed it for hours after.
As I was thanking Mrs. Lovett and Mr. Todd for their amazing generosity, I had to ask if she’d be willing to share a recipe for one of her pies. Turning to Mr. Todd as if seeking the approval of her business partner, he gave her a somewhat confused shrug, and it was enough for her to agree. She sat us down again and this time next to her sat Mr. Todd. My guess is he didn’t want her giving away all the secrets to their success!
She ran through everything in the ingredients list minus what I was waiting to hear.. – “So what types and cuts of meat do you use?” – I had to force out, trying to not sound pushy about what I was absolutely dying to know. And after a slight pause both Mrs. Lovett and Mr. Todd said simultaneously – “vealnison” – I heard, as they gave each other conflicting looks. Mrs. Lovett clarified “sometimes it’s veal, sometimes it’s venison, sometimes it’s a little bit of both. But if you can’t get a hold of either then beef and sausage with some bacon will do fine.” A slight smile and half a nod from Mr. Todd convinced me of his approval and I was happy with that.
I shook hands and went on my way, still taken aback by the sheer kindness they both showed me. I was so excited to publish this article I could hardly contain myself. I began writing it right away because I wanted everyone to try their best at replicating Fleet Street’s hardest working woman’s pie.
So without further ado, here is one of the many recipes straight from Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop!
Mrs. Lovett’s Priest Pie
1 pound ~ Sausage, ground at least 3 times
1 pound ~ Stew Meat, cut bite sized
1 pound ~ Bacon, diced
1 1/2 cups ~ Onions, diced small
2 tablespoons ~ Garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups ~ Mushrooms, sliced
1 cup ~ Carrots, diced small
2 cups ~ Potatoes, diced small
2 teaspoons ~ Rosemary
2 teaspoons ~ Thyme
2 teaspoons ~ Pepper
2 teaspoons ~ Chili Powder
1 teaspoon ~ Cumin
2 tablespoons ~ Worcestershire Sauce
2 ounces ~ Bacon Fat
2 ounces ~ Flour
4 cups ~ Beef Stock
2 1/2 cups ~ All-Purpose Flour
1 cup ~ Butter, extremely cold, cubed
1 teaspoon ~ Salt
1 teaspoon ~ Sugar
6-8 tablespoons ~ Iced Water
Mrs. Lovett’s Notes:
- I call it Priest Pie because of how heavenly it is.
- If your meat isn’t cheap, might not have to do 3 grinds. Not saying my meat’s cheap, just saying.
- Cut all your vegetables the same size, don’t want big carrots and small potatoes, do you, love?
- The pie dough gives you enough for one 10 inch pie or 2 personal pies, maybe 3, depending on size.
- Keep the butter for the dough in the freezer for a few hours before making it.
- Chill and relax the dough for a few hours.
- First thing to do is the pie dough, Mrs. Lovett exclaimed. “Crust’ll never be good if you don’t let’er rest first.” Take the flour, salt, and sugar and mix it together. Then make sure your butter is extremely cold, almost frozen hard. Cut into cubes and use your hands to cut it into the flour. Mash and squeeze until the cubes are gone and your flour can stay together. Pour it on a work surface with some flour and knead it till it comes together and is elastic. Wrap it up and let it rest in the fridge for a few hours.
- Next it be smart to cut everything you need. Dice your vegetables, cut or ground your meat – just be prepared.
- Now the fun.. Over medium-high heat, brown the sausage, then set aside. Do the same for the beef and then the bacon. You should have a nice amount so set some bacon fat aside and keep about a tablespoon or two in the pan. Use that fat to saute the onions and garlic till translucent. Then add the carrots and about 2 minutes later, the potatoes.
- Once all the vegetables are in the pan, add all the meat back in the pan. Once in, add all the herbs and spices along with the bacon fat and the flour sprinkled all around. Give everything a nice mix to get everything incorporated. Once everything is mixed together add the the stock, stir, and turn up the heat a bit. Once it starts simmering nicely, turn down the heat and keep it simmering for an hour while stirring regularly.
- After an hour the stock should have reduced to a nice gravy. Once it has, set aside and let cool for about 20 minutes. At this point you can turn on your oven to 400°.
- After cooling, roll out the pie dough and get it in the dish you’re using. Next, spoon in the meaty goodness along with some gravy and cover with the other half of the pie dough. Cut off excess, pinch, and fold over the edge.
- Brush it with an egg wash (egg mixed with a splash of water) and put it in the pre heated oven for 40 minutes. If the edges start getting brown before the 40 minutes, just cover the edges with aluminum foil.
When done, you’re done. Out of the oven, onto a plate and into you’re mouth.
Sadly.. I have to admit.. While this pie is great, and I mean great.. it’s nowhere near as indescribable as Mrs. Lovett’s. I’m not sure if she left out an ingredient or her secret really is in her special meats. I tried going back after I made it just to make sure I wrote down everything, but the shop was strangely closed with neither Mrs. Lovett or Mr. Todd in sight. I’m sure by the time of this article being published you’ll be able to visit it again. But until that time one thing is for sure – this recipe will curb that need for one of Mrs. Lovett’s world famous pies until the next time you can make it to her shop on Fleet Street.
Happy Pi Day everyone!!
I really hope you enjoyed this because I enjoyed writing it & putting it together! I found the Mrs. Lovett’s Pies poster but I made the Pirelli poster.. that’s how into it I was!
The pie is so freaking good, probably the best meat pie I’ve made. I’m sure Mrs. Lovett would be proud. I’ve been wanting to do a Sweeney Todd/meat pie post for a while, but it wasn’t until I started writing it that I decided to do it like this. I’m really happy with how it came out and I hope you enjoyed it!
The next time you watch Sweeney Todd, be sure to keep a look out for the author of this newspaper review. If you pay attention you’ll know who it is 😀
Now go out there and have a little Priest!