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Steve Plotnicki

British Restaurants Outside of Britain

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The Balic:

Further to your post of Mar. 13 2002 02:29, I saw a couple of rich quotes in the latest issue of Simple Cooking (No. 76).

First, Thorne writes of marmalade:

"It is, after all, the only fruit preserve with an attitude problem. Where the others are all lambs, this one is a lion. Ordinarily, sugar works as a calmative, soothing everything into unctuous fruitiness. With marmalade, it plays the lion tamer, which with whip and chair just manages to keep its bitterness at bay."

Later, on the larger subject of the excellence of Scottish breakfasts, he quotes Dr. Johnson:

"If an epicure could remove by a wish, in quest of sensual gratifications, wherever he had supped he would breakfast in Scotland."


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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YOU may live in a world where people eat food cooked by Ducasse and Michael Bras and Gordon Ramsey and the chappie at El Bulli but  99.999% of the population, even the French population, do not and never will.

My gut tells me that's not right with respect to the French population. I wonder if anybody has ever compiled statistics regarding what percentage of the French population has ever visited a Michelin three-star restaurant, two-star restaurant, one-star restaurant, etc. I'd not be surprised to learn the percentage is quite high when held up against comparable statistics for other nations. That's not to say everybody in France eats like Plotnicki. But when they celebrate special occasions, they eat well over there. I think it may have been Plotnicki who pointed out, and I agree, that when you go to those Relais & Chateaux-type places out in the countryside, you often see tables of obviously working-class farm-and-manufacturing types with their extended families celebrating a birthday or whatever and knowing more about food and wine than half the chefs in New York probably.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I offer the following just to imagine the disgust of our more distinguished american contributors.

I dined this evening on an old Northamptonshire specialty: Hock'n'dough pie.

A very short pastry lined casserole filled with prok, potatoes, onion and water. slow cooked. slow cooked, slightly stodgy.

But learned of a fantastic English dish (I believe the information from someone called Ivan Day).

Thatched pie.

It dates from the 17/18th C & shows just how to deal with those pesky Italians.

It is a pie, as follows.

Layer the bottom of your pot with vermicelli, add the contents of the pie (steak, kidney, anything to make Plotnicki gag), cover with pastry.

When cooked, invert.

The vermicelli now on top bears a striking resemblance to a thatched house.

Perhaps not that tasty - but clearly post-modernism invented by mid-18th C.

Britain - so bad at food - so good at late capitalism.

I also rec'd further evidence that UK eating habits are driven by variety rather than quality - hence the pressure to produce ever new kinds of pasta -

e.g. chiken tikka tortellini

you can make up your own culinary carcrashes.

Still Los Angeles is the only place I have seen signs for the kosher burrito

followed 2 blocks later by a sign for

'the original kosher burrito'


Wilma squawks no more

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Dr Johnson also said on oats: "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people." When he started off on his travels with Boswell, he didn't like the idea of going to Scotland much, but as Fat Guy says, Dr J had quite a bit of affection for the place.

As for British restaurants in New York, Poltnicki is wrong in first saying there are none in his header. This is because there are some.  Then he goes on to qualify his original question, by asking, well, there are one or two, but these numbers don't amount to much, so show me more than one or two.  Well, there are two within a couple of blocks from me (Tea & Sympathy and A Salt and Battery), and more as far as I can see,  but then that doesn't qualify the ever-moving criteria that Plotnicki demands, because the restaurants now have to fit "haute" (whatever that means--cream sauces?) criteria. Then if that's not enough, the food served in British restaurants have to fit a French recipe to qualify, and for Plotnicki this means no pastry in the main course. What?

By all means let's be civil round here (as Fat Guy suggests), but I'm getting sick and tired of being told it's me who is wrong-headed in the Plotnicki school of logic. Look (to use a Plotnicki rhetorical move), this Plotnicki logic is, well, illogical. And let's see (ditto move: how do I explain this to a moron who doesn't agree?), you obviously don't like British dishes. So what? If you don't see the wonderfulness of game pie, then there is no point is discussing this further (another Plot rhetorical move).

As so many people have pointed out so many of the good british dishes are made in people's homes. I think you are at a disadvantage, Steve, because you readily admit you have not shopped ot cooked for yourself in the UK, so I don't think you have a leg to stand on in terms of judging the ingredients over there.

In terms of game pie you admit that you don't even like game. So, it goes without saying you won't like it. And if you don't like it, then why not bow out in terms of judging it?

Now, British food overseas, leaving aside restaurants. The last time I looked at grocers (cheap and expensive) here in NY they are FULL of British stuff: Scottish salmon, cheeses, biscuits, oatcakes, muffins, scones, marmalade (and I agree with Fat Guy, Thorne's recent artciles is fascinating).

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Okay. While you have all been having fun pointing out just how far and wide one can go with a pie, I must remind everyone that this thread was about the proliferation (or lack of) British restaurants outside of the U.K. And in that context someone astutely pointed out (Tony?) that not only aren't there any British restaurants outside of the U.K., even in the U.K. they hardly exist anymore. So even though you are pointing to savory pies as a major accomplishment of British cuisine, it doesn't detract from the point that the Brits haven't instigated much good restaurant cooking.

Pies, whether sweet or savory, fall under the category of home cooking, or things you buy in a shop that you would serve at home. And even the highest expression of piety, the Quiche Lorraine, is either a bakery item or something made at home. I'm trying to think if I have ever seen one offered in a restaurant in France that wasn't a tea salon, or an adjunct to a Patisserie that served lunch? And it's not that you might not find a version at Daniel, but it would most likely be a small portion to be given away as an Amuse Geule than, something one builds a meal around.

So let's save a conversation about the relative merits of British comfort food, compared to the comfort food that other cuisines have produced, for a different thread. Let's keep this one true to the topic and ask if there really are any restaurants that fit the bill, or  if there aren't, why that is the case?

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Yvonne-I am sorry I didn't see your post before adding my last response. I certainly would have framed the response in a manner that would be sufficent to quiet the storm you are trying to stir. But your last post has thrown down the gauntlet and I have to get the big guns out.

Do you think that criticizing the critic will make the food taste any better? I mean if I haven't impressed upon you by now that I have sufficient knowldge to formulate a valid opinion about this topic, then you should stop reading my posts altogether. Because while you might not agree with my taste,

I think it is bogus of you to say I haven't the facility to tell the difference between what tastes good, and what tastes bad. I mean has a single person that isn't British jumped into the fray and preached the gospel the way you see it?

But please, if you don't want to take my word for it don't. But it only took me 5 seconds to realize that there is an easy way to show the facts. And in this instance, the proof is very much in the pudding. So I picked up the 2002 Zagat Guide and counted the number of French restaurants they list which is,

France - 246 including brasseries which they list seperately

And then I went to count the English section and I found,

England - 3

But even I thought that was a little light so I skimmed through the section and found they listed Fish and Chips seperately. So I have revised my numbers,

England - 4

My Lord, England hasn't done that poorly since the last India-England test match!

Now as much as you try and avoid having to deal with this dismal showing, no attacks on my logic, or on my grammer, or anything else you might want to try and highlight in order to divert attention away from the facts, just won't escape the fact that

A pasty tastes poor and that is why the score is 246 to 4.

Word.

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Have you ever went over a friends house to eat

And the food just ain't no good?

The macaroni's soggy, the peas are mushed,

And the chicken tastes like wood

So you try to play it off like you think you can

By saying that you're full

And then your friend says, "Mama, he's just being polite

He ain't finished, uh-uh, that's bull!"

So your heart starts pumpin' and you think of a lie

And you say that you already ate

And your friend says "Man, there's plenty of food"

So you pile some more on your plate

While the stinky food's steamin', your mind starts to dreamin'

Of the moment that it's time to leave

And then you look at your plate and your chicken's slowly rottin'

Into something that looks like cheese

Oh so you say "That's it, I gotta leave this place

I don't care what these people think,

I'm just sittin' here makin' myself nauseous

With this ugly food that stinks"

http://display.lyrics.astraweb.com:2000/display....delight


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Plotnicki - will you stop this attack on pies for Gawds sake! I like pie. Where have been in France exactly that you haven't seen pastry enclosed pate? All those liver pates enclosed in Brioche are delicious, for that matter those Lyon sausage in Brioche are really nice as well. Even, sodding Paul Bocuse has several recipes for fish au croute (fish pie to you). I'm hip to your game, you have one of those intolerance things right? That is why you are so bitter. Je accusent tu!

Yvonne and Fatguy - I'm reading Boswell's Johnson at the moment by coincidence. He is still at the slagging off Scotland stage in the part that I have read so far. Yvonne I think that the retort to your quote of Johnson was "Yes, that is why England has such fine horses and why Scotland has such fine men!". Marmalade is such a fine thing (Whips,eh?), I love it (not the sweet, un-bitter type though). I'm sure Plotnicki hates it. :smile:

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Adam,

That is a fantastic link.

It *must* be the team from The Onion, mustn't it?

-----

W

I hope not, I really do.

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Steve,heaven forfend anyone question your superior knowledge and expertise,But I'm afraid your "big guns" are blasting away at an open door.

No-one is disagreeing that there are more French restaurants than "English " restaurants. I thought we'd all accepted that and gone into the many reasons why.

Where you get up people's noses is in your insistence that the world of food can be framed in trems of generalised hierarchies (French food is "better" than English/American food)and that these hierarchies have some criterion referenced validity, and that at the same time those criteria just happen to respond exactly to your tastes. This leads you into tortuous discussions with people who just don't frame things the way you do.

EG. You don't like game and you don't like meat in pastry or pastry made with white flour.....ERGO it is not possible for a game pie to be as good as superior to something you DO like ..eg foie gras.Anyone who considers game pie superior is wrong or stupid or lacks your "expertise" or whatever

But....millions of people do not like or want to eat the artificially bloated,fat satutated livers of force fed geese and ducks. In fact the idea disgusts them They'd far rather eat a game pie. They LIKE game pies But here's this guy telling them that they're just plain WRONG and if you don't believe him,well you just don't have his knowledge and expertise and that's just too bad.

Instead of acknowledging the relativity of the culinary world (there are good,bad and indifferent game pies,there is good and bad foie gras) your mindset compels you to rank order in terms of cuisines and foodstuffs and then defend your ranking as though it constituted empirical fact.It leads to some fun arguments but you should remember Steve,it may make you feel good to be at the top of your self -created hierarchy.....but it can't half get lonely up there.

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At least sometimes, Taillevent offers game pie. During at least certain portions of 4Q 2001, it was wild duck or pheasant, I believe (?) -- I had a bite from a friend's plate and thought I should have ordered it. :wink: Can other members provide details?

Below are certain descriptions:

http://www.cigaraficionado.com/Cigar/Afici...avel/rc695.html

("At Taillevent, wild game, lamb, beef, farm-raised guinea fowl, andouillette (a form of sausage), duck and foie gras are all available as main courses. I heartily recommend Taillevent's take on shepherd's pie--a golden-crusted torte filled with wild game including boar, pheasant, venison and pigeon lightly doused with Armagnac--called Tourte de Gibier de Sologne à l'Armagnac.")

http://www.france.com/francescape/gault/restparis.html

("Still, the classic repertoire provides pleasures of its own: why turn down a chance to savor the rich, resonant flavors of a truffled game pie filled with venison, duck and pheasant?")

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I don't much like game pies or Taillevent, but I suppose if the clever French get hold of anything and waste enough time in the kitchen mucking about with it they can make it taste pretty good. I'm sure whatever they're serving at Taillevent is hardly recognizable as an English game pie, though.

Tony, I'm with Plotnicki on the whole French food is "better" than English/American food thing, and I can't see an argument for ranking things any other way unless you want to say that all tastes are subjective. But as I've said in about a dozen places on these boards, I can't see why so many people would waste so much time online disputing matters of taste were it really true that in matters of taste there's no dispute. So I'll buy into the notion that foie gras is better than game pie. And while I believe in relativity (some game pies are better than other game pies) I don't believe in relativism.

By the way, as far as the United States goes, I'm still not sure I agree that there are more French restaurants than English restaurants. At the haute cuisine level in the major cities, I'd agree. But if you give the English credit for all those New Englandy seafood places and their contributions to our breakfast culture and various other things, you'll find a lot of English-derived restaurants in the United States -- probably more than French. I just don't think that makes English food, on the whole, particularly good.

Who asked where you can get roast beef? Have you ever been in the heartland of the USA? Between the coasts this nation is a sea of reconstituted mashed potatoes carrying icebergs of overcooked roast beef. Step up to the buffet, people, and get with the program. Real Americans eat roast beef all the time, all you can eat, $7.95. You'd swear you were in England, save for the prices.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'm sure whatever they're serving at Taillevent is hardly recognizable as an English game pie, though.

I'd appreciate input from members as to good places in London to sample English game pie. I have sampled it no more than once or twice.  :wink: Is it ordinarily served with gravy or some other type of sauce? (On Taillevent, I agree and do not think Vrinat deserves three stars.)

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I don't much like game pies or Taillevent, but I suppose if the clever French get hold of anything and waste enough time in the kitchen mucking about with it they can make it taste pretty good. I'm sure whatever they're serving at Taillevent is hardly recognizable as an English game pie, though.

When is a pie a pie? Sometimes in France they will give you a fish dish (for example) cooked in cream etc, garnished with some sippets of puff pastry (mostly cut into dimond shapes). Is this a pie? If not how much would you have to increase the pastry to contents ration to get a pie? I need this information so that I can construct an argument for the nobility and greatness of the pie, that will send Plotnicki into the egullet wilderness weeping, wailing and gnashing his teeth.

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When is a pie a pie? Sometimes in France they will give you a fish dish (for example) cooked in cream etc, garnished with some sippets of puff pastry (mostly cut into dimond shapes). Is this a pie? If not how much would you have to increase the pastry to contents ration to get a pie? teeth.

Adam -- I don't know much about English meat pies, but for a pie to be a pie, I would imagine the meat or other principal ingredient should at least be in the shell of pastry.  Perhaps not necessarily "enclosed in" the pastry, although that might ordinarily be expected. But at least the meat, etc. should be lodged on pastry and there should be a little rim of the pastry that extends upwards, no?  :wink:

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Cabrales - I'm thinking that anything with pastry is a "pie" and even somethings without pastry are pies. I begining to realise that there is an entire universe of pieness to explore. For instance, I'm still trying to work out if a gratin with breadcrumbs on top is a pie. My heart says yes, but my mind is still not made up. A pop-tart is a pie, but is jam on toast? Is cereal a sub-class of wet-pie? Man, this is just the tip of the iceberg, it's starting to look like it will be difficult to prove that a particular food item isn't a pie.

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Cabrales - I'm thinking that anything with pastry is a "pie" and even somethings without pastry are pies. I begining to realise that there is an entire universe of pieness to explore.

Adam -- Perhaps for purposes of this thread the contours of meat pies could be attempted first, although dessert and other pies are promising too. I wonder what interesting regional/local variations of chicken pot pie there might be, and where good places to sample this item in London are.

Could you discuss why you might view a gratin with breadcrumbs on top as a pie? When breadcrumbs are used, they might have to be used with some "density", concentration or "packing" for there to be a pie?? For example, they couldn't be just sprinkled?  :wink: But I agree that the usage of the pastry (or other) material as a covering on top of the meat, etc. only could be a pie.

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Wasn't all this explored in the film 'Pie'

- how pie is transcendental etc

I think by definition if a food place offers pie it is a pie-shop

(or pie-man or pie-monger).

A restaurant (n, fr) can therefore not offer a pie, but something else - possibly with those diamond shaped crottes that you referred to earlier.

Thus the confusing domestic/public divide, which takes a different form in northern europe to southern europe.

i.e .Catholicism - public hell

     Protestantism - private hell.

+ what role did the cooking in 'gentlemen's' clubs play in providing a 'British restaurant culture' during the 19th C?

And to what extent does this still exist - not just in St. James' but in NY say?


Wilma squawks no more

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Cabrales,the best places in London to buy game pies are Borough Market-plenty of various pies there made by small producers,Harrods,Fortnum&Mason,Harvey Nicholls,Selfridges and some butchers.

If you mean which restaurants I can't help,although Simpson's in the Strand used to do a pie special on one day of the week and you might be lucky at Rules. Moving away from game The Cork and Bottle wine bar in Leicester Sq. promotes its "famous,hand raised ham and cheese pie".  I sampled this once and the best I can say about it is that its ....er....filling.

Finally,Porters in Covent Gdn. specialises in pies,but these are precisely the types that Steve P. hates so much,and rightly so.Avoid.

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you might be lucky at Rules

Tony -- Thanks! Alas, my plans for travelling this weekend might be foiled by work constraints (and I had Roellinger booked too  :confused:). If I stay in town, I might try one of the pie places you mentioned.

Rules' sample menu offers: Steak & Kidney Pie with Mashed Potato & Root Vegetable Purée, and Fish & Shellfish Pie with Saffron, Cream and Colcannon Potatoes.

http://www.rules.co.uk/rest/mfmenu.html

(I just noticed a post-theatre special, 10pm - 11:30pm, weeknights, perfect given current work demands, at £19.95.)

I also note the indicated limited availability, from time to time, of Belted Galloway Beef.  It is described as a "rare and ancient breed raised on Wild Hill Farming Grasslands".  Have members sampled this type of beef?

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Cabrales,I just looked at the Rules menu.You forgot to mention the Steak and Kidney Pudding with Oysters-----yummmo!!

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You know, Adam, I'd just love to agree with you about pieness but something inside just won't let me. You see, I have difficulty considering anything not fully encased in pastry a pie. First of all, obviously only savoury pies are really pies. Something with just a lid of pastry is not a pie, it's a cheat, a scam, a swindle. What I am looking for in a pie is the contrast of textures: the crisp flakiness of the outer shell, the richness of the pastry, the softness of the inside where it meets the sauces. Look, if it doesn't have that, I just can't agree that it's a pie.

I know what that something inside is, now. It's my inner Plotnicki.

(apologies to Steve P :wink:)


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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This raises two important questions

If a pie is in a forest and nobody eats it, is it still a pie?

Or

If you have a pie, and you remove the pastry lid and replace it with a new pastry lid, is it still the same pie?

Of the good old days of the Theology and Philosophy degree.  I knew they would come in handy one day.

How much pastry makes a pie?  For Gawds sake.

S

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Gee, You go to sleep and a thread careens out of control.

Fat Guy has this argument sized up pretty good. And what I find amazing is that the more data I put up, the stronger the arguments against it seems to get, the louder the chorus and the lower it stoops as to comparisons. I mean comparing Game Pie to Foie Gras. Are you mad?

I keep trying to frame this question in terms of concrete statistics and/or offerings of cultural examples to show if English cuisine has had any lasting impact on the restauarant level. And in return I keep getting back that pies taste good. No change that, English pies taste good. And aside from the fact that the last bit is an overwhelming obstacle for the Brits to overcome (good tasting that is,) a single item of worthiness (which I have not accepted as such,) is hardly a cause for celebrating. Unless the Brits like celebrating when they score 4 runs in a test match.

So right now, offered to counter my arguments are the following pieces evidence,

1. A number of people like game pies and think the British versions taste good. I point out for sake of fairness that the only people who have adopted that position are British plus Adam who lives in Scotland and grew up in Australia

2. I do not like game, and I do not eat pastry

3. Game pies are made and sold at pies shops and street markets in France

3. Two English restaurants are within walking distance of where Yvonne lives. I might add that neither one is relevent enough to be listed in the 2002 Zagat.

4. Taillevent occassionaly offers game pie

5. I am obsessed with creating heirarchys and there is no such thing because all food is a matter of taste. I always find this one the most amusing because it discredits my ability to rank them and by attacking me for wanting to rank them. What does one have to do with the other? They aren't ranked because I want them ranked. Thay are ranked because there are food products and preparations that people find superior to others.

6. There are English products at the supermarket in NYC and the frozen food section especially is loaded with them. That makes me laugh as it is the first time I ever heard anyone invoke frozen foods as evidence of anything other than the worst crap in the world.

Have I missed anything?

Once again, I keep trying to frame this in terms of concrete examples and I keep trying to stay away from arguments of relativity. But what I get back are desperate attempts to prove me wrong through what can only be described as anecdotal evidence. Look, if there is a chef who is famous for his Game Pies name him. Steak & Kidneys or Haggis too. Any of those dishes. Is there anyone who makes traditional English food that has an international reputation? That's what I've been trying to get at. Not do people eat steak & kidney pie out of the frozen food section. It's agreed that they do. But the question is, why has it been relegated to the frozen food section and why is there not a premier version out there. And if there is, tell us who makes it?

Again, I think the issue here is a simple one. The types of dishes you are all describing are relatively simple to make. From Tony's explanation, and Gavin's recipe, it doesn't take much skill to make a game pie. You don't need to be a real chef to make one. As Gavin showed last night, anyone can do it.

So to me, the reason that people don't eat traditional British food is that the level of technique practiced in preparing the cuisine is less interesting, or less evolved than what is used in other cuisines. And where once upon a time people wanted their filet encased in pastry, now they are much more interested in the quality of the meat, how it is cooked and how refined the sauce it sits on tastes. And as Steve Klc so astutely pointed out, the French have not had this problem because their home styled dishes have made their way into fancy restaurants all over the world. And as good as your game pies are, just based on the ingredients alone it doesn't hold a candle to a cassoulet in terms of complexity as to both texture or taste. I mean look at Tony's recipe. How much flavor can you get out of a sauce that is created in such a short time? And then look at what goes into making a cassoulet and how complex the sauce you end up with is. I mean this is why the score is 246-4. And in the category of gross generalizations, people go to restaurants and are willing to pay money to experience technique that is generally too hard to practice at home. And people who buy food for take-away do it because they generally don't want to bother cooking. And I submit that pies in general fall into the latter category. And I know it will make Tony happy to hear this but, that puts them lower on the food chain.

Finally (and I do hope this is the end because I can't fathom what defense you can all put up at this point  :raz:,) I'm most disappointed that nobody picked up on my insertion of Mrs. Lovett's Pies into the discussion. Maybe you have all been coy and have pretended not to notice? But for those of you who didn't get the reference, she's the woman who owned the pie shop in the Sondheim musical Sweeny Todd where they find that business picks up after they start including human meat in the pies after Sweeney blows a fuse. Most people think the show is social commentary on old England but

I always thought it was commentary on the food there. And he got it spot on if you ask me.

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then there are cottage, shepherd's and fish pies, none of which contains any pastry at all.

there is a peculiar little restaurant in pimlico called chimes which specialises in pies and cider.  as to the quality, i've only ever used it as a distress purchase after a night on the piss so am not really in a position to give objective critical overview.

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