Season 2005-2006COCKNEY'S; 314 Portobello Road, Ladbroke Grove
(5 pts)
(4 pts)
(3 pts)
(2 pts)
(1 pts)
NICK EVANS90320220181
RICHARD LUCAS80330223168
TOM LEADER60320220145
BEN HAYES6033022390
TONY CHUNG4022011551
CYRIL GOIN10110188

Legend has it that Map-Mad Mercator got a nose bleed when the number 52 bus passed from the Western Hemisphere at Notting Hill into the ethereal realm described in fairy tales as 'Willie's Den'. Of course, since his era civilisation has spread far enough out to provide a warm and welcome outpost of gastronomic comfort in the form of Cockney's Pie and Mash Shop, one of the westernmost points on the P-n-M compass.

A brisk 5-minute walk from Ladbroke Grove station delivers you to the unassuming frontage of this diner, located at the down-to-earth end of Portobello Road, just past Golborne Road. (A glance east at this junction provides the visual feast that is the Trellick Tower.) When you cross the threshold you immediately take in the brightness of the room, and the spaciously arranged dining tables with their traditional bolted-to-the-floor plastic seats.

I placed my order with proprietor Ruth Phillips, our hostess this luncheontime. She shot down my bid for points-accumulation by informing me there were 'no eels today'; the fishmonger at the top of the road is a very nice bloke, but can be a bit forgetful about deeliveries — doesn't he realise the hearts he's breakin with his flakin'?

I was struck by a sense of familiarity behind the counter... yes, it was 'Yesterday Once More' as I was momentarily transported back to 1971 and my mum's old kitchen, where everything was white, formica-topped and spotlessly hygienic. The only thing missing was a soundtrack by The Carpenters.

After a short interlude a baking tray appeared from behind the scenes, piled high with handsomely-proportioned, piping hot pies, their crusts the most promising shade of unvarnished mahogany. From that moment on I knew we were in safe culinary hands although the diminutive size of the crockery caused me a pause to ponder my strategy...I decided that when I could 'glimpse table' through the liquor it would be time for seconds. That's right, the grub was dished up on glass plates — what a marvellous innovation for competition eating!

By the time my platter touched down onto the formica field of dreams, the ferocious pie munchers featured right were well into their stride. Our man off the internet Tom Leader was back in town, having in been in battle. In Sussex. I think he was battle-weary after extended remastering sessions on Marty Pellow's 'big band' recordings. Tom, I can lend you my recordings of Bert Ambrose and his Orchestra if it will help halt the Wet-Wet-Wet one's soggy down-and-outpourings. Once this Pellow fellow hears A&O's 'Swing Low Sweet Clarinet' he'll want to hang up his horn for good. (If that fails, smother the mix with authentic bakelite 78 snap, crackle and pop, and push the tubas up into the ketchup zone.)

Our entrance was somewhat preempted by the presence of local newshound Russell 'Scoop' Handy and his photographer Handan Erek, who has kindly provided the snaps for this write up. One thing's for certain — the cub reporter got his scoop. Here he is, playing for the camera in a most ridiculous fashion. I've already suggested a strapline for his column: 'When the shit hits the fan, it pays to keep Scoop Handy'. Russ writes for the dubiously named 'West London Informer', and you can peruse the newsprint without soiling your fingers here:


Hopes of a sub-2 hour lunchbreak were hopelessly dashed by a diverting discussion of world music (Tom Leader's other current project is the final recording of the late Ali Farka Touré) and I was obliged to remind Mister Handy of the purpose of his outing. His extended interview with reigning chomp-meister Rikk Lucas didn't help either. With a style reminiscent of the 'Creature Comfort' ad's off the telly, the long silent pauses were best described as 'fully gestated'. As his portrait illustrates, it's possible even for the most seasoned pie-n-masher to get completely 'pie-eyed'.

Near right: The Noble Art of 'Sousing', as demonstrated by master practitioner Tony Chung

Far right: Ben Hayes displays his amazing double-jointed lower jaw which can dislocate, allowing his mouth to open as wide as 150 degrees. This flexibility comes in handy when he encounters a pie bigger than his head — his gob can simply stretch to accommodate it. The rollover image was considered too 'graphic' for local newspaper readership.

Also present at this event were couple of the moment, Rachel Rotea and Cyrille 'Surreal' Goin, who not 2 hours before had been carelessly breaking fast with Crocs Messieurs à deux. What on earth were they thinking? Rachel passed up a, erm, wooden opportunity to vie for this season's wooden spoon award by ordering a cup of tea — nil points. To his great credit, her Gallic associate ordered and dispatched a 'un, un et un' (see the scoreboard). Bravo mon ami, et encore?

We were surprised to see our mate and glamorous grandad Bob Hollingsworth, who tied in a family visit to the area with a basin of pie and mash. It was his day off, so he was even more relaxed than his usual so-laid-back-he's-horizontal self.

When the meeting came to an end, we congratulated our hostess on her superb tuck — the award from 'The Pie and Mash Club of Great Britain' is well deserved, if a little out of date. In fact if anyone out there in hinternet land knows anything about this august organisation (which seems to have disappeared sometime in the late 90's) please drop me a line. We spilled out onto the windswept pavement and ambled southwards up Portobello Road in search of gazpacho (that's another story), finally parting company with the day-offers outside the Spanish Supermercado. The last I saw of 'Scoop', he was heading off to research an article 'about pubs'. Right.