Take me home please
BJ's, 330 Barking Road, E13
Season 2016-2017

It's a season with more plot twists than an episode of Broadchurch. Earlier in the month came shock news of the absence of club statistician Nick Evans from this crucial meeting at B.J’s in Plaistow, owing to a trip abroad. With an outstanding attendance record, Evans has clocked up a staggering 258 out of 271 club fixtures to date; the last time he missed one was nine years ago in March 2008.

Then, as now, Edward Mosse was present. Here he is making an appeal for the whereabouts of the club recorder.

After a meticulously arranged rendezvous at 12:30pm in Canning Town Station, we cruised down the Barking Road on our very own charter coach, the No.5 bus. With little traffic, we got to the shop 30 minutes early, so we had a ‘Jane Fonda’ round the high street and saw some rather interesting curios like a Caribbean Bakery, as well as a Funeral Directors right next door to a Butchers. I couldn't help wonder if a shady business deal existed between the two firms.

Paul (centre) was appropriately attired and could easily pass for an Undertaker if wasn’t for his Masonic tie giving the game away. Posing outside for our customary pre-meal portrait, we noticed that the shop has had a new frontage since our last visit back in October 2012 – it was installed sometime last year. Fittingly on this St Patrick’s Day, it was decked out in green and gold.

The lunch-time rush was about to begin so we quickly ordered our eels. The servings were generous and plentiful as our sea shanty expert Brian Catchpole (right) indicates. Indeed the empty bowls could easily double as small lifeboats.

These eels were markedly different from the ones
I had on the previous visit. When questioned about it, our host Nathan Jacobi informed me that during the winter months he has to source larger, fattier and less flavoursome Dutch Eels which are harvested in dykes. He prefers to use Irish eels which are smaller, tastier and have tighter skins. However these can only be caught wild between May and September.

Fishy mug-shots.

Behind the counter.

Spot the all-important addition to that spartan menu.

It was a pleasure to welcome Paul Gale (near right) for the first time this season, back in London on Lodge business. It’s intriguing to note that Paul has a family connection with pie & mash shops: his Uncle used to maintain and refurbish the cooking equipment at Williams Homemade Pie & Eel Shop in Highbury, on the site now occupied by Piebury Corner. Indeed as a youngster, Paul used to receive a discount for his meal whenever he dined there.

Nick Everton’s (far right) meteoric ascent of the score-table this season has been remarkable, given that he only made his debut in Round 4. This type of determination hasn’t been seen since the glory days of Chris Charalambous. Consuming an impressive two eels, three pies, three mash and four portions of liquor, Nick was easily the day’s highest scorer, clocking up 33 points and edging tantalizingly close to the top of the league.

Vinegar specialist Ray Goldstone shows us the correct way to anoint the dish with chilli vinegar. The technique is all about getting the angle of the bottle just right and avoiding splashing it on yourself and others.

Catchpie (far right) lowers down his gob, ready to accept another hefty load of stodge.

After a lengthy hiatus, it was great to see Terry Moore (near right) back in the fold, appropriately wearing a liquor green T-shirt for the occasion. Brazenly showing off his sizeable appetite, he quickly devoured a substantial portion of three pies and double mash, washing it all down with a fizzy vial of Dr Pepper. Subsequently, he audaciously claimed that he would have eaten more if weren’t for the gassy refreshment compromising his appetite.

Meanwhile over on the next table, the other Terry (Cecil) revs up his consumption to full throttle as he slices through a motorcade of food.

B.J’s curiously offers the option of chips as an alternative to mash; this sort of grave temptation was too much for Katherine Schopflin to resist. Making her first appearance with the club since October 2015, she caused a scandalous stir as she tucked into a hearty portion of chips. Deep fried in beef dripping, these starchy spears of flavour provide a culinary conundrum to the traditional pie & mash combination.

Sue Madigan (far right) surveys the gastronomic revelry going on around her with a mixture of shock and amazement.

The club’s very own Jellied Eel Queen, Denise Rouse (below) prepares to regally devour a hearty bowl of jellies, whilst Ray (centre) forgets to bring his 'wellies' (cutlery) upon ordering the last portion of stewed eels. Doug Benford (far right) sees the funny side.

The place was a-buzz with customers in full lunchtime throng as we finished off our first course. By arriving early, we managed to get a table to ourselves right by the counter; however the latecomers had to share a bench with normal people.

There's something retro-looking about Edward's barnet on this occasion. This was because he was off to work that evening on Chickenshed’s latest theatrical production, ‘Blowin In The Wind’, a musical based on the history of civil rights movements, which runs from 14th March to 2nd April. [Click here for details.] Let’s hope that after his meal the wind doesn’t blow the wrong way.

I found the pies a considerable improvement from last time. The filling was ample, succulent and flavoursome, whilst the pastry had a golden crust with biscuit-like texture that made it easier to cut using the customary fork and spoon. Overall the meal was a sterling effort from start to finish, so our commendations to the staff for cooking up such a great feast.

Nathan’s father Brian used to run two other branches in Custom House and Elm Park which have since closed. Nathan has been in the family business at this branch for 32 years, working full time since the age of 16. However even at the tender age of 10 he was peeling and preparing potatoes at the Elm Park branch each morning before school. With the current shop celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, his association with pie and mash shops has certainly been lifelong. After the lunch-time rush, we had the pleasure and privilege of Nathan's company at our table.

The shop’s file copy of the legendary picture-book ‘Eels, Pie and Mash’ by Chris Clunn provides the ideal literary accompaniment to any pie and mash meal.

For this occasion I took over the statistical duties. It was a coincidence that I found myself at the top of the league table for the first – and perhaps only – time. Equally coincidental is that by the time the club celebrates its silver anniversary in 2019, I will be the same age that Nick Evans was when he started compiling statistics for the club back in 1994.

Paul shows off his vast wealth by wiping his muzzle with a wad of £20 notes – does his greed know no bounds? Don’t be fooled by his brash behaviour – they were really just a pack of napkins that he brought at a kiosk in Canning Town bus station.

 

We had a splendid lunch at B.J’s. Despite its small size, it offers up an atmosphere that's friendly and cosy in equal measure. So whenever you are searching for a place to eat down Plaistow way, I thoroughly recommend you seek out and try this gem of an establishment.

 

The Barking Road Bunch.

As it was St Patrick’s Day, we sought refreshment at the nearest Irish pub we could find – as luck would have it, just down the road at The Abbey. Although it was only 2pm, the place was already packed full with people in boozy merriment as a DJ churned out hit tunes from such Irish legends as Thin Lizzy and The Undertones. Eddy Mosse got into the ‘spirit’ of the occasion.

Brian is an avid cinema-goer and frequent visitor to the Cinema Museum in Kennington. He told us about a recent trip when he saw a screening of silent Westerns featuring the likes of William S. Hart and Bronco Billy Anderson. He was intrigued to observe that cowboys wore larger hats back in the Silent Era, and how in the years following the advent of sound, the hat sizes gradually got smaller.

Sláinte

MG