The Manze family have been serving up food in splendid Victorian surroundings for a century. So whether you fancy a plate of stewed eels, a cup of Rosie Lee or even a vegetarian pastry, pop in to their SE15 café for a taste of tradition
Words: Charlotte Egan; Photo: Jake Tilson
Walking into M Manze on Peckham High Street, the rich history of this family-owned pie and mash shop hits you in an instant. People are sitting on worn wooden pews, white and green Victorian tiles line the walls, and the aroma of succulent beef fills the air before you even get close to the marble counter.
The menu couldn’t be simpler: quantities of pie, mash and eels. I pick the most popular choice – one pie and one mash with liquor – and am advised to take my liquor on the side. I pass on jellied or stewed eels. They’re in danger of slipping off the menu due to fluctuating stocks and prices, and I decide not to exacerbate the problem. “You need to be brought up on Manze’s to truly appreciate it,” chuckles partner Geoff Poole, or “the guv’nor”, as the bubbly female staff call him.
My steaming hot pie arrives almost instantly, along with tea in a mug. The homemade pastry is crisp to perfection and the meat – prime cuts of beef that are bought on the bone and minced on-site – is generously coated in gravy. The mash is the kind my gran would make: not overly buttery or fancily seasoned.
The unexpectedly pale green speckled liquor is actually parsley sauce, a creation from the 1800s when eel pies were a cheap substitute for meat. Manze’s liquor, a century-old family recipe that is made fresh on site every day, contains a secret ingredient that makes it a hit with customers. “People often queue all down the street,” says manageress Lisa Turner.
Geoff and his two brothers inherited Peckham Manze’s 26 years ago from their father, the son of Mr M Manze himself – who arrived in Britain from Italy in the early 1900s. Established in 1927, the Peckham shop was popular among working-class Londoners as a source of cheap, fresh, mass-produced fast food, but was completely burnt out during the 1985 Peckham riots and forced to close until 1990.
Today, the interior closely resembles the original – “The sentimental family side is important,” says Geoff – and, apart from the addition of vegetarian pies, the menu is also largely unchanged. “We only alter ingredients if they can’t be sourced fresh,” explains Geoff. “We had to stop serving eels after my father died, until we found a new fella to chop ’em up live.”
It is this authenticity that makes Manze’s so popular and the holder of a blue plaque award, honouring icons of Southwark. Since the red route was introduced, the shop rarely gets passing trade and relies on its regulars, who scoff around 600 pies daily. “Builders love it. They don’t mess about,” says Geoff. “Always two pies, two mash.”
Manze’s staff don’t think Peckham’s new-found trendy status has had a big impact on the business. They’re more focused on the long game, and hope to still be around in 50 years’ time. “You’ve got to keep these things going,” says Geoff. “They’re a part of our London history.”