Published: 05:00, 27 January 2022
| Updated: 10:28, 27 January 2022
Despite family links going back generations in the south London heartlands of pie and mash, I must confess that this particular delicacy had managed to pass me by entirely.
My grandparents bought their cottage in Aldington back in 1968 - original DFLs, long before the chattering classes in the smarter parts of the capital had begun to colonise the Kent coast - so my lack of exposure to this working class staple of the docks and markets is perhaps understandable.
But now traditional pie and mash has hit the streets of my home town, thanks to husband-and-wife team Tony Pye and Kirsty Baker, what else can I do but confess my ignorance of this iconic fare and ask them to show me the light?
My name is Rhys Griffiths. I am an (almost) 40-year-old pie and mash virgin. Time to find out what I've been missing all these years.
Walking along Guildhall Street in Folkestone, where Betty's Pye and Mash has set up shop in a former photographic store, the initial signs look good.
A couple emerge from the glass-fronted pie and eel emporium, while another pair dive in from the cold. Once close enough to see inside, it's clear that if this Wednesday lunchtime is anything to go by then Tony, Kirsty and their team are already doing a roaring trade.
Entering the shop, which is bright and airy, with booths along each side wall and a counter giving way to an open kitchen, it's evidently a case of one in, one out, as all the tables are taken.
I'm well enough versed in these matters to know you do your ordering at the counter, so I walk up and start chatting with Kirsty - herself a Folkestone girl rather than a born-and-bred Londoner like husband Tony.
It may be a chilly January day outside, but the welcome inside is as warm as you could hope for.
And it seems the hospitality on offer is already doing the trick with the locals, as Kirsty tells me one ravenous punter has been in every day since they opened a week ago.
Now, before I slip into one of the cosy booths and politely ask Tony to show me what true pie, mash, liquor and eels are all about, a brief history lesson for those as new to this game as I am.
Both pies and eels - fished from the waters of the Thames - were staples of the working class diet in London for centuries.
But in the Victorian era, with the industrial revolution powering on and the docks along the river at the centre of a vast, global trading network, the dish of pie, mash and liquor flourished as a filling and - most importantly - cheap meal of the labouring masses.
The exact origins of what is now considered the archetypal dish are somewhat obscured, with many families considering themselves the originators of the authentic offering, but by the time the 20th century came around the streets of the capital were home to hundreds of pie and mash shops.
Among the big names in the trade was the Manze family, who remain in the business to this day and who supply Betty's the very pies I was about to sample.
Since I was about to tuck in for the very first time, I made it clear I wanted the real deal: pie, mash and liquor, a side of eels, and a cold, refreshing glass of sarsaparilla from Baldwins on the Walworth Road.
The pie - suet base and puff pastry on the top, stuffed with mince beef - was delicious, and cooked perfectly. As was the mash, nicely seasoned and with a perfect texture.
But, much as I expected, the liquor proved to be a taste that I couldn't quite pin down. Made with fish stock, flour and parsley, it's a savoury sauce that really does become the main flavour of the dish itself.
And there was plenty of it, with my eels stewed in liquor too.
These fishy bites had been the part of the meal I was most intrigued by. I pride myself on trying most foods at least once, and I love seafood, so I wasn't going to flinch from a texture I knew could be divisive.
They were not bad at all, to be honest if you had told me I was eating another oily fish then I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference.
But - and I realise any residual credibility as a true descendant of London stock may be about to evaporate - I couldn't help but think they'd be much better grilled or fried rather than cooked in liquor.
Pat Butcher, Bobby Moore, Micky Flanagan, Chas and Dave, forgive me, for I have wandered from the path of righteousness!
The truth is, I'm probably not the target market for this particular speciality. And I was clearly in a minority of one, if the noises from the rest of the shop were anything to go by, because the customers who are already flocking to Betty's clearly can't get enough of this true taste of London.
For many of their diners, who now live in Folkestone but originally came from the capital, it is a nostalgic meal that is about so much more than just the food on the plate.
Pride of place above the counter is a black and white photograph of Tony's great-grandparents, an East End couple whose family have had links to the pie and eel trade for generations.
That's what Betty's - named after Tony and Kirsty's daughter Betty, and his grandmother Bet - is all about. Proper food, served by family, from the heart. And you can't say fairer than that.
Out of five:
Food: Liquor might not be my new favourite, so it's *** for me, but the rest of the happy customers tell their own story *****
Drink: That was some mighty fine sarsaparilla, and the proper mug of tea I washed lunch down with was spot on too ***
Decor: Bright and welcoming, plans for some vintage photos to go up soon will really round it off ***
Staff: In the hospitality game, the people can make or break a venture. Kirsty, Tony and their team couldn't be more welcoming *****
Price: Pie, mash, liquor and a drink for £5.95 means this is a working class dish that hasn't forgotten its roots. A bargain *****