The ironic reworking of traditional English fare has reached its logical conclusion in Camden. <i>Karina Mantavia </i>sits down to aspirational mash

Pie2Mash 9-11 James Town Rd, London NW1,Tel: 020 7482 2770

Pie2Mash 9-11 James Town Rd, London NW1,Tel: 020 7482 2770

Timing is critical in the restaurant world. A new venture has to ensure it doesn't open while the gannets are on holiday in the more rustic parts of Europe. And it must appear to be ahead of any trend, rather than acting as a late reaction to one. As with that other trade that depends so much on timing - comedy - you need an audience, and you need one that hasn't heard it before.

Pie2Mash - pronounced Pie Squared Mash; the name alone would make a Samaritan snarl - has rather odd timing. As you'd guess, it's a modern reworking of a comforting British favourite. Poor-food-done-good has been an essential component of the capital's restaurant boom: fish cakes, cabbage, monkfish, trotters and even tripe have long since upped their prices and moved to a better part of town. Getting gentrified has also made them the subject of culinary mutation, here improved upon with ginger, there served with sweet potato. In short, they have moved on and found new lives. And now Pie2Mash arrives, very much after the fact, to tell us breathlessly about its modernising of Brit cuisine. And perhaps recite the Parrot sketch into the bargain.

The Camden restaurant bills itself as offering food that built an Empire. This is a wonderfully wishful, appropriately stodgy account of culinary history. In fact, while British colonels and their ladies counteracted colonial heat with cucumber sandwiches and hot water with a teabag waved over it, the clerks and bureaucrats responsible for the real day-to-day running of the Empire were all eating tiffin. Since then we've swapped the Raj for its food (and the odd crown jewel), and we got the better end of the deal.

Pie2Mash is co-owned by the Blake brothers, responsible for The Mango Room, a popular Caribbean restaurant also in Camden, and Blakes. With a knack for recruiting chefs, they have snagged Simon Fawcett, an Aussie late of Fifth Floor at Harvey Nichols, to make pies.

They have also not stinted on the English theming, whether it's the Union Jack-daubed Mini squatting in front of the restaurant, to the sign advertising English "Fayre" - yet more evidence of a gift for irritating spelling. Small tables are widely spaced in a room banked by a curved wall of windows. While this ensures plenty of natural light, it also has the downside of offering a full-frontal view of Camden. It would appear that the filthy borough's binmen have finally given up the struggle, donned leather jackets and can now be found drinking cider with the locals.

Young and eager staff with various shades of dyed hair provide literal examples of local colour. Pimm's, bottled essence of Englishness, comes in several politely drunk-making cocktails: bizarrely, the refreshing Pie2Mash Pimm's cocktail, made with Cointreau and apple juice, arrived first time round with a cherry, second time round with a head on it. A drink so alcoholic it forgot what it was.

Food is canteen-fare with aspirations. A starter of tiger prawn cocktail was very good; huge, sweet prawns chargrilled - pure Pacific rim - with a splurge of Marie Rose sauce. Serving only three was just cruel. Prettified sausage roll came stuffed with quail and red wine sauce - good but unremarkable.

The brief range of pies spans homely Shepherd's to the Empire-building vegetable ratatouille with field mushrooms in filo. I suppose you could argue that we did colonise Provence. Other mains: roast beef, Dover sole, fish and chips. Steak-and-kidney pie was piping hot, almost six inches in diameter, and full to the brim with lean steak pieces, kidneys and a vaguely alcoholic gravy. Mustard mash was heavy, fiery and, when drizzled with liquor, nicely pungent. A smoked fish pie with spinach and egg came topped with fluffier mash reminding me of school dinners and, in the nautical nature of the dish, made for pretty solid ballast.

Sticky toffee pudding the colour of molasses was suitably rich and dense, while an apple crumble the size of one of those lethal pies could have done with crisper crumbs.

The large space with its anonymous muted colours manages to be quite relaxed; or maybe the concussing effect of the pastry overwhelmed the tinny sound of the Rolling Stones and the furious dough-bashing in the half-visible kitchen. Jonathan Miller, of all people, had dropped in for dinner; while a group of pin-thin women, pie-dodgers if ever I saw them, seemed to have come for the sole purpose of skipping it.

The two-person, three-course meal with service, cocktails and coffee came to £70. You leave here feeling very dazed, very full and very unsatisfied. The reason why this country fell in love with mozzarella, coriander and soy is because English food will fill your belly, but never, alas, your soul.

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