What a way to earn a crust...

Pie and mash. A quaint English culinary tradition ripe for revival - only in this case it was somewhat half-baked
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Pie 2Mash, 9-11 Jamestown Road, Camden, London NW1. 020-7482 2770. Daily 10am-11pm. Disabled access. All cards except AmEx and Diners

Pie 2Mash, 9-11 Jamestown Road, Camden, London NW1. 020-7482 2770. Daily 10am-11pm. Disabled access. All cards except AmEx and Diners

It's starting to look as though there's no style of cooking, however humble, which won't eventually be discovered and rehabilitated by enterprising metropolitan restaurateurs. We've had designer noodle bars, stylish sausage restaurants, upmarket soup shops and Seventies-themed menus offering corned beef fritters and Black Forest gateau.

Now it's the turn of the London pie and mash shop to get a designer makeover. If some zeitgeist-surfing novelist introduced this concept in a book, their readers might chuckle, but think it a little overdone. And if they called their invention Pie 2Mash, stipulating that the "2" shouldn't be pronounced "two", but "squared", the conceit would be seen to have gone way over the top.

But here it is, Pie 2Mash, newly opened in spanking modernist premises off Camden High Street. And here, on the menu, is not only a range of pies, and variously flavoured mashes, but also parsley liquor, the traditional pie shop accompaniment. Quite why the owners - the Blake family, who already run Camden's popular Mango Rooms - came up with the idea of calling their new venture pie-squared-mash remains a mystery, unless the word "pie" suggested some kind of half-baked mathematical theme.

A few weeks after opening, Pie 2Mash is already attracting fair-sized crowds of youthful and stylish North Londoners, possibly because Camden is not so much a gastronomic desert, as a nightmarish safari park. Particularly on a Saturday night, when we chose to make our pie pilgrimage, passing queues of underdressed youngsters shivering outside subterranean nightclubs and shrieking theme pubs.

Pie 2Mash shares a building with a branch of Wagamama, the noodle chain, and the dining-room sports the same stripped-down aesthetic, with bare wooden tables and lots of hard, undecorated surfaces in grungy shades of green and olive. No attempt has been made to pay tribute to traditional pie and mash shop decor, with tiled walls or marble surfaces; in fact, as one of my dinner-guests, David Baddiel, observed, the floor-to-ceiling glass frontage gives the place the feel of a car showroom, an impression reinforced by the customised Pie 2Mash Mini parked on the pavement outside.

We chose a window table, which turned out to be a big mistake, as we would discover later. While we tried to study the menu, we were regularly startled by visits from our Australian waitress, who had developed her people skills to an intimidating degree. Addressing us first as "my lovelies", she graduated to "kids", "folks" and worst of all, "treasures". When we indicated that we were ready to order, she responded with a snappy, "OK, talk to me!" Her chirpiness had the effect of throwing the three of us into a stunned depression. "If I was in Hell... " mused David as she retreated.

Pie 2Mash describes its food as "English Fayre", though the chef, Simon Fawcett, comes from Melbourne, by way of the Oxo Tower and Harvey Nichol's Fifth Floor Cafe. His menu is more adventurous than the pie and mash theme would indicate, offering quail sausage roll with red wine sauce, and Barbary duck breast with parsnip purée, alongside Modern British staples such as cod and chips. There are no eels on the list, but having once eaten eels in a pie and mash shop - an operation which involved sucking fragments of glutinous flesh from a hefty, gag-provoking spine - I would say that's no bad thing.

I am, however, quite a fan of the traditional pie and mash shop pie, with its chewy, gravy-softened pastry, and was hoping this designer version would offer the same level of comfort. But both my chicken pie and David's steak and kidney version didn't earn their crust, because they were really just casseroles with lids on; each filling being baked in an individual pie dish and topped with a layer of puff pastry. Our disappointment, like our pies, was bottomless. "I like to cut into all the soft pastry on the sides - this is just like pub food," David lamented.

My filling was good, in an unchallenging way, with mushroom and leek adding personality to a creamy, wine-flavoured sauce. Parsley mash was OK too, particularly once I'd poured in some gravy and tucked in with a spoon. David's steak and kidney filling had a higher proportion of kidney to steak than is usual, making it rather salty and tangy. Parsnip and carrot mash left an unpleasant aftertaste, and the liquor, which he ordered from the separate menu of sauces, was an unfathomable concoction, brown rather than the orthodox green, and tasting primarily of mint.

Our token pie dissenter, Morwenna, went for Cumberland sausages on mustard mash, with a red onion gravy. The portion was substantial, but she thought it fell short of pie and mash heaven, with neither the sausages nor the mash offering much in the way of texture. We shared a green salad, at the suggestion of our waitress, whose observation that "You've got three very rich meals going there," plunged us further into guilty gloom.

It was while we were finishing our puddings - sticky toffee, steamed chocolate and apple and berry crumble, all absolutely fine - that the evening took a definite turn for the worse. Spotting David through the windows, and recognising him as that bloke off the telly, three passing revellers started to bang on the glass. Their progression from friendly waves to threatening shouts and "you're a tosser" hand motions was rapid and unnerving.

The restaurant's bouncers were mobilised, and soon we had ringside seats for an extended pantomime of pushing and yelling, with regular breaks for further banging on the window and shouted insults. "I am in Hell," moaned David, his forehead now resting on the table.

We were trapped in the restaurant for what seemed like eternity, although it wasn't quite long enough for our waitress to bring us the bill. When she eventually arrived with it, the total was £65, including a 12.5 per cent service charge. "Unless you want to add to that!" she ventured, with little hope in her voice, as the drunken goons continued to gesticulate at the window.

"The bottom line is - this is Camden," offered the manager by way of apology, as he arranged for his bouncers to escort us to our car. Just another night in London's swinging restaurant-land, in other words, albeit one which, from our point of view, extended the traditional English dining experience to a uniquely depressing conclusion.

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