Top Chef Picks Best Mince Pie in U.K. (and It Contains Carrot)
(Bloomberg) -- Clare Smyth is one of the most respected chefs in the U.K.
It’s not just that she holds two Michelin stars at Core restaurant in London’s Notting Hill. She was also previously guardian of Gordon Ramsay’s three stars at his flagship restaurant, where she held the title of chef patron, with her own dishes on the menu.
People love her food and there’s a long wait for a table at Core. Clare has worked for other exalted chefs, such as Alain Ducasse at the three-Michelin-star Louis XV in Monaco, but her beginnings are relatively humble — she grew up on a farm in Northern Ireland.
“I love mince pies,” she says, after agreeing to be this year’s guest chef in an annual Bloomberg blind tasting that goes back to 2007. As a girl, Clare says she used to pick out the currants and hide them because she didn’t like them, but she’s over that now.
Clare agreed to try seven pies, ranging from posh stores such as Fortnum & Mason, Harvey Nichols and Harrods to budget options costing a fraction of the price. As often happens in these tastings, price turns out to be no guide to flavor. The winning pie, Waitrose Heston Night Before Christmas, costs £3.50 ($4.72) for six. That compares with £12.95 for joint-last-placed Fortnum.
Heston Blumenthal, who holds three Michelin stars at the Fat Duck outside London, is a highly experimental chef. His pies may not be for everyone: They are far from traditional, made with carrot and caraway shortcrust pastry, filled with rich mincemeat with vine fruits and carrot, laced with cream sherry. You get a sachet of smoke-flavor sugar to sprinkle on top.
(Heston was the Bloomberg mince-pie taster in 2007 and 2008. Maybe that was where he got the idea to make his own.)
Here are Clare’s comments and scores in the order that she tasted the pies:
Fortnum & Mason Traditional (£2.16 each):
“It’s a classic look, quite a traditional looking pie. It’s a good size. Looks home-made. Did you make this one? It is a bit rustic looking. The pastry is quite thick. It’s quite heavy, dense. It does have a bit of acidity in there. It’s a nice balance. I wouldn’t say it is brilliant. You’re going to tell me that I rate the most expensive ones last because that’s what always happens in these things.” 4/10
Harrods Classic (£1.66):
“This one is much tidier. It is more refined looking and again a decent-size mince pie. The pastry is a bit thinner. Quite lacking in filling that. It’s only up to half full. Bit mean. But again a very dark, rich mincemeat in the middle. The pastry on this one is much better. It’s much lighter, crispier. It’s a nice level of spice coming through but it is a bit short on the filling.” 6/10
Harvey Nichols Traditional (£2.49):
“This is quite basic looking. The presentation is pretty plain. Bit smaller than the others. The pastry is thick but the mincemeat is much lighter . There is much more acidity in it. I like that. Nice level of spice. I would say they are both on a par just because I like the pastry on the last one (Harrods) a bit more. This one has got a nice acidity.” 6/10
Waitrose Heston Night Before Christmas (58.3 pence):
“Nice pastry and I’m getting more interesting spices coming through. Is that carrot in there? Carrots are for the reindeers. There’s a really nice balance on it. The other ones are incredibly sweet and this is a little lighter. The pastry is delicious. It’s got caraway in it. It’s almost like a sablé Breton (shortbread crust). I really like that. What makes this one special, the pastry is really interesting as well as the filling. For people who are looking for something a little bit different, it’s really excellent.” 7/10
Iceland Luxury (31.5p):
“Nice presentation. They look very classic don’t they? But the pastry is a little undercooked for me. You want a nice bit of color on that. I really like the mincemeat inside. Lots of candied orange peel and lemon peel. Nice level of spice and acidity. The filling is great. It’s fantastic, one of the nicest fillings. I actually quite like that. It’s just a shame about the pastry.” 5/10
Marks & Spencer All Butter (33p; or 16.6p on special offer):
“Nice looking, nice color on the pastry. It is like if you were to sum up the flavor of a classic mince pie, that’s a classic mince pie. The pastry is quite thick though. The mincemeat does what it says on the tin. Sweet, quite heavy. All those things, traditional stodge going for it. It’s a good, solid mince pie.” 6/10
Waitrose Plum, Honey and Ginger (50p; or 40p on special offer):
“It looks nice. It’s clean, it’s tidy. Again, quite traditional looking. The mincemeat’s a bit lighter inside, lighter in color. Very, very sweet. I don’t know what’s in it. It’s got some nuts or something in it. I am not keen on the pastry on that one. It’s really, really sweet.” 4/10
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