Close your eyes and think about Christmas, what do you see? Many of you will have said baubles, mulled wine, mistletoe, Mariah Carey, reindeer, log fires, turkey, pigs in blankets, pigs out of blankets, wrapping paper, Santa Claus, A Christmas Prince 2: Royal Wedding, all sorts of things. But how many of you said attempted infanticide by the King of Judea? Probably only 30-40%. It’s fair to say that on Christmas morning, most people’s first thought isn’t ‘today is the day that King Herod tried to murder a baby out of spite’.
My dining companion today is that King himself. Usually I choose the guests myself, but last week I received a call from his representatives that he was interested in doing the blog, and who am I to decline? This could be my Frost/Nixon, a chance to interrogate one of Christmas’s most notorious figures and understand more about him and his motivations. Today we’d be sampling three of London’s most premium mince pies in a quest to understand just which is the best.
I meet Herod at Konditor and Cook on Goodge Street. Konditor and Cook’s mince pies have been called ‘the best mince pies in Britain’ by The Telegraph, so it seems like a fine place to begin our tour. When I arrive, Herod is seated inside sipping a coffee. I’m surprised to see that it’s not just him though, but he’s arrived with four other smartly-dressed people.
“Hi, I’m King Herod, good to meet you.” Says Herod, extending his hand.
“Hi, I’m Andy. Who are these people?”
“This is my PR team, they’re going to be joining us today.”
“Oh, err… ok.” I say, taken aback. I hadn’t anticipated that we’d have company, what was this about? “I guess that’s fine… shall we get started then?” I say. Herod nods, and I order us a couple of mince pies that they bring to our table.
“So, thanks for agreeing to be part of this.” I say, “I guess my first question is, when you wanted to kill Jesus-”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold it!” Says one of the PR team, stepping forward. “That topic is off limits.”
“Our client agreed to this interview on the basis that there’d be no discussion of that.”
“But.. it’s the main thing we know him for.”
“And we don’t want to discuss it. People have a very negative perception of our client due to the biased mainstream media choosing to focus on stories about him trying to kill children and not on his many other achievements.”
“His many other achievements.”
“There are lots of them.”
“But what are they?”
“Look, all I’m saying is that you all willingly choose to focus on one small incident that’s been blown out of proportion, because of your liberal agenda.”
“You think not wanting to kill children is a liberal agenda?”
“Just don’t discuss it, or we’re leaving, ok?”
“But then why are you here if you don’t want to discuss it?”
“We want people to see the real Herod, the Herod of the people. He’s just a regular guy, like me and you, you know?”
I sigh. What option do I really have now that we’re here with the mince pies in front of us? It’s not like I can just draft in Joseph Aspdin at the last minute (hi everybody, welcome to the call-back section of the review). “Fine, let’s do it.” I say, with a shrug. I take a spoon to my mince pie. In appearance it’s surprisingly small and flat, but with a beautifully golden crust, ever so slightly toasted at the edges. It crumbles well, but in flavour terms it’s actually a little underwhelming for something that’s been billed as the best mince pie in London, with not quite enough flavour in the pastry, and whilst the filling is nice there’s just not quite enough of it. At £12 for 6 mince pies, you would hope for more.
“What do you think?” I ask Herod.
“So this is a mince pie?” Asks Herod. I nod. “It doesn’t taste anything like minced grouse.”
“Minced grouse? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Ok, ok, scratch that.” Says a PR person, intervening. “We need a minute.” Herod and the PR person stand up and walk away from the table. I see them whispering away in a corner, before Herod comes back to the table.
“I love minced pies.” Says Herod. “They are a wonderful combination of dried fruits and spices and pastry that I enjoy every festive season.”
“Ok…” I say, confusedly. “Yes, they are a Christmas treat.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Says one of the PR people, intervening.
“What did I just say about the killing children thing?”
“I didn’t say anything!”
“Christmas? Christ? As in the alleged murder victim?”
“Oh for goodness sake! We’re reviewing mince pies and now you want to ban me from saying Christmas?”
“Hey! Our client just wants to be treated fairly by the media, ok? You’re the one who keeps being negative here.”
“He tried to murder a child!”
“This whole ‘killing Jesus’ thing is a witch hunt, there’s no proof that our client was ever involved.”
“Oh come on! It was his idea!”
“No King has ever been treated as unfairly as King Herod. You need to stop being such a snowflake and give our client a fair hearing. No mention of that, and no more mentioning Christmas, ok?”
“Well what the hell do you want me to talk about then?”
“Why don’t you ask him what music he enjoys listening to?”
“Ok, fine, what music do you like listening to?”
“I enjoy listening to the Arctic Monks and Drapes.” Says Herod.
“Ignore that!” Says a PR person, who again goes over to whisper to Herod.
“Sorry, I mean the Arctic Monkeys and Drake. I love it when they sing the songs, I own all of their albums.”
“Oh my god, seriously?” I sigh. “What the hell is this?”
“Our client is telling you about the music that he enjoys listening to.” Says a PR person.
“Oh really? Which albums does he like the most then?”
“Do not answer that!” Shouts a PR person. “You are walking on thin ice, mister!” They say, pointing angrily at me. “You’re deliberately trying to make our client look bad! He’s just a regular guy who likes regular guy things and you come in here with your left-wing spin and want to portray him as some kind of monster!”
“He doesn’t even know what a mince pie is!”
“He has been quite clear that he loves mince pies, so why don’t you just move on?”
“Ok, fine let’s go to bloody Gail’s then shall we?” I say, angrily. We all up and leave Konditor and Cook, and head over to our second location, Gail’s, which is just around the corner in Bloomsbury. Gail’s is a popular chain that started in Hampstead back in the 90s but now has over 40 locations around London. They’ve always been very highly-rated, but today will actually be my first time trying their bakes.
We take a seat and I order a couple more mince pies and some coffee. We sit in silence just staring at each other until our mince pies arrive. They look very nice, very good pastry with a sugared top, and with a bit more depth than the Konditor and Cook mince pies. I break the mince pie with my spoon. It’s well-filled, not too dense, not too sparse. The pastry is buttery, and the filling is beautifully flavoured, rich and fruity without being overwhelmed by alcohol. All in all, it’s a fantastic mince pie. “Ok, what are your thoughts?” I ask Herod, more out of hope than expectation.
“I have to say, they’re all winners in my eyes. Small business is the backbone of the economy and I support our troops.”
“For f**k’s sake, we’re talking about mince pies! You’re killing this review!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Says the PR person intervening. “What did we say abo-”
“Oh, come on! This is pointless PR spin! He’s not a regular guy, he’s a madman!”
“Our client is not a madman, he’s the kind of guy that people would like to have a beer with. Tell them Herod, what’s your favourite beer?”
“Ice cold beer on a hot day.” Says Herod. “Or a cold day, I forget which.”
“I give up, I’m leaving.” I say, as I finish my mince pie and go to leave.
“Hey, hey! Don’t be hasty!” Says a PR person, grabbing me as I go to leave. “Look, ok, I’m sure we can come to some kind of agreement for a blog like yours.”
“What do you mean a blog like mine?”
“Your blog, it gets what, millions, tens of millions of views, right?”
“What? Well, tens, definitely…” I say. Even that’s not true, there are weeks where I barely hit double figures, and I’m pretty confident half of those are me logging on to check whether I’ve hit double figures.
The PR person thinks for a moment, then walks off to a corner with Herod and the other PR people. They chat amongst themselves for a couple of minutes and then come back to me.
“Ok, we’ll allow you to ask one question. One. No follow-ups, nothing else. How’s that?”
“It can be anything?”
“Anything. But only one.”
“Ok, fine.” I say. “Now come on, we’ve got more mince pies to eat.”
We leave Gail’s and begin the walk towards Soho. I spend the walk deep in thought. One question, no follow-ups, what do I ask? Before I know it, we’re at Bread Ahead. Famed for their incredible doughnuts, they’re also rumoured to make a great mince pie, and so here we find ourselves in one of their newer locations just off Carnaby Street. I order us a couple of mince pies and we take our seats. Again, we sit facing each other in silence for a while, this time with me anxiously combing my mind for a great question as I prod at my mince pie. In appearance it’s the grandest of all the mince pies, with thick crust and tall sides. Whilst visually imposing though, it’s not quite to my preference taste-wise. Whilst you can’t accuse them of being stingy with the filling, if anything they’ve gone the other way and packed too much into it. It’s incredibly compact, leaving it with the texture of a Christmas pudding. The flavour is still nice, but it’s not quite what I’m after in a mince pie.
“What? Oh, yes, the question.” I say, snapping back out of my haze.
“Any question you like.”
“I just need a few more minutes, ok?”
“We don’t have all day. I’ll give you ten seconds and then the deal is off the table.”
“Wait, please, just give me-”
“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four-”
“What’s your favourite Christmas film?” I blurt out.
“That’s it? That’s your question?”
“No, hold on, I want another one!”
“No, we agreed you got one question. Herod, please feel free to answer the question as you wish.”
Herod scratches his head for a minute. He really seems to be thinking it through.
“Home Alone 2: Lost In New York.” Says Herod. I’m genuinely taken aback that he’s chosen something unexpected that also happens to be one of my own favourites.
“Satisfied?” Says the PR person. I’ve blown my chance. There’s vomit on my sweater. Mom’s spaghetti.
“It’s just a shame that it ended the way it did.” Sighs Herod.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Herod, no, stop right there!”
“I can’t believe that bloody kid got away with it! The BASTARD!” Shouts Herod, quietly shaking with anger.
“Herod! No more!”
“Harry and Marv would have been set without him! They could have lived as kings were it not for that boy! Oh, what I would have given to have slain that Kevin McAllister myself, the little s**t! He had to ruin it all! THEY WERE KINGS AND HE RUINED IT ALL! THE RIVERS WILL RUN RED WITH HIS BLOOD!” Shouts Herod, slamming his fist on the table. Bread Ahead goes completely silent as Herod sits fuming, his face red with rage. He suddenly comes back to his senses, and looks at his PR team with horror. “I’m sorry, I mean, I love the Snowman.” He stammers. “The Snowman is my favourite. Aled Jones is a national treasure.”
“We need to go.” Says a PR representative. They whisk him away and then they are gone, leaving me sat alone with my mince pie. What a Christmas this has turned out to be. Outside, the first drops of snow begin to fall, as somewhere in the back somebody hits a jukebox and Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas begins to play. A young boy nearby stands on a chair.
“Merry Christmas to us all! God bless us, every o-”
“God is dead, sit down.” Says his father, as the boy sits silently back down. Overall…
Konditor & Cook – 7/10 – Tasty, but too pricey for what you get.
Gail’s – 9/10 – EXCELLENT MINCE PIES.
Bread Ahead – 6/10 – Too densely packed.