Pret a Manger’s mince pies beat Harrods, Heston Blumenthal and eight other brands in a blind tasting by chef Angela Hartnett, who said they were delicious.
William Morrison Supermarkets Plc placed second with all-butter pies that cost 33 pence (54 cents), against 1.30 pounds for Pret’s winner. Starbucks (1.55 pounds) placed third.
“I like my mum’s mince pies: She makes the best,” Hartnett, 45, said during the tasting at her new restaurant Merchants Tavern, where her partner Neil Borthwick is head chef. “They are more savory than sweet because she makes short-crust pastry.”
This was the seventh Bloomberg tasting. The first was in 2007, when Heston Blumenthal picked Selfridges. Fortnum & Mason won in 2008, when Blumenthal judged again. The other winners are Marks & Spencer Plc in 2009 (chosen by Marcus Wareing); Fortnum & Mason in 2010 (Pierre Koffmann); Harrods Ltd. in 2011 (Hartnett); and Marks & Spencer in 2012 (Richard Corrigan.)
Here are this year’s pies in descending order, with the price in parentheses.
Pret a Manger (1.30 pounds): “It’s a very generous one, with a nice festive star on top. This looks Scandinavian. That filling is actually lovely, really good. It’s moist and it’s not overly sweet. It’s absolutely delicious. The filling isn’t all mushed up, overly worked. You could identify the fruit inside it and the pastry provides balance.” 9.5/10
Morrison Signature All Butter Deep Filled (33 pence): “This looks nice. It’s a classic English shop mince pie, but it’s a deep pie, more generous on the filling. The filling’s really nice: not too dense and not overly sweet. It’s sweet pastry but it’s nicely cooked and it’s not too thick.” 9/10
Starbucks (1.55 pounds): “Oh la la. That’s a huge mince pie. That’s a pie and a half. Nice filling, though, and lots of it. I would normally be put off by something so big. But the filling’s not overly sweet, the pastry’s nicely cooked.” 8.5/10
Marks & Spencer Ultimate All-Butter (1 pound): “This one looks more like my mum’s, very home-made. But there’s not loads of filling: You can see there’s a gap. I like the pastry. I’m looking for pastry that’s crispy, short. The classic way is with lard and margarine, but all these are butter. If that had more filling, I’d have given it nine. It’s got brandy in it, which I know you like Richard, but I could do without.” 8/10.
Harrods Luxury Almonds and Brandy (1.58 pounds): “That H on top could be a certain large supermarket in Knightsbridge. This is quite an old-fashioned one. You can see they’ve got the suet in there still. It tastes very Knightsbridge. It’s actually quite nice. It’s not a typical mince pie because it’s got marzipan and almonds in it. But it’s not overly sweet and the pastry is not too thick. It’s nice and crunchy.” 7.5/10.
Tesco Deep-Filled All Butter (42 pence): “This looks quite nice. Sweet pastry again, and extra sugar on top. It’s a generic mince pie, not that bad. It’s actually all right. Again, the pastry’s nice and crunchy.” 7.5/10.
Heston From Waitrose Spiced Shortcrust (58 pence): “Is this some sort of Swedish or Danish alternative? You can see by the color: There’s lots of mixed spice in there, lots of cinnamon, bit of nutmeg, bit of clove, not overly sweet. You get that real aftertaste in your mouth but I like it because it’s quite delicate. It looks like there’s just currants rather than candied peel and the rest. It’s denser. You could have that with a cup of tea. It’s not too bad. My only thing is the heaviness of the spice. It’s Heston? Can you have a word with him?” 7/10.
Lidl Snowy Lodge Luxury Laced With Brandy (28 pence): “This is nice and simple, well baked and the filling is generous. It’s sweet. There’s a little bit of alcohol in there: Tastes like brandy. It’s not too thick, the pastry. Not the best you’ll ever taste but not bad.” 7/10.
Co-Op Truly Irresistible Buttercrust (43 pence): “This is nicely presented, though I’m not a big fan of extra sugar on top. It’s not a lot of filling. It’s OK. It’s not necessarily melt-in-your-mouth pastry. It’s stingy with the filling but it’s all right.” 6/10.
Duchy From Waitrose Organic All Butter (67 pence): “It looks OK but the pastry feels dense and I’m having trouble chewing it. I’m going to be the hated person around Christmas, aren’t I? The filling has nice spice and candy peel, which is lovely. This is Duchy? I’m out. There’s my knighthood gone.” (Hartnett is a Member of the Order of the British Empire; Duchy Originals was set up by Prince Charles.) 6/10.
Selfridge’s Traditional (1.16 pounds): “This looks like a Mr. Kipling, which I’m sure it’s not. It’s very compact but it’s also very stodgy. It’s quite average, nothing necessarily to write home about. Also, it’s very whipped up, the filling it’s quite blended as opposed to seeing the bits of fruit.” 6/10.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)