Tab Tests: Mince Pies

LEAF ARBUTHNOT tries out a ton of mince pies, for the good of one and all.


Consulting my “Why I dig Christmas” list recently, I finally found one that could be morphed into a ground-breaking Tab Tests.

Mince pies are, after all, chieftain amongst festive foodstuffs. They are Delicious. They are Wonderful. They are Gold, Incense and Myrrh. Naysayers probably hate charities and condensed milk, which they probably pour into children’s gloves for jokes.

Every year round about this time, I make a big hullabaloo about eating my first mince pie, because as soon as the pastry hits my tongue, I’m 150% in the Crimb-zone. Present ideas blossom like holly in my brain; festive recipes that I’d forgotten come back to me; Michael Buble’s voice, chuckle and philanthropy whack me around the head like a silken robin teatowel.

But which mince pies to buy? Here’s a guide.

1. Waterstones Café

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There were two, which was a good start, and they heated them up for me, which was a promising second chapter. Thereafter alas, things nosedived. The pastry was far too floury and thick, coating the ridge of my mouth, Cinnamon Challenge-style. Admirable mincemeat, though – perfect consistency, with nice plump sultanas and much orange zest. At just under two quid, they weren’t worth it, although had they been served with cream, shit woulda got serious.

Bang for buck – 3/5

Taste – 2/5

2. Caffé Nero

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Starry night

Top marks for presentation; everyone loves a star on top of their mince pie. Pastry could have been more buttersome and the mincemeat was offensively sweet. But it worked heartbreakingly well with the Nero Hazelnut Latte, and in the café’s plush setting with its mahogany-navy palette and topping views, I felt like Lady Yule herself.

Value for money – 2/5

Crimbo YEAH – 5/5

3. Sainsburys Taste the Difference

Madame Sains

Madame Sains

6 for 2 quid, cheap as chips, more money for honeys. The pies were an ideal size, treading the balance between snack and pudding. Unfortunately the mincemeat was overly sticky and the pastry tasted like bananas.

Value for money – 5/5

Bananarama – 10/5

4. Starbucks

Bucket

Bucket

I like depth, sometimes, in pools, conversations and sleep. Not in mince pies. These guys were like mincemeat buckets that I could have taken to Christmas Cove. Except that I didn’t want to. The pastry was also far too thick – probably in order to handle the silly quantities of fruit. Couldn’t finish it.

Value for money – 2/5

 Taste – 2/5

5. Costa

Christmas is coming.

Christmas is coming.

The best of the bunch, but amongst the most expensive. They went for the flat disk shape, like Nero’s, but the Costa pastry was much more buttery and the mincemeat a great consistency, neither too liquidy nor too stodgy. I don’t usually like Costa food so this was a pleasant surprise.

Value for dough – 2/5

Taste – 5/5

6. M&S

Excellent, reliable pies.

Excellent, reliable pies.

As traditional mince pies go, these are difficult to fault. They’re often on offer too, with 6 pies for 80p – a thrilling calorie-to-quid ratio. The pastry is lovely and fragile, with a respectable quantity of mincemeat inside it. Failsafe. The posher M&S ones are also very good, brandied up and full of love.

Value for money – 5/5

Taste – 4/5