Mayfair’s self-proclaimed Institute of the Pie isn’t just a must-visit for lovers of crusted gourmet treats, it’s also one of the very best Young’s pubs in London.
Perhaps understandably, pubcos and breweries tend to manage most of their West End pubs as corporate cash cows, but hidden among them are a few that still bear the unmistakeable stamp of an individual personality. One of these is The Windmill, a Young’s pub secreted just north of the end of Savile Row and only a short step from Regent’s Street, among some of the capital’s most exclusive retailers. It’s managed by the same team as the better known and very successful Guinea nearby, and they’ve been given the liberty to go beyond the usual parameters and create something a little special.
The pub turns out to be larger than it looks from the outside, and furnished in a slightly eccentric interpretation of traditional style – bulky tables and padded benches, wood panelling, deep crimson colours and decorated glass, with a panel of stained glass depicting the titular windmill. It all looks like it’s been here for donkey’s years but in fact it was created in 1988 by knocking together two neighbouring businesses, a nightclub and an escort agency. You can still see the join in the two separate spaces that make up the main ground floor bar area. At the back is a dining room and there’s a similar space upstairs: they’re labelled “Pie Room” and “Pie Room Too” respectively.
The overall ambience is old-fashioned, well behaved and friendly, with charming and helpful staff. Customers are a mix of well dressed local workers from shops and offices, shoppers, in-the-know beer fans, and a solid contingent of pie lovers who sometimes travel long distances to sample The Windmill’s wares. It’s a place that knows it’s a bit special, and encourages customers to share this enthusiasm too – always a welcome approach. Note the pub is closed Saturday evening and all day Sunday.
Saying that The Windmill’s speciality is pies is something of an understatement – the term ‘obsession’ might be more appropriate. This ‘institute of the pie’ has been named as the national pie champion on three occasions, has pie rooms rather than dining rooms, runs a pie club with thousands of members and even tweets, rather wittily, under the name @tweetiepie_W1. There are six pie choices ranging from classic steak and kidney (£9.95) and shepherd’s pie (with leek mash, £9.50) to inventions like sausage and mash pie (£9.50) and changing vegetarian options such as sweet potato, lentil and feta (£9.55). These culinary creations are deservedly well regarded and worth a trip in their own right.
Beyond pies, there are interesting salads (heritage beetroot, feta and egg £9.95), other comfort food dishes (fish fingers in Young’s Bitter batter), burgers (£10.50), sticky desserts, selections of British cheese (from £2.95 per portion) and home made bar snacks including Scotch eggs and divine cheese straws.
The Windmill promotes good beer both in its own right and, quite rightly, as the perfect accompaniment to its pies, all of which are listed with a beer matching suggestion on the menu. Since the Young’s pub group sold its interest in its own former beer brands, the choice of beer in its pubs has notably widened, and this place is a leading example of the trend. Though Young’s Bitter, London Gold and Special are present and correct, and very well served, you might find five or six guests, mainly from better known breweries like Caledonian, Sharp’s and St Austell but also locals from Sambrook’s and Twickenham.
Another London brewer, Meantime, features on the keg taps and bottle shelves, alongside Pilsner Urquell on tap and a few other bottled choices including Young’s Double Chocolate stout – perhaps a match for a chocolate dessert. Cask beers are available in third pint tasters, and there’s a beer festival once a year, so it’s not surprising to find The Windmill among the listings in the Good Beer Guide.
In addition, there’s an impressive wine list running to 40 entries, from easy drinking upmarket varietals to a few Old World classics. 31 are sold by the glass (from £4.30) including Champagne (£7.80), plus sweet and sticky botrytis Semillon (£7.40) or tawny port (£5.70) for that after dinner experience. There are 28 whiskies too, and a range of specialist soft drinks.
The Last Word
An essential visit for pie devotees and a recommended one for beer fans, The Windmill should also please the casual caller. A standout in the West End.