Great Mince Pie Quest 2007/2008

The Quest: to taste test a mince pie a day in December as my personal advent calendar.

The only criteria - no horrible cheap supermarket ones, I don't want to suffer a pie-induced stomach ache.

The opening salvo was a pre-advent calendar mince pie at Villandry, my dream store. Pie had just enough soft shortcrust pastry to hold nice spicy but not too sweet mince. 85p each.

December 1 and 2 - needed to catch up on the advent calendar so two pies today from my local bakeries Baker and Spice and Raoul's Deli. Both with a drier shortcrust pastry, although Raoul's was a little too dry. Nice mince filling, with Baker & Spice coming out sweeter. Overall, Baker and Spice win on a like-for-like comparison, plus it comes with a crinkley cellophane bag which just sounds of delightful food anticipation! £1.50 (large, £1.25 for a small) and 1.05 respectively.

You can't say I don't suffer in the name of gastronomy. In desperation on Oxford Street (where there are nae bakeries in sight) I tried the 'luxury mince pie' from Starbucks. Stodgy pastry, too sweet mince, awful awful awful. And £1.85 each!

Delicate but non-descript pie from Maison Blanc. So unmemorable I can't even remember how much it cost.

An enormous one from Whole Foods had a good apple-y filling and crust, although a little too thick on the top.  Completely over-packaged at £1.59 each.

I was worried when I saw the pastry on the tart from Patisserie Valerie and it was as I feared - an almost crispy store-bought like shortcrust. The filling had some nice raisins in it but was otherwise too scanty and not spicy enough. £1.10 each.

Another nasty pie from the supermarket brand Mr Kipling, but this was an act of desperation due to starving on the TV set of Market Kitchen (ironically).

Well, by good fortune my Great Mince Pie Quest ended on Christmas Day with the best mince pies of all - from Daylesford Organic. Perfect ratio of mince vs crust, nice soft shortcrust and juicy fruit. £7.95 for a box of 6. Merry Christmas!

The tradition continued in 2008:

Daylesford Organic gets my repeat business thanks to it winning the Great Mince Pie crown from 2008. Definitely still high quality, although not great value for money at 1.50 for a smallish pie.

The great find this year as been the non-descript Cafe Luna, near work. Nice shortcrust, good fruity filling (a little on the sweet side) and a generous size for only 65p. Incongrously run by Asians and Eastern European waitstaff, this is place to feed a dangerous obsession.

I should know better than to eat a pie from a chain bakery/cafe, but it was necessary in the name of research. Alas, Cafe Nero lived up to expectations - a large, tasteless, doughy pie for 1.40.

Patisserie Valerie redeemed itself in 2008 with a large, buttery-shortbread like pastry filled pie.

Villandry - 170 Great Portland Street W1W 5QB

Baker and Spice - 20 Clifton Road, Maida Vale W9 1SU

Raoul's Gourmet - 13 Clifton Road, Maida Vale W9 1 SZ

Maison Blanc: K7A ensington Church Street W8 4LF

Whole Foods Market: 63-97 Kensington High Street W8 5SE

Patisserie Valerie: 174-176 Queensway W2 6LY

Daylesford Organic: 208-211 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill (and other locations)

Cafe Luna: 442 Chiswick High Road, Chiswick W4 5TT

Cafe Nero: 192 Chiswick High Road, London, W41PP (and other locations)

Patisserie Valerie: 319 Chiswick High Street, London W4 5TA