The description on British hotel dining-room menus in the early 1960s—back when I was fortunate enough to be taken to such exciting places—was always “creamed potatoes”. Never “mashed potato”, let alone the diminutive “mash”. Creamed potatoes were dead posh. They were very smooth, and you could really taste the butter and hot milk. Almost without exception, they’d be silver-served (spooned by the waiter onto your plate) from a deep, silver-plated, oval dish—small or large, depending on how many portions had been ordered. Back then, it was unheard of not to order such accompaniments à la carte.
Eating grilled lamb cutlets with mint sauce and gravy was unthinkable without a generous dollop of these luxuriously creamed tubers (I may have been forced to have sliced runner beans too, but these would be eaten swiftly, to get them off the plate as soon as possible). The final pleasure, however, was scooping up the remaining slurry of gravy, mint sauce and loosening potato with a spoon. As an eager boy who enjoyed his food, I loved everything about those grown-up salons, with their polished mahogany tables, hunting-scene place mats, cut glass, linen napkins and white-jacketed waiters of a certain age—and, it should be said, a certain style.
These days, those delicious creamed potatoes—along with their accompanying salons and waiters—have largely disappeared. The fashion now is for either some inappropriately scented mash, or an absurdly rich one that can almost be poured. I care little for most of the former, and truly loathe the latter. And this even though I made a saffron-flavoured mash early in my cooking career, circa 1983. Made with olive oil instead of butter—which better marries with saffron—it’s excellent eaten with simply cooked fish. The only other flavouring I occasionally use is very finely sliced spring onion, to make that much-loved Irish dish, colcannon.