4: Costa Costa Costa
A 180° swerve from yesterday, away from the indie boutique coffee house and straight into the pulsing black heart of the town centre chain joint, Costa.
Now, I'm absolutely not above a chain coffee. I like fancy single origin hand press as much as the next monkey does, but I don't find this impinges one bean on my ability to enjoy a more generic, mass-produced cup. Each way has their place, and much like our foray into McDonald's a couple of days back, one thing I do find useful about the big chains is their reliable consistency. You pretty much get the same brew from any given location, and that can be useful when you don't have time to spare, or you're not near to anything more upholstered.
Out of all the big box chains, I think Costa is probably my favourite, or at least I've trained myself into familiarity with their bitter / verging on burned profile. Slap it into an oat milk cappucino (pseudo-vegan!), throw that into one of their bucket sized tea-cups, with the annoyingly off-axis saucer, and to my mind, you've got a perfectly cromulent early-afternoon-in-a-shabby-pedestrianised-retail-zone cuppa. And today turned out to be such a day.
We're not here to write about coffee though, other than incidentally for our purposes. The other reason I picked Costa today was because I was fairly sure they typically have a Christmas pie on the menu, and I was right, there was a handful of them there, 'Costa All-butter Mince Tart'.
Technically not a pie, there's an aperture in the lid, which they're seemingly proud enough of to draw attention to in the nomenclature. Nonetheless, the pastry component is sufficiently crucial that they're also leaning on the 'All-butter' (Pseudo vegan alert, ooops, well, it's Christmas, I'm on a mission, sorry) part.
It's very pleasingly constructed, with an extremely level base, pure vertical sides and a cute star cut out on the top. Taste kind of follows the description, if I'm honest, it's fairly overwhelmed by the pastry, which is very crisp-crumb shortcrust, that yes, positively reeks of butter. It's not unpleasant but there's a slight sensation that we're not a million miles away from eating shortbread. The taste is far from tart, sadly. The filling is very shallow, and quite a sticky paste. Raisin dominates, maybe a side note of plum jam. Not too much spice, a whisp of clove and a few fairly generous slivers of preserved orange peel, that mostly serve to summon wistful thoughts of marmalade. There's a gentle dust of powdered sugar that completely disappears against the onslaught of pie case.
Pretty to look at, and fun to eat, it's striking all the right notes, but I think they've fallen between two stools here - they've tweaked the standard just far enough to have some claims to originality, but the flavour profile is altogether somewhat too bland and generic, overwhelmed by the not-awful pastry, and I'm left a little disappointed, as a dish it overpromises but then lacks the confidence to do anything truly startling.
I'd eat one again, mind.