Ian Dowding: ‘The Royal family love my Banoffi Pie’

Sussex chef Ian Dowding created the world-famous Banoffi Pie after months of experimenting

Sussex chef Ian Dowding created the world-famous Banoffi Pie after months of experimenting - Credit: Jim Holden

Created when he was just 22, Ian Dowding’s sweet dessert is a favourite with royalty, was served at Number 10 by Margaret Thatcher and is still on his menu at home today   

Photos: Jim Holden  

‘It was serendipity, and a fantastic combination of ingredients,’ laughs chef Ian Dowding. ‘Bananas and toffee just go so well together, like bacon and eggs and strawberries and cream. It’s been amazing and humbling to see just how popular it has become around the world.’ 

Ian, 73, is talking about the recipe that has defined his career – and his life. Creamy, dreamy and on everyone’s bucket list menu, Banoffi Pie was his creation at The Hungry Monk pub in the East Sussex village of Jevington.   

‘It was a fluke really,’ Ian says. ‘I’d been working at a restaurant in Berkshire with a head chef, Russell, who’d created a signature dish from when he’d been in Hollywood called Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie. He’d make the toffee from boiling up butter, cream and sugar which is very tricky, and sometimes it would be so hard you could crack it with a hammer, and other times so soft it was liquid. 

‘It turned out badly so often he’d taken it off the menu, and  I began wondering how to create toffee that worked every time.’ 

Ian, who lives in Herstmonceux, began experimenting without much luck after moving to be the founding chef at the now defunct restaurant in 1968 at the age of 19. But then his sister Jane told him about a Greek chef she’d met who made toffee from boiling unopened cans of condensed milk for hours at a time.  

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‘I gave it a try and it worked,’ he says. ‘I added a layer of coffee flavoured whipped cream and used French sweet crust pastry instead of biscuit. It was delicious but too sweet.’ He and owner Nigel Mackenzie began the hunt for the perfect missing ingredient – and finally added a layer of banana.  

‘We knew straight away we’d struck gold,’ Ian says. ‘Nigel came up with the name banoffi as a portmanteau word based on the ingredients and to try and sound a bit more Italian, which didn’t work.  

‘We put it on the menu and it became so popular people would ring up to check we had it before they booked a table.’ 

The secret to Ian's delicious pie is coffee whipped cream and a sweet shortcrust pastry base 

The sweet life: Ian says his Banoffi Pie recipe has opened doors for him - Credit: Jim Holden

The chef then created The Hungry Monk cookery book, which was published in 1972 and sold well. ‘A lot of chalet girls bought it and took it with them to Switzerland where they cooked it for their guests and the pie’s fame spread,’ Ian explains.  

‘Soon everyone was talking about our Banoffi pie and I heard that it was a favourite with the Royal family and that Margaret Thatcher would serve it as dessert at special events at Number 10.’  

Over the years, as the recipe spread to all four corners of the globe, the ingredients were tweaked and the name was even changed to Banoffee. Suddenly Ian’s pies were on everyone’s menu and apocryphal stories of who created the world-famous dessert began to circulate.  

‘I heard it was a chef in Austin, Texas,’ says father-of-two Ian. ‘That’s when I decided to speak out. Everyone was stunned it was a Sussex recipe. 

‘I’m the Banoffee Pie man and I’m proud of that. It has opened doors for me.’  

After leaving The Hungry Monk, Ian had his own restaurant, Quincy’s, in Seaford. He then became freelance and was snapped up to appear on TV shows including Channel 4’s Regency House Party, where he had to cook historical recipes during the 10-week shoot. 

‘Regency style cooking is all about banquets and serving everything as complete as possible so that people knew they were eating rabbit, for example, and not a weasel,’ he says.  

‘I had to serve peacock reassembled and rabbits standing up. One woman in the show was incredibly squeamish and the waiter would delight in placing the dish in front of her and whisking off the silver cloche. She’d invariably scream.’ After his spell in reality TV shows, including Blizzard and BBC2’s Back in Time for..., Ian went to teach at HSCD South Downs college in Eastbourne.  

‘It was the best time of my life,’ he insists. ‘I loved teaching 20 or so people how to cook. It was amazing and humbling.’  

Now Ian has retired though he still cooks for his wife Dawn, 72, and children Alex and Kate when they visit with his grandchildren. ‘They always ask for Banoffi pie,’ he says. ‘And I’m always happy to cook it. I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I only have a tiny sliver. It’s too rich to eat a lot, though I still make it the same way I always have. 

‘It’s funny when I look on You Tube and see people have covered theirs with hundreds and thousands or used some ghastly ingredients, but as long as they’re having fun and enjoying it, I don’t mind really.’  

Ian’s cookery book Fish Bananas, £14.95 is available on Amazon and his website iandowding.co.uk