When pies spark a revolution, our southern girl finds her northern roots at Pie and Ale
As I stepped out into the relentless, bitter rain, and didn’t curse its appearance, I realised I was a changed woman.
Me, a south London lass with a propensity for saying “innit” and “fam” at every possible opportunity, now feels at home in what my parents affectionately call “the arctic wastelands” of the North. I’ve even started saying ‘our kid’ and ‘gone west’ non-ironically.
It’s not just my vocabulary that has changed though — my palate has definitely transformed since I made the move to Manchester almost three years ago. That’s why on that rainy night, I decided to take my boyfriend (Latvian born and bred, who now also feels at home in the city) to Pie and Ale, a haven of pastry and gravy.
Drenched to the bone, we entered the restaurant and were extremely thankful for the warmth and shelter it provided. We were greeted by Jay, who was happy, bubbly and showed us to a table immediately. I asked what locally brewed beer they had and unfortunately he replied they only had one on draft, a hoppy American Pale Ale brewed just outside of Manchester. Nick had a sip and said it reminded him of a forgotten barrel of hops, abandoned in the October rain. In other words, it was definitely an acquired taste, but grew on me immensely as I kept drinking it… quite like how I feel about the city it was brewed in!
To start, we ordered a portion of falafel to share — I may now be an honorary Northerner but I do find it somewhat difficult to let go of my deep-rooted pomposity. There were six falafel balls served with warm pita bread, rocket and chunky red pepper hummus. The falafels themselves were absolutely exquisite, as they were moist, had a slight kick and contained whole chickpeas that gave a wonderfully varied texture. The hummus was incredible, with red pepper giving it a sweetness that really complimented the falafel.
For our mains, I ordered the goats’ cheese and spinach pie with mash and minted peas, and Nick ordered a wild game stroganoff pie with mash and honey roasted root vegetables.
When they arrived, I was in awe. They were the size of my face, swimming in gravy and were adorned with little pastry decorations: A duck for Nick and a sort of squiggle (snake?) for myself. I did find the fact that they put the mash on top of the pie rather than underneath it somewhat peculiar but hey, I was in an edgy pie joint after all. I had to expect they would take any opportunity they could to mix things up. I mean, they had salt and pepper in reused pale ale bottles… I definitely respected their commitment to the alternative cause.
Back to the pies though. As soon as I cut mine open the sweet earthy smell of goats’ cheese filled the room. Or at least our section. The crust was cooked with chives so the whole pie had a distinct oniony taste. My last minute addition of red cabbage was, as it turned out, a very good idea, as the sourness of it cut through the richness of the red wine gravy.
I’m also one of those people who tends to put salt on everything, but my whole dish was seasoned almost to perfection. I did try to add a little bit of pepper however, but it wouldn’t come out of the holes poked into the cap of the pale ale bottle it came in. Turns out being hipster isn’t always the most pragmatic of options when it comes to condiments. As I continued to eat, it became a little repetitive and was in the end difficult to finish. So many carbs!
Nick felt that his pie, despite it sounding delicious on the menu, had a problem. The meat overpowered the few mushrooms there were, leaving just the texture behind with the taste of meat, which he said was slightly unpleasant. The sauce, though, was incredible, and the whole dish extremely comforting. In fact, he said the game reminded him of cold wintery days in Riga, and hunting in the forest on weekends. The pie itself though was also distinctive to the North of England and he felt that when it was in his mouth he was straddling two worlds, feeling at home in both simultaneously… OK he didn’t say quite that, but words to that effect. Something like “it’s a nice pie,” or whatever.
We ordered apple and blueberry crumble for desert, and as we waited we became fixated on the exposed brick wall that our table was next to. Suddenly, we realised that an imperfection in one of the bricks was exactly the same as an imperfection in another one five bricks over from it. We then came to the realisation that this was not in fact exposed brick, rather it was a plywood imitation. This amused us immensely, as the lengths they went to appropriate the aesthetic of run-down inner city restaurants that you stumble across when lost (and that surprisingly make the best food you’ve ever tasted) was just extraordinary. Again, a round of applause to their commitment to being as alternative as possible. Bravo.
The crumble was incredibly disappointing, as not only was it served in a basket of puff pastry (absolutely outrageous), the filling was ice cold in the centre, having had what I can only assume was two seconds in the microwave. It was a shame, as the fruit was sweet and sour with just the right amount of cinnamon, and could have been incredible.
Overall, we both had a lovely time, but other than the starter, neither of us were blown away by the food. The pies are all around a tenner each, and although they were both warm and homely, they didn’t exactly live up to their price tags. Still, at £43.60 between us, it didn’t break the bank, and now have the authority to go back to our respective families over Easter and say “yes, I went to a restaurant dedicated to pies. I’m a different person now. I’m grown. I’m independent. I’m Northern” (sort of).