“Meat and potato pies,” said poet John Cooper Clarke, without missing a beat, when I asked him what he missed most about living in Manchester and Salford.
“You can’t get them south of Birmingham. There’s a warning for any readers who might be thinking of going south. Take your own meat and potato pies.”
Savoury or sweet, hot or cold, the pie is a British institution. The average Brit eats a whopping 2,160 pies over their adult lifetime, according to a recent study – that’s 36 a year. It’s around £1 billion worth.
And we take pies seriously. In 2015, a petition was started to make it a criminal offence to describe a casserole with a pastry lid as a pie. It gained nearly 6,000 signatures.
To celebrate British Pie Week (2nd-8th March 2020), here are some of the city’s best.
Classic fillings at Great North Pie Co
Launched by former Manchester policeman Neil Broomfield, Great North Pie Company has received numerous national accolades including the Supreme Champion of the British Pie Awards.
“I think the pastry – butter is always best for me, and I prefer it really thin and crisp so its not too heavy,” says Neil about what makes the perfect pie.
“Fillings-wise, just keep it simple. When we started we used to play about with different fillings and try and do something different, now we’re a lot more traditional. You can’t beat the classics.”
Find Great North Pie Co pies, priced around £4-£5 for take-out at venues including Altrincham Market and Northern Soul Deli Co as well as on the menu at Store Street Exchange (£14.50 including creamed potato and garlic gravy).
Posh pies at Mamucium
The menu includes pot roast chicken, bacon and peas and 14-hour braised local beef and ale. Vegetarian options include a spiced sweet potato, pearl, barley and kale pie, or a classic Lancashire cheese and onion.
Pick a pie, one side and unlimited house gravy for £12.50, or upgrade to two sides for £15. Sides include honey roasted chantenay carrots, Manchester caviar (mushy peas), Joseph Holt’s beer battered onion rings, creamy mash potatoes and hand cut fries.
If you can’t decide (or fancy a challenge), try a sharers board: your choice of four pies, all five sides and unlimited gravy for £50.
Comté cheese pie at Cultureplex
The restaurant at Cultureplex, a stone’s throw from Piccadilly station, specialises in classic bistro favourites with a modern twist, so of course there is a pie. And what a pie.
The potato and comté cheese pie is stuffed with soft potato strings and a molten disc of French comté cheese, and topped with more cheese.
Priced at £17, it’s rich and deeply comforting, with a punchy green mustard sauce that positively hums with flavour.
Nalli nihari biryani pie at Dishoom
Dishoom, based in Manchester Hall, the 1920s Grade II listed building originally used as a Freemasons’ Hall, pays loving homage to the old Irani cafés of Bombay.
There’s a special dish just for Manchester – and it’s a sort of pie: a decadent nalli nihari biryani (£16.90). A tender shank of slow-cooked lamb is layered with rice and caramelised onions then sealed beneath a pastry blanket, served with a rich spicy gravy and enriched with chicken liver raita on the side.
It may not be entirely enclosed in pastry, but it’s a spectacle of a dish, with a shank bone sticking out of the top. Lift the bone out through the crisp pastry and the heady aroma of the filling hits the senses. The gravy packs a punch, too.
Braised lamb pie at 20 Stories
Manchester’s highest restaurant offers a menu full of modern dishes, including a section devoted entirely to ‘homely classics’.
But the most comforting of all is the braised lamb pie, drenched in a rich roasted jus (£18). Add on triple cooked chips, buttery mash or smoked bacon cabbage.
And for pudding? Not a pie, but a must for pastry lovers, there’s a huge, sticky sweet apple tarte tatin to share (£15).
‘Demi’ pie at The Bull & Bear
It’s a menu all about refined British classic comfort food, and its pie may be small(ish) but it’s perfectly formed.
Pie and pithivier at Edinburgh Castle
While the upstairs of this Ancoats newcomer houses a refined restaurant, the downstairs is all about good pub food.
As well as a ewes cheddar pithivier (a round, domed puff pastry pie decorated with distinctive spiral markings) with spinach, smoked potato and onion, there’s also a classic beef and cheddar pie on the menu served with pickled cabbage, peas and mash.
Both are priced at £11.
Lamb suet pudding at The Rivals
One may be steamed and one baked, but puddings and pies go hand in hand when it comes to comforting pastry-encased treats.
And one of the finest examples right now is at The Rivals, the restaurant named after the first production at the Royal Exchange Theatre in 1976.
Their pink slices of lamb loin (on the lunch menu, two courses for £21) are superb, but the real star is the little lamb and mint suet pudding that comes with the dish, drenched in a rich, meaty lamb jus.
Steak or cauli cheese pudding at Albert Square Chop House
Talking of suet puddings, there are also a couple of great versions on the menu at Albert Square Chop House.
A huge, meaty steak and ale steamed suet pudding is served with peas, hand-cut chips and gravy, and it’s a classic for a reason (£15.50).
But those who don’t want meat needn’t miss out. A veggie option is just as hearty, filled with cauliflower cheese and served with a vegetable gravy (£13).
Vegan and gluten-free at Pie & Ale
The pies at this Lever Street favourite are handcrafted on-site, and there’s something for everyone including meat, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
Meat eaters will love the wild venison and Guinness pie which includes black pudding and five spice (£11.95), while vegans can go for a chipotle chilli and bean filling, or try the beetroot and chilli dahl pie (both £9.95).
All pies come with mash and red win gravy (vegan option available), and there’s always a selection of gluten-free pies. On Sundays, there’s even a roast pie topped with a Yorkshire pudding.
Stockport/Macc pie at Lord of the Pies
With a branch in Macclesfield as well as the Stockport original, these are the sort of pies your body craves on winter days, priced from £3.95 for takeaway.
Look out for fillings such as British beef and ale, confit pork and Bury black pudding, or pulled chicken balti. A Stockport/Macc pie features beef stew, Lyonnaise potatoes and local ale.
Veggie options include sweet potato, spiach and goats cheese, while a vegan pie has a superfood stew filling packed with edamame beans and kale.