And for good reason. Pies are amazing. They can be salty, they can be sweet, they are always filling and they are more comforting than a hug from your mother. I don’t know about you, but I really do not know what we as a nation or a planet would be without the humble pie.
It doesn’t matter what corner of the globe you go to, there is always some kind of pie. Whether it is the South American Empanada, Quiche from France, gnarly Stargazey Pie from Cornwall or Cherry Pie straight out of Twin Peaks – pies are everywhere and they’re almost always brilliant.
But with that being said, I think British pies, and more specifically, Northern pies, are some of the best in the world. Of course, we’re a little biased, but it is here we will begin…
The ‘Proper’ Northern Pie
In an attempt not to completely alienate and piss off the entire population of Wigan, let me say this first. If you’re from Wigan then your veins will run with all things pie-related – and so there’s not actually any point in you reading any further. You know it all. Just by being born with a WN postcode you’ve graduated from Pie University and can live forever in bliss with all manner of delicious meats wrapped in pastry. I envy you.
Let’s also stop for a second to doth our caps to Ian Gerrard – a Wigan bloke who set a new speed eating record at the World Pie Eating Championship in Wigan last year.
For the rest of us – let’s explore the concept of a ‘proper’ pie first – something that should be made with a dense shortcrust pastry so that it has the strength to hold the boiling hot filling inside and not spill all over you fingers while you watch the footy.
Probably the most famous, and indeed sought-after ‘proper’ pie is the classic Meat & Potato – a pie which is often shunned for the lesser (and definitely more southern) Steak & Ale pie. Don’t let anyone tell you any different – if you want the quintessential Northern pie – it’s always Meat & Potato.
The first printed reference to the Meat & ‘Tater Pie was back in 1855 in the ‘Cheshire Observer’ where a true Pie Legend – William Birkhill – was arrested for stealing one – presumably while it was cooling down on a window-sill like you see in so many issues of The Beano. The pie will definitely have existed a long time before then though – appealing to both the rich and the poor for many, many years – solely by it’s sheer simplicity.
Most people will covet the classic Holland’s Meat & Potato Pie, and if you’re in the chippy – this is a great introduction to what’s on offer throughout the land. In Manchester though, I highly recommend the Great North Pie‘s excellent Corned Beef & Potato offering – which takes the classic ‘Tater Hash and tarts it up a bit with Swaledale grass fed beef that’s been brined for 7 days to create a pie that’s truly magnificent indeed.
Steak & Ale, Cheese & Onion and Chicken Pies
Of course, it’s not just Meat & Potato that exists in pie form, there are literally endless combinations of fillings that you can try. If someone’s thought of it – it’ll probably work in a pie. But there are a few more classics which are well worth a try, there’s the Steak & Ale, Cheese & Onion and a vast array of Chicken Pies that should be on the wish list of any pie aficionado.
Steak and Ale (or equally Steak and Kidney) is about as traditional as throwing a kettle over a pub and you’ll find it on the menu of many a boozer throughout the UK. Typically cooked with a bit of local ale, or indeed a few glugs of Guinness, the Steak & Ale is one of life’s little pleasures – especially when enjoyed on a cold day in winter while sat next to a roaring fire and sleeping dog.
For the perfect Steak & Ale Pie experience look no further that the Northern Quarter’s very own Bay Horse Tavern. Their Steak & Ale Pie is fantastic, and you can get it served with a side of mash, or if you want to do it properly – their Thrice Cooked Chips and 5* gravy. Eat after a rigorous game of darts alongside a pint of lager, before going on to smash the pub quiz. Perfect.
Chicken Pies are also pretty popular in this part of the world and have been even before they were made famous in Chicken Run in the year 2000. Some people might tell you that chicken, ham and leek is as good as it gets and for others it will be chicken and mushroom.
Whatever your flavour preferences – if it is chicken you want, it is chicken you will get at Pieminister in the NQ. They have three chicken pies on their menus such as Chicken of Aragon (with dry-cured bacon and tarragon), Fungi Chicken (with Portabello and chestnut mushroom), and the Free Ranger (with ham and leek for traditional vibes).
Do bear in mind that Pieminister is a millennial re-vamp of your traditional pie experience, but it is still pretty damn good and a great place for lunch if you are ever in the NQ. Make sure you go for the full experience with ‘The Mothership’ by adding creamy mash, gravy, peas, cheddar and crispy shallots.
Now, onto the classic (and some would say most important) filling – Cheese & Onion. As a man who has pies running through his veins just as much as that bloke from Wigan above, I can honestly say that this is the best pie in the world, and one of the most difficult to get right. Too bland, not enough onion, too much onion, too runny – there’s a whole long list of things that can go wrong – so experience is a key ingredient in this one.
If you find yourself in Oldham, head on down to Maypole Granary in Royton – it’s by far the best Cheese & Onion Pie you’ll ever taste. Made to an old family recipe, the chances of this pie selling out is pretty high – so you’ll have to get there about an hour before lunch time if you want to get your hands on one. Alternatively, if you’re in the city centre, Pie & Ale just off Lever Street also do a cracking one which is perfect topped with mash, gravy and a lovely crisp pint.
The Pork Pie
A pie whose origins hail from Medieval times, when meat was encased within a dense hot water crust pastry to preserve it for as long as possible, the Pork Pie that we know and love it now seems to have been popularised around Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. Alternatively, a hot version arose in Yorkshire (sometimes called a “growler”), where they’re served accompanied by gravy with mushy peas and mint sauce.
These days you can, of course, get pork pies in pretty much every single shop and supermarket you care to walk in – but there are some truly wonderful creations just waiting to be tried elsewhere. The dramatic difference between a store bought pork pie and a homemade one is truly astounding and once you’ve had a ‘proper’ one – you’ll never go back.
The homemade pies made by Bradley’s Pies over in Ashton are truly magnificent – offering up the classic Pork Pie alongside a few variations such as their Pork & Scotch Bonnet, Pork & Stilton and Pork & Black Pudding. You can’t go wrong really, especially considering they’ve won a TON of awards in the past including the coveted ‘Best Pie after a Hangover’ presented by Ben Brown himself.
Equally impressive is Mettricks Butchers in Glossop, a family run shop which managed to take the Pork Pie crown from Melton Mowbray last year at the British Pie Awards. They’re made using their own free-range pork, which is then seasoned to their secret recipe and then cooked in the hot water pastry.
Again, there are some worthy variations on the traditional pork offering, but if you want the best – stick with the original.
Finally, if you’re looking for a fantastic pork pie in the city centre, you can’t go too far wrong with Beehive Food‘s versions of pub and bar snacks. You’ll find their pies and scotch eggs all around the bars and boozers of the city – usually in places where they don’t have their own kitchen to feed the drunkards all around them.
They specialise in the kind of cold pies that are the perfect snack alongside a nice pint and a couple of packets of ready salted crisps. Their Bramley Apple Pork Pie is excellent, and I once had a Homity Pie (with cheddar, onion and potato) which was a revelation.
Moving away from the traditional now and on to more ‘exotic’ pies that you might find around the city and further afield. As mentioned earlier, a pie can contain pretty much anything and still be classified as a pie and it seems that this lot have taken that rule and are running with it.
No guide to pies would be complete without mentioning Dishoom’s Manchester-only dish – the Nalli Nihari Biryani. They get a huge lamb shank, cook it until it’s literally falling off the bone, add layers of rice and caramelised onions and put it all under a puff pastry ‘blanket’. Is it a ‘proper’ pie? No, not really. Well, yeah it probably is. I don’t know – but I do know that it’s bloody gorgeous.
Similarly, street food team The Otto Men have created a Mediterranean-inspired vegetarian pie, which is loaded with confit spiced vegetables, grains and fruits wrapped in fresh Armenian filo with a za’atar and pomegranate glaze. They’ve called it their ‘Sexy Pie‘ and they couldn’t be any more correct if they tried.
Finally, I should probably mention Pie & Ale (again) because on a Sunday you can delight in their fantastic Roast Dinner ‘Pie’ – with a choice of 2 meat options or their vegan nut roast, the pie is filled with maple glazed vegetables and creamed leaks, and then topped with mashed potato, a Yorkshire pudding and loads of gravy. You can even get it delivered to your house with Uber Eats too!
Whatever your preference, when it comes to pies you will be spoilt for choice in Manchester, and they are just what you need to stay warm this winter.