Who ate all the pies? Mike did, mostly.
Old friend Mark has come hotfoot from his Soho edit suite and we meet outside the bar’s host, The Sheraton Grand London Park Lane, but he’s not in the best of moods – even for a Pie & Mash Pairing Menu Launch.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhat the hell are we doing here?’ he questions, so I try to explain. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Tasting in a group? I’m not going have to stand up and talk about my bloody pie am I?Ã¢â‚¬Â I persuade angry bear Mark to enter and we are greeted by hotel food and beverage manager Cedric and swiftly issued with a calming glass of bubbles from bar manager Terrance.
We are told these Kent vineyard bubbles from Chapel Down are part of the hotel’s British ethos. I hope not in a UKIP way as most of their clientele seem to be foreign tourists.
The new menu celebrates our heritage of’pie’ and we’re told we will make one before we eat them. Mark is quietly livid, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’m knackered, I’m not going to make a pie, I’m going to make a scene.Ã¢â‚¬Â Sensitive to the vibes, Terrance helpfully tops us up. The tranquilizing booze begins to act and Cedric takes Mark’s bag to the cloakroom so he’s now trapped into capitulation.
Ushered to a function room, our group stands at island work surface laid out with ingredients, aprons and latex gloves. Chef James Dugan tells the history of the pork pie as Mark struggles to put small size gloves on his shovel hands.
James shows us how to construct a classic pork pie and we gamely follow. Melton Mowbray claims invention of this classic pig and pastry delight in the late eighteenth century. They became popular among the local foxhunters who presumably didn’t want to soil their white gloves with anything less than fresh fox blood.
It is only once we have formed, filled, pinched and egg washed our pies that we are told we will never see them again. They take hours to cook so our goodie bag will contain Ã¢â‚¬Å“One we made earlierÃ¢â‚¬Â instead. We all look downheartened as we are quickly re-ushered back to the bar.
Piggy In The Middle, a slice of Gala pie, is waiting for us. The egg is actually in the middle to be pedantic but nevertheless it’s hard beef fat pastry and porky flavours are really tasty and set off nicely with some home made piccalilli. This is paired with Harviestoun Brewery’s Shiehallion Lager, a refreshing craft 5.1 pilsner style brew. Mark now chats to the guy next to him, nothing like food and drink to calm the beast.
Best of British is next up with a well matched toasted malt Curious IPA from the brewery. Mark enthusiastically pierces the puff pastry to get at short rib, stout, root vegetables and potato and spoons the accompanying caramelised onion and bacon mash.
Fishing For Clues brings salmon, crayfish, smoked haddock, mussels, buttered cabbage and samphire with a side of cauliflower cheese mash. Everyone is’mmm’ing and nodding at this, a lovely glossy sauced and puff pastry lidded treat. I’d usually demote a pie without a bottom to a stew with a lid but chef James assures me that sometimes a soggy bottom is not what you want – obviously been talking to that Mary Berry.
The paired Chapel Down Sparkling Rose tastes nice enough but is so fizzy it’s hard to drink and puts me in mind of yesteryears Soda Streams.
A dark sump oil liquid appears in a brandy glass. This appropriately named Nitro Engine Stout has a bouquet from the crypt but not at all unpleasant strong earthy flavours, not sure you’d want a pint of it though. Mark declares the accompanying Roaring 20sstout, mutton’n’ kidney suet pudding’awful’, and he’s not even making the offal/awful joke, but I like it – we’re just not going to see eye to eye tonight.
The veggie option Get To The Root Of It is a cobbler with seasonal roots, topped with pretty stilton and parsley dumplings it’s another hit with tasty onion gravy and parsnip mash. We wash it down with full flavouredOla Dhub barrel aged beer.
Though we’re quite full, we gleefully force down apple and rhubard pie with delicious short crust pastry and salted caramel ice cream. Barman Terrance mixes Mai Tai’s to cut through it and cleanse our palettes for the final pairing, a plum and fennel crumble pie with an expertly concocted Smith & Whistle Negroni.
It’s very attractive and fruity with a lovely crusty bottom. Cedric brings Mark’s bag from the cloakroom as we say goodnight to our new friends. He is now chipper, satiated and slightly tipsy and in no hurry to leave. Apparently pies are the cure for peevishness.
The idea of pairing drinks with food began in the eighties and has either reached a nadir or a zenith with a’pie pairing’ but I keep an open mind and an open gullet.
A pub pie is often tricksy, it’s pale lid balanced to conceal chewy fillings in watery juices, but these are proper pies with proper drinks and starting at £9 the prices are decent too.