Pies are not necessarily a man thing. I am on my way to the Broadfield for a date with a pie and a pint with fellow journalist Colin Drury when I fall in step with pop singer Annie Ashcroft of the group M.O., back in Sheffield to see the folks for Christmas.
For a minute or two Annie’s thoughts on the promotion of her group’s new single Not In Love on Radio 1 are interrupted by those of pastry. “The pies! I had one there so big, with chips and peas, I’d need to do a workout all day to get over it.” And then she is off to Sainsbury’s: such is life before stardom twinkles, as I hope it will.
The Broadfield, once a scruffy boozer with a dubious reputation, is now a bustling pub with a reputation for pies and good beer. That’s thanks to businessman Kane Yeardley, whose True North Brew Company has revitalised a clutch of pubs the big PubCos had run into the ground. It’s not the only thing on the menu. Colin is tempted by the festive spiced pork belly but finally plumps for pie.
I last came here on eating duty for the Sheffield Star when they sat me by the kitchen door and I was serenaded by a klaxon all night – the horn the chef sounded to tell staff an order was ready. “Parp, parp, pies ‘ave come.” The pies were good but I was parped out and wondered in my review if Mr Toad of Wind in the Willows fame had somehow crashed his car in the kitchen. Mr Toad would certainly like pies.
So do me and Colin, who took over The Star’s Saturday review slot for a time. We reflect on Great Pies of our Time, which you do after a pint. Actually it is more than that because neither of us former restaurant reviewers has thought to book. The Broadfield has a strict policy: eating one side, drinking the other and the floor manager can’t guarantee a table before 9.30pm. “Try me at 9,” she soothes.
For me pies are as much about the pastry as the filling and I can still recall the great Cow Pie steaming up the windows of Butler’s Dining Rooms, on Broad Lane, in a tin the size of a baby’s bath. This was the place when Picasso came for lunch and signed a napkin with a dove of peace. The premises became an Indian restaurant and then a heap of rubble when the Asian owners tried a little sub-standard sub-continental building work.
The pastry here was architectural: a dome over a filling of beef fit for Desperate Dan. They say men stoked up with slices of pie before providing donations at the fertility clinic then across the road. At Tuckwoods, now long gone on Chapel Walk, the pie was more ladylike, fitting for a place full of blue-rinsed matrons. It was a plate pie, made on a plate, a filling of mince and mushroom top and bottomed by thin pastry. You got a quarter serving and a jug of gravy.
Top pies of today include the pie at the Scotsman’s Pack, Hathersage. It is a tray pie but with a proper top and bottom and the thing here is to ask for a corner section because that way you get more pastry. The first time I ate at this pub I didn’t order the pie but the man at the next table did. I was filled with pie envy and had to go back.
The pastry, then, is as important as the filling. That can take reheating but the pastry doesn’t always survive a second baking. That is why at Charlie’s Bistro in Baslow chef Charlie Cartledge cooks his from scratch when ordered so allow for at least half an hour. It can look a bit lopsided, like a square pasty, but you do get the shortest and crispest of pastry and it’s well worth waiting for.
So pies come in all shapes and sizes but what they are not is a stew topped with a bought-in puff pastry lid, which is what one city centre eaterie specialises in.
Our pies arrive. There are four flavours, all at £8.50, to choose from and we both go for pork and leek. When one goes out to review one never commits the cardinal sin of having the same as your partner but, then, this is not a review as such, more a reverie over my life with Pie.
These before us are pies with character: big and burly, each a little different in shape. The filling is generous with plenty of tender porkiness and the leek adds contrasting flavour to each mouthful. The pastry is, here and there, a little tough but the chunky chips are properly cooked and the mushy peas have collapsed into a welcome mash. Colin would have preferred mashed potatoes but there is something rather dissolute about chips and gravy, here made with beer.
Tonight my pie may not have been in the Premier League but, after three pints, for taste, much needed stodge and contentment, it is riding high in the Championship.
Broadfield Hotel, 452 Abbeydale Rd, Sheffield S7 1FR. Tel 0114 255 0200. Web: www.thebroadfield.co.uk