A life with Pie


Pork and leek pie at the Broadfield

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


Anamul magic at Zara’s


Chef Anamul Hoque, me and boss Shahbaz Choudry at Zara’s

Despite the evidence of the rather grainy photograph above this blog is not turning into another Winner’s Dinners. The late Michael Winner, the Sunday Times restaurant reviewer, invariably used a picture of himself gurning with head chefs and Maitre Ds, regardless as to whether he was going to give them a roasting in print if they had failed to fawn enough.

This picture of me with Shahbaz Choudry and his head chef, the wonderfully named Anamul Hoque, was taken at their request at the end of my meal at Shahbaz’s Zara’s Indian restaurant in Crookes.

Winner’s pictures were snapped by the long-suffering Geraldine. This was taken by my dinner companion Colin Drury, who followed me onto the Diary page at The Star, Sheffield, and reported so entertainingly from the food front for the paper’s Saturday review spot. Like the Diary (and Michael Winner) it, too, has passed away.

Although we have never worked together (save for a trip to the trenches of World War One) we meet up every now and again for a curry and a chinwag. That’s nice but I suspect the real reason is for Colin to have an excuse to sample once again the sag aloo (spinach and potato curry) to which I first introduced him at Zara’s. He’s just back from reporting in The Gulf.

Our latest meeting coincides, quite by chance, with the restaurant winning The Star’s Indian restaurant of year award, for the second time. Announced the previous day, the story remarked that I had given Zara’s five stars on my last visit.

I won’t pretend we weren’t noticed almost from the start for as soon as I rejected the offer of an island table we got allocated a wall-side one then, before bottoms had touched seats, instantly promoted to a plumply upholstered booth.

You can’t beat the food here, nor the service, pitched just right. I have been addressed with a “here you are love” previously with the arrival of the pickle tray and they smile as if you have just returned from popping out to the corner shop for a paper. In fact, they are so chummy they introduce themselves on the website so you know the waiters are Milad, Yasser and Salim.


Vegetable thali. The pumpkin and lentil dal is in front

Of course, it might be the Winner-effect but it was good of them to let me have a glass of salt lassi (normally only available by the jug). And when Colin found sag aloo wasn’t on the menu (it had dropped off unnoticed after a recent revamp) disaster was averted by promising the kitchen would include it in the vegetable thali (we also had a meat one). Phew! He’d have come all that way from Dubai for nothing.

Outside, Zara’s looks ordinary. Inside it is as seductive as a begum’s boudoir, dimly, deeply, spicily and exotically red, seating 64.

First comes the Mahatma Gandhi of all pickle trays, featuring eight different items, the largest selection in Sheffield: sultry tamarind, grainy coconut, apricot and mango and a fresh-tasting apple with coriander, as well as the usual quartet, partnered with the driest, crispest poppadoms you’ll ever eat.

This should give you a clue that the kitchen has an enchanting way with flavours. I had the Kakra Chop, crabmeat with mashed potato, thinking it would be rather like a potato chop. Instead, it was a soft, aromatic swirl inside a puri, a sphere of crisp, deep-fried dough. I scribbled the word ‘sophisticated’ in my notebook and that about sums it up. Colin had a gutsy, fenugreek and cumin-flavoured Sheek Kebab (both £3.50).

Ever said “Surprise me” when someone offers you a chocolate? That’s what they promise to do here when you order the meat thali (£13.90). You’ll get whatever the chef has handy although you can specify lamb or chicken. When it arrived there was a lamb balti, lamb sag and what sounded like (and I asked them three times) chicken Duncan.

Now I’m not going to take you through every mouthful and every dish but the spicing was glorious, dancing and resonating around the mouth. And that was just the meat. Colin, who had spent the last year dreaming of English country lanes and sag aloo, was quietly content with the latter. There was a dish of steamed vegetables and a sensational pumpkin and lentil dish, Khodu Dal, with wicked chill heat. Both thalis come with rice and nan.

I liked it that both thalis came in metal dishes on metal trays, just as it is in India and Pakistan. I’m a stickler for doing things properly.

If I was writing for The Star today I would again give Zara’s five stars. Mr Hoque is still working his Anamul Magic with a palette of spices.

Zara’s is at 216a Crookes, Sheffield S10 1TH. Tel: 0114 266 0097. Web: http://www.zarasrestaurant.com


The pickle tray features eight items