If you fancy a pie for lunch at the curiously named Eten Café on East Parade, Sheffield, and are in a bit of a rush it’s best to book an appointment. They are made to order and take around 25 minutes in the oven.
Luckily I’m not so I have time to relish the prospect. It’s a plate pie – not something you see much of in Sheffield these days – and my thoughts go back to those served up at Tuckwoods on Surrey Street, the city restaurant which lasted 145 years until 2001.
As I remember it was mince and onion or mince and mushroom, served with a jug of gravy, by a motherly woman in a white pinny. It was so good I never ordered anything else.
Now there are two basic requirements for plate pie – that it should be a pie and cooked on a plate – but it is surprisingly how often cooks and recipes fall down on the job.
Too many times the plate is swapped for a dish (but it still gets called a plate pie) or there is only one layer of pastry – on the top.
As all readers of this page know, that is not a pie but a stew with a lid. A pie should have a bottom.
Another reason I fancy a plate pie is that, rather like King Arthur with his Round Table, there is no favouritism.
If I go into a pub where they serve a top notch portion of pie from a tray I always ask politely for a corner section because that way you get more pastry. With a plate pie at Tuckwoods you got a quarter or half portion so the pastry quotient was all the same.
Actually, at Eten you get a whole pie, cooked on a six inch blue willow pattern plate, with the thick pastry rising in a glorious golden brown dome. It’s good, this pastry, with plenty of fat and, hence, good mouthfeel.
I probe gently with my fork. Yes, that’s pastry at the bottom. The filling, though, is not mince but very tender and tasty steak and mushroom. That’s fine by me: there’s no law I know which says plate pies have to be of mince, it’s just how they did it at Tuckwoods.
It’s served with Jersey new potatoes and a plethora of vegetables. And there’s a little jug of gravy flavoured with just a hint of Henderson’s Relish.
So if you have a plate pie sized hole in your stomach and £8.50 to spend that’ll set you up for the day.
The chef who cooked it, Lee Vintin, never went to Tuckwoods so some of the mystique surrounding plate pies is lost on him.
Lee is a very nifty chef, having steered the Devonshire Arms at Middle Handley into the local food awards first time around. He’s now the joint owner of Eten with fellow chef Paul Gill and his partner Geraldine Williams. Actually it’s Paul who made the pastry.
Eten, just over a year old, is supposedly Middle English for ‘to eat,’ although it also sounds Sheffieldish. So you might hear something like this: “I’ve eten at Eten.”
It’s a big place stretching between the entrance on East Parade to York Street. This side has sofas and comfy chairs and is much favoured by the ladies of the local crochet circle.
It is a café, tearoom and bistro at night and an exhibition space for local photographers while at Thursday teatimes you can recite and listen to Shakespeare so they are doing all sorts to please.
They also have Sheffield-made cutlery which puts them in my good books.
My wife had the homemade falafel (£7.50) and was less than impressed when they arrived. “They look like something W G Grace would have bowled,” she said then took a mouthful. “Mmm, they taste much better than they look.” Indeed they did, the chickpeas crushed to a pleasing texture, strongly flavoured with cumin and rolled in sesame seeds. They came with ribbons of pickled carrot and a yoghurt and cucumber raita.
It may be in the middle of town but Eten has a homely feel and regulars to match. At the next table a couple of elderly ladies who have ordered tea chat with Paul, who is serving.
One of them eyes the massive teapot and asks “Will you pour it to just set it off?” Very Sheffield, very Tuckwoods.
Another regular, and fellow devotee of plate pie, is a Chinese student who has vowed to eat British exclusively while over here and, according to Lee, is shunning rice and noodles.
Desserts are homemade. A brownie with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream looks very restauranty and is ultra-rich.
Every chef seems to have a different version.
We are divided over the coconut tart: she thinks it a touch dry but I reckon the texture’s right and the pastry, as with the pie, is spot on. It’s got a good nutmeggy custard beginning to develop a skin.
The place is licensed but we settle for a pot of speciality tea for two at £3.55.
Eten is now getting its feet under the table as bistro nights, previously twice a week, now run from Wednesday to Saturdays with last orders at 8pm so if you go early you could have a theatre tea.
One tip: the website menu doesn’t include daily specials so check them on Facebook or Twitter.
Eten, East Parade, Sheffield S1 2ER. Tel: 0114 273 0658. Open Mon & Tues 10am-5pm, Wed-Sat 10am-8pm (last orders). Vegetarian, vegan and coeliac dishes. Disabled access but not toilet. Credit cards. Gentle music. City centre car parks.
(out of five)