Sheffield is in the middle of its annual St Luke’s Great Pie and Peas Up extravaganza, where people lay on lunches and suppers for their friends to raise money for the hospice.
And a fine thing that is.
There will be lovingly ‘made in my own kitchen’ pies, bought pies, factory pies distressed to look home made, Pukka pies, pork pies, fish pies, steak pies, chicken pies, veggie pies and fake pies (stews with a lid) while on other pages of The Star local chefs are plying readers with recipes.
Like most men, it doesn’t take me much prompting to rendezvous with a pie.
Walking through the Millennium Gallery the other day en route to the Winter Garden all it took was a glance at the MG Café menu and reading the words ‘pie of the week – chicken and leek.’
There’s poetry in pies.
My stomach was empty and there was a column to fill but would my wife feel the same?
She looked at the menu.
“If I were having lunch now it would be the seafood chowder,” she said, eyeing up the specials and licking her lips at the anticipation of salmon, haddock and clams in a creamy sauce with peas and potatoes.
She was on.
Last time we were here it was called Café Azure and we liked it.
You wait to be seated and we were seen in 90 seconds and offered a table.
“Only if you can guarantee it’s a real pie,” I said.
Our waitress smiled.
That’s me settled.
We should have sought a cast iron guarantee about the chowder.
The MG Café is an upmarket cafeteria, one wall completely glass overlooking Arundel Gate, a high ceiling and a row of five tall palms down the centre which look for all the world like they’ve trooped downstairs from the Winter Garden for a cup of tea and a bun and decided to stay.
The menu, which offers breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas, is standard-plus so there’s a Yorkshire fishcake which is a fish and potato battered sandwich, a Yorkshire rarebit made with local booze, bubble and squeak, corned beef hash and you note that they even trouble to make the fish fingers themselves.
Such attention to detail helps and I have never eaten badly here.
The menu is freshened up weekly with specials such as a pie or flan of the week and that chowder.
It was off but we were only told that after we sat down, were shown the menu, decided what we wanted and the waitress returned to take our order.
What was even worse was it hadn’t been on at all that day because a supplier hadn’t delivered the clams and salmon but no-one had thought to cross it off or tell us before ordering.
Luckily the kitchen under head chef Wesley Hines was more clued up than the service.
Soup of the day was a very good tomato. I should fancy it had been roasted. For a start it tasted of tomato, not some over sugared red broth such as Heinz, comforting though that is on a grey day.
The pips were still in the soup so it had not been strained too much, it was neither too thin nor too thick and after every mouthful there were gentle spicy undertones.
My wife’s home made nachos (£4.95) were a good natured English take on a Mexican classic. Chef Hines hadn’t taken the easy way out by opening a bag of tortilla chips. He made them himself.
So it didn’t really matter that he’d used the wrong flour as these were big flaky pastry triangles full of Cheddar cheese to dip in your guacamole. They tasted fine.
My chicken, leek and bacon pie (£7.25) was small but perfectly formed. It sat on the plate looking pert, if pies can do that, surrounded by a pot of neon green mushy peas, skin-on chips and a jug of decent gravy.
I loved the short, just going crumbly pastry with enough fat for excellent mouth-feel but not too much to be greasy.
I loved the tasty filling right down to the baby onion although it could have done with being warmer.
My wife eventually plumped for haddock and chips (£10.75).
Fish and chips has impressed here in the past and it was fine but perhaps the real ale batter was a little too thick in parts so it was spongy in places where it should have been crisp. This came with ‘Jenga’ chips.
By the time we’d finished the place was emptying but we still had to wave over a waitress so she could take our plates and proceed to the next course.
There is a selection of home made cakes on display so we wandered over and asked for the custard tart and mini Victoria sponge with a pot of tea.
They arrived with some of the main course pots still on the table. Despite asking for the custard tart by name it turned out to be lemon with the citrus a little too aggressive. The sponge was let down by a synthetic-tasting cream.
Manager Rebecca Golland told me they were made at the companion kitchen at the Weston Park Museum café.
Lazy service didn’t spoil what was a mostly very pleasant meal, with top marks for the soup and the pie, but it needs to be sharpened up.
We paid £34.95.