M&S celebrates National Pie Week and, well, pies in general with a mouth-watering 18 varieties.
Let me say upfront, I haven’t actually tasted all eighteen – though it wouldn’t be any trouble at all, if M&S wants to deliver a truckload round – but I can vouch for the modest yet representative sample that have passed my lips.
There’s something about a pie that says ‘sociable’ to me, so I waited until I had a flat full of willing mouths (three, to be honest; it’s a small flat) before heading to Princes Street and the M&S Foodhall. Where I was faced with a wall of pies.
Now, I grew up in a small village where the nearest M&S was an exotic world away. It was the the place you might go for school uniform-type clothes – and on the way out notice all the fancy food and tempting treats in the grocery department but the only eating you were doing was with your eyes. To this day, many (many) years later, and living within a stone’s throw of several M&S outlets, a sense of that luxury still lingers. And so, I might have lingered longer than strictly necessary, just choosing my pies.
In my defence, my fellow pie-eaters are traditionalists: pies have meat (steak or mince) in them; any other filling is an interloper, viewed with suspicion. I was determined to break that pastry wall down but didn’t want to waste good pies, so went for a sort-of middle ground.
From a choice including steak, steak and ale, chicken and gravy, chicken tikka, Mexican chilli, cauliflower cheese and broccoli and so on – existing flavours revamped and brand new ones added – I finally decided on a chicken and leek pie, a garlic mushroom one, and steak pudding (which I hope has sufficient pastry and filling to maintain pie status). These three had the combined requirement of variety, keeping everyone happy, and including something new – which also happened to be vegetarian.
Dinner resembled a tasting episode of Masterchef Australia, yet with judges that made Gordon Ramsey look soft. The pies were portioned up (inelegantly; these were the smallest versions) and served ‘blind’, which essentially means not telling the 12-year-old that one contained mushrooms aka, in his words, the devil’s food.
The feedback was detailed and fast – almost as fast as the pies were devoured. The unexpected winner by a vote of 2:1 was the garlic mushroom pie: garlicky, flavourful and moreish – and I wondered why I’d never thought to put mushrooms in a pie before. Even the 12-year-old liked the flavour enough not to mind being duped into tasting it. His favourite was the steak pudding, with its smooth buttery pastry and intense gravy (we dribbled a bit on the puppy’s dry kibble and she, who doesn’t even understand human food yet, was ecstatic).
We all liked the chicken and leek pie, just not as much. The chunks of chicken were generous (reminding us of the long-gone but never forgotten day that I was served a mean slice of meat pie – not from M&S – with no meat in it) but a bit dry and we couldn’t really taste the mustard in the mustard sauce.
Would we recommend M&S pies? Yes, we would. And I’d certainly be tempted into trying the other flavours.
The individual pies (serving one, very generously) are priced at £3 each, £5 for the larger versions, up to £9 for a 500g Best Ever Steak Pie.
*The pictures don’t do justice. They were snapped as the vultures circled – including the puppy, who fancied the cardboard boxes.