First pie review column of the term.
Pie: fruity, juicy, crusty, meaty; the sacred plate of Chaucer’s cook and Langland’s passus. It is the Demon Barber’s fleshy Fleet Street secret, baking his victims in pastry to sell next door, and Roald Dahl’s Twits’ Wednesday night treat. Seven centuries of gluttony, lustfully brings us to the most contemporary of deadly sins: greed, justified here in our first pie review of the season.
Pieminister Oxford is the Covered Market’s best value midweek lunch, and only sit-down pie restaurant. We arrived on Mothership Tuesday, when a pie, mash, gravy, cheese, toasted shallots and a pile of mushy peas, all come together for six quid. It’s a lot of food.
This is Middle England at its most appetising. There is the urban provincialism of Real English pub food on Real English enamel plates, where all drinks are artisanal and ‘Live and Eat Pie!’ glitters overhead on a neon wall hanging. Customers sit around communal tables divided down the middle by great metallic troughs cluttered with condiments and water, on the off chance that they come up for air as they hog down their crusts. It is grey and black and dark without the filth and squalor of a Real English Pig Sty, in fact it’s spotless. Top marks for cleaning.
I went for the Fungi Chicken – free-range chicken with field and chestnut mushrooms. A classic. My partner in crime chose the Matador: beef steak and chorizo with olives and broad beans. The pastry was flaky, soft, and inoffensive but for its startling tepidity. The contents were far more favourable. All the animal products in Pieminister pies are organic and free range, and the company has won Good Chicken and Good Egg awards for its food ethics.
The chicken was tender and flavoursome, as were the mushrooms, which had stewed in pie juices without yet reaching fetid wilting point. Mash is an Irish sex symbol, the seventeenth century poster child for anti-famine, and watered in gravy it lived up to its reputation; keeping me full, turning me on and evoking childhood memories of my best mate The Leprechaun. Delicious. With the cheese and shallots, and mustard from the trough, the plate became the ugliest, tastiest lunch I’ve had in a while. Looks aren’t everything. And neither is music, because to enjoy a lunch this much whilst sat beneath two speakers playing hackneyed love songs is a difficult task.
If you like pie with all the extras and are nearing the end of your last loan instalment, there are few places that can beat here for pricing; there’s even a ten percent student discount. The Lighter Pie menu offers three options under 440 calories, and as ball season approaches this might be the happy medium between starvation and binge eating pasties when you can’t find a dress. It’s not glamorous and it won’t change your life, but it will do everything a pie should without sending you bankrupt.