One of London's Best Chefs Is Selling Pie from a Takeout Window, and We'll Take One of Everything
Steps from the busy Underground station at Holborn, you will find London's Rosewood hotel. A century-old-ish maze of rather grand Edwardian architecture, built to house the headquarters of a major insurance company, the Rosewood is nearly as luxurious as they come, in a city famously good at luxury. (Not moneyed? Probably don't bother.)
At the far end of the building, however, tucked into a quiet alcove, the curious visitor will notice a doorway, all in glass, offering views of an intimate space that looks something like a show kitchen—a very expensive show kitchen, centered around a massive, marble-topped island. Lettered onto the glass, are the words: Pie Hole.
Whoa, hey, what's this? Oh, nothing—you've only managed to locate The Pie Room, one of London's most unlikely (and most welcome) new take-out joints. This one, in case you have not yet put two and two together, is all about pie.
And just how did it get here? The story of The Pie Room begins back around the main entrance, if you please, and inside the Holborn Dining Room. A beautiful, British-style brasserie, the Dining Room might have ended up just another opulent hotel restaurant in a city saturated with same, except that Calum Franklin isn't just another hotel chef. Franklin, turns out, is a man obsessed with pastry, a man who's rather handily made a name for himself with painstaking renditions of that British classic, the savory pie.
At last check, the restaurant was turning out more than two hundred hand-crafted pies every day; Franklin has become something of a pie icon, with more than 60,000 followers and counting on Instagram, where he posts an endless succession of lavishly-decorated pies (both savory and sweet) along with some of the most mouthwatering Beef Wellingtons ever to grace social media.
With the not-so-humble pies turned out by Franklin and team having achieved edible celebrity status, the next step, clearly, was to make them even more accessible to the public.
The Holborn Dining Room is a lovely space, no doubt, with its ultra-mod chandeliers and classic, plush banquettes, but it's not for everyone—in here, a modestly-sized lobster thermidor starter will currently run you about $26, while one of those pies—say, the curried mutton, warm and inviting, packed with slow-cooked shoulder and served up with a delicious mango salsa—can cost nearly $30.
At The Pie Room, open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each weekday, things are all a bit more accessible, and not just from a pricing perspective. On a visit very soon after the official opening, a rendition of the Dining Room's sought-after chicken and chanterelle mushroom pie, fragrant with tarragon, was on offer, along with hand-raised, classic pork pies, and a very good vegetarian pie (which changes each week, and was recently a cheesy dauphinoise potato number, packed with caramelized onions and disappeared inside an ornately-decorated puff pastry shell). There were top-notch sausage rolls, elegant Scotch eggs, if Scotch eggs can be considered anything like elegant, and even cold pork pies for later (or, if you're like many a Briton, right now). The kicker? All items ring up below 10 pounds, and sometimes far below—that's about $14, according to recent exchange rates. Considering the effort that goes into these beauties, that's not a bad deal at all.
While the pies you'll find here are exemplary, quite easily at the top of the craft right now, The Pie Room isn't your only chance at a brush with Britain's modern pie culture—Franklin just happens to be one of the most accomplished creators in a movement that has been building for some time now, with all sorts of ambitious types in all sorts of places throughout the United Kingdom trying their hand at reinvigorating a centuries-old craft, one that is said to have begun as a way to make questionable meats and various offcuts more palatable. (Offal pie, anyone?)
Out in idyllic Hampshire, you have Winchester's Piecaramba, drawing attention for their irreverent approach to the classics, because who isn't tempted by the proposition of a maple bacon beef pie, or a three-piece pie tower (yes, three pies), held together with lots of mash and mushy peas? (If you finish this behemoth in ten minutes or less, you get a free t-shirt.) So, maybe not the tower—named the Piescraper, obviously—but the concept has been a hit, and they recently expanded to nearby Southampton. In Bristol, the source-conscious Pieminister stormed the scene back in 2003 with affordable, well-crafted pies; they've now opened restaurants and cafes all over the country, some better than others, but it's hard not to love them for a casual lunch in Bristol's St. Nicholas Market, where the people watching is as good as the steak and ale pie.
There's more, lots more, really, we could go on all day—Mother Mash in London's Soho, for example, is something of a lifeline to those in need of a hearty, decent value lunch in the heart of tourist land, while way off the beaten track in the northern port city of Hull, the crave-worthy specimens turned out by the Hull Pie Co. (pulled pork, eggplant parmesan, root veg curry, you name it) are good enough to be shipped all over the country. And then, but of course, there's the excellently-named Lord of the Pies, now with three locations in suburban Manchester—here, you'll want to try the chicken balti pie, a bold mash-up of two British classics. Served, but of course, with mash.