Pies are always a popular choice on a pub menu — but do you go home-made or consider buying them in?
Pie & mash and a pint – perhaps the quintessential pub meal. But choosing exactly what type of pie to serve can be tricky.
Indeed, as punters get more adventurous in their menu choices, the variety of pies has snowballed — and so has the work required to make them. With this in mind, why not leave it to the experts and buy them in?
Charlotte Salaman is landlady of The Wych Elm in Kingston, Surrey. Six months ago, the pub altered its pie option after years of making it in- house. "We had been doing just a pastry-top pie that was homemade for about four years — but we decided to change to a full encased pie provided by our local butcher," she says.
Although Charlotte was concerned about buying in the pie — "we make everything else", she says — in the end the pub went for a steak & blue cheese pie, a chicken & ham hock pie and a cheese & sweet potato pie, all produced a local butcher.
Paying the pieman
The two things Charlotte loves the most about buying in a pie are the consistency of the product and the impact the pub not having to make its own pies has in the kitchen. "We used to have someone just making pies about two days a week," she says. "Of course, it costs us more to buy them in, but with labour costs hugely reduced, it evens out."
The Hull Pie Bakery supplies a number of local pubs, such as The Tiger Inn in Beverley. Matt Cunnah, who runs the bakery, says pre-made vegan and gluten-free options are great for pubs like The Tiger.
He says: "Originally they were only wanting to serve our vegan pies, so they could ensure zero cross-contamination from their kitchen and tap into the current market trends. But then they looked at buying in our other meat options too."
One of the points Matt raises — and Charlotte agrees with — is that pubs love the consistency of a pre-made pie and this really helps sell the item on the menu.
Matt says The Tiger is now buying around 144 pies a week, after previously selling around 30 to 40 homemade pies, while Charlotte says the pie choices are the second-most popular menu item at The Wych Elm after its burger.
Playing the name game
Indeed, using a local pie company that is known throughout the region and has a good reputation can be a surefire winner
for your pub. Matt says: "We have a very well-known reputation in Hull and the East Riding, winning multiple awards, including more than 10 at The British Pie Awards and a few other more local Hull awards.
"We are very active on social media and have a strong presence at all the area's major events and food festivals, and this definitely helps."
But surely pubs want to have "their" pie on the menu? What advantages are there for pubs in using a local supplier with a good rep? "This is tough one," Matt says. "Local is important but a lot of pubs still want 'their' pie on the menu. We are not looking to supply shit pubs — it's really important to keep our brand associated with other quality businesses rather than just take the money and run.
"It has been a tough sell to a lot of businesses, though, and the further away from the local area we go the less we will be known, so then it will be down to cost and flavour rather than the brand awareness factor."
Spice it up
Choice can still be king, too. Lots of people love a steak & ale pie, but keeping it original can be crucial to long-term success and gets the punters talking.
Hopefully you will have taken advantage of British Pie Week this year to show off your pies.
Beyond the event, Laurence Tottingham, development chef at pie firm Oliver Kay Produce, suggests featuring a Pie of the Week or even Pie of the Day — alongside a specials board — can get regulars interested and also build new custom.
His creations aimed at pub menus, include a wild rice, button onion, mushroom & ale pie, and a vegan option, as well as a seasonal twist on a classic pork pie — a rhubarb & pork pie — which he says works well as "part of a sharing platter or as a light bite".
The important thing is, as Charlotte concludes, "keep it interesting but simple, and as long as it is tasty and what people expect from a pie, you should have them flying out the kitchen.”