Let’s be honest, if Australia has a national dish at all it has to be the humble meat pie. Sure, we’d like to claim pavlova and lamingtons, but like Phar Lap, Russell Crowe and a number of other national treasures, they were in fact bred in New Zealand. So it seems fitting to begin this issue’s review with a little story about pies abroad.
I like lamb shanks. Many people like lamb shanks. So when presented with the opportunity to consume a lamb shank pie, I jumped right on board. I was sitting in a cosy little pub full of shining brass and polished wood in Edinburgh, it was late December and freezing cold, so I thought something warm and hearty was in order.
Perusing the menu, I spotted ‘Traditional Scottish Lamb Shank Pie in Highland Gravy with Flaky Braveheart Crust and Extra-Traditional Sides’. Excited by the amount of leading caps and Scottish tradition in the sentence, I decided that this was the pie for me.
It arrived in the British style: an overlarge porcelain ramekin in the centre of an even bigger plate, draped in a golden blanket of buttered pastry, and squatting fatly in a moat of creamy mashed potato and mushy green peas. While slightly disappointed that it wasn’t wearing bagpipes and a kilt, it still looked lovely. I grasped my knife and fork, took a deep breath and plunged in.
It was like diving into a pool of water without spotting the sandbank. I had barely pierced the crust when my fork came up against something hard and unyielding. Inspecting the side of the ramekin I decided that it was too deep for me to have struck the bottom yet, so investigated further.
Upon peeling back a corner of the pastry, I was bemused to say the least to find a massive bone smothered in gravy, with a few stringy bits of meat and sinew clinging to it. Turns out that when you order a Lamb Shank Pie in Scotland, that’s exactly what you get. With this memory ensconced in the ‘Mildly Regrettable Travel Experiences’ section of my brain, I’ve approached every pie hence with a level of caution usually observed by bomb disposal experts.
But surely, surely the Territory knows pies. Full pastry wrapping, chunky beef in gravy and a little hole in the top for the Rosella Sauce nozzle to squirt through… Surely? Guys?
1/3 Howell St, Berrimah
Shop 7/58 Mitchell St, Darwin
BEEF, BACON AND CHEESE PIE
I have to confess my tardiness. I had this article mostly written but hadn’t got around to the Darwin institution that is Tommo’s, so ducked out at lunch yesterday to grab one. Unfortunately, I had made a massive roast the night before with about 600 tureens of veg, each with a different cheese either melted, stirred through, baked on or drizzled over. (I do rather like cheese.)
I may have been a tad more enthusiastic for pie had it been 2am last Saturday, but as I’d gone back to the roast for thirds, fourths and forty-seconds, I was still roughly the shape of a beach ball and quite looking forward to a lunch of cucumber with a garnish of lettuce.But, my dear readers, what are
good pies but sacrifice?
I marched down to Tommo’s with determination and a slight list to starboard, presented myself to the friendly young fellow behind the counter and tried to focus on my options.
The bain marie at Tommo’s has helpful stickers of the pie’s ingredients next to each item; steak and pepper has a cartoon steak and cartoon peppercorns. Tuna has a picture of a fish. Chicken curry has a light brown blob that might be a Mitchell St vomit slick. And steak and kidney has… Well, let’s not go into that.
I eventually selected Steak, Bacon and Cheese, because I figure if you’re going to succumb to a food coma as early as midday on a Monday, you may as well go down swinging.I took my little parcel back to the office, fetched the tomato sauce, made myself a side salad so the pie didn’t look so lonely on the plate, and tucked in.It was actually pretty bloody good.
My intention had been to have just a sliver and focus on my salad. But then I had another sliver, and then another, and then realized I’d eaten half the pie and the salad lay forgotten.
Despite having the consistency of every servo pie I’ve ever eaten (mincy, almost creamy with gelatinous gravy), I can’t fault the flavor. It was actually very, very delicious. I expected the bacon to present as greasy pink chunks like the ones you see in the deli for people who can’t be arsed dicing the real thing themselves, but instead the bacon flavour was infused through the filling; it was salty and beefy and cheesy and amazing. However… I hit a sudden and unexpected bit of gristle halfway through the second half. It was devastating. Like a game of footy where your team blows a four goal lead just before the three quarter
siren, then tops it off with a 50m penalty. It was incredibly frustrating and completely avoidable.
There was no one else in the shop and the produce was ready to go in a pie warmer. I was back in the office within seven minutes of leaving.
Tommo charges 30c for a sachet of sauce, which to be perfectly frank is not on. Tomato sauce is not a privilege, it’s an unassailable right, like free-to-air test cricket and sausage sizzles on Election Day.
19 Kitchener Dr, Darwin Waterfront
BEEF & GUINNESS PIE WITH MASH
Unable to face the prospect of Shennanigans on a St Pat’s Day, my trusty housemate Lynda, her posse of Irish mates (plus a Kiwi, a South African and myself), deferred to Fiddler’s Green for dinner amongst a sea of shamrocks and green football shirts.
Upon arrival, we seated ourselves at an available table up the back and pulled out the menus. However before we had the chance to order a grown man in a leprechaun suit, complete with false red beard and novelty hat, informed us with a seriousness massively at odds with his outfit, that this table was reserved and we would have to move.
The lady at the table next to us smirked as we relocated to a much smaller, squishy table in the middle of a thoroughfare and muttered, with a hint of triumph and more than a touch of schadenfreude, ‘Well… we booked’. I’d like to let the record show that Lynda HAD called ahead, and we were told we were unable to reserve a table and would have to wait for an available one. The table we selected WAS available in the sense that no one was sitting at it, and did not have a RESERVED sign on it. I hope her pie came with a massive shank in it.
With the exception of the Kiwi*, our whole table ordered Beef and Guinness pies. It was St Patrick’s Day after all, and we were now seated and feeling festive. Due to the crowds I assumed it would take a while for the food to arrive, however all our meals flew out of the kitchen with an efficiency not seen since the first Model T Fords rolled off the assembly line.
They were delicious. They did in fact appear hastily assembled, with the pastry sitting atop its ramekin like a jaunty cap and buttery mash in a separate dish on the. But with a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper it ceased to matter. Most of the beef was tender and juicy, the gravy rich and the pastry crisp and flaky. With a well-poured Guinness on the side, it was hard not to get into the Irish spirit… Even the leprechaun lightened up and did
a little jig. *Our Kiwi friend actually ordered the lamb shanks. They arrived on a plate, on a bed of mash, positively drowning in sticky red wine jus. Just the way god intended.
Delivering eight pies in under five minutes is pretty darn impressive.
This is the first time I’ve eaten at Fiddler’s in the evening; my first meal there was for late brekky one Sunday arvo. We missed the full breakfast menu (we were hankering for Eggs Benedict) by two minutes, but were able to order the ‘latecomers breakfast’. It was effectively the same ingredients, only piled on top of a big slab of white toast and half the price. They’ll even give you a side of hollandaise if you ask them nicely.
22 Tarkarri Rd, Batchelor
MRS MAC’S CHUNKY BEEF
If you’re heading into Litchfield for a day at Buley Rockhole or Florence Falls, the Batchelor General Store is as good a place as any to stop for cold drinks and snacks before you slap on the sunscreen.
If, however, your cousin calls you halfway through a Saturday session to announce that she’s in Darwin for work, and would you like to go to Litchfield on Sunday, and you say ‘Yes, pick me up at 8am’, and then you continue to drink beer in the pool and forget all about it until she knocks on the door at 8am the next day… you may need to duck into Batchelor Takeaway next door.
I thought I was okay for the duration of the drive, however once we rolled in to Batchelor the hangover kicked in with a vengeance.I staggered pathetically into the takeaway shop gasping for coffee and grease, tried not to gag over the thrice-fried Chiko rolls (they
could have just been really old spring rolls) and grabbed the last pie left in the bain marie.
I know that Mrs Mac is not strictly a homemade pie, nor even a Territory invention, but where else in Australia can you inhale half a kilo of breakfast mince, then spread yourself upon the only available rock in the shade with all the grace of a week-old lettuce wilting on the pavement?Gourmet it is not, but if you find yourself hungover in Litchfield on a Sunday (backpackers, I’m looking at you), this pie may be the only thing between you and faceplanting
in front of 400 people as you try to pick your way across slimy submerged rocks. Just saying.
The pie came in a packet and my iced coffee was cold. To be honest I couldn’t have coped with much more service than that.
The General Store has pretty much everything you need for a daytrip but is expensive. If budget is an issue, bring an Esky and a packet of sandwiches. (Or a breakfast pie.) If you are bringing an Esky full of beers, make sure they’re cans. All the swimming areas in Litchfield are glass free, and there are friendly but firm rangers out there who can hear the tinkle of glass all the way from Nhulunbuy.
Ben’s Bakehouse and Cafe
2/26 Knuckey St, DarwinIf pies aren’t your thing (and if not I don’t imagine you’re still reading this review, but hey), these guys do truly excellent donuts, sweet pastries and sausage rolls.
Shop 3A, Parap Village
Shopping Centre, Parap, DarwinIf the pies here are as good as the bread, you’d do a lot worse than swing by the bakery on a Saturday afternoon.