What’s the USP? ‘The book for pie lovers the world over’, The Pie Room is intended to be your first port of call for pie (and pie-adjacent) recipes.
Who wrote it? Calum Franklin, the executive head chef of Holborn Dining Room – a sort of eat-in altar to pies tucked in the Rosewood London Hotel. Since opening in 2014, Franklin’s pies have been winning plaudits from all corners, from food critics to Instagram, where over 100,000 users watch in awe as he shares his intricate, luxurious creations.
It’s through Instagram, in fact, that I first became aware of Franklin’s cooking. Though I am not a particularly big fan of the pie myself, there’s something irresistible about his posts. These are pies as sustenance, as delicacy, and as art – all at once.
Sorry. We skipped over something important there. Sorry?
You don’t like pies? Ah.
What’s wrong with you? Look, look, I get it. Pies are one of the few quintessentially British food traditions that remain a part of our day to day lives, sold over the deli counter at Morrisons, or awash with gravy at the football. They’re also, frequently, not particularly interesting. We rest on our pie laurels, as a nation. Where elsewhere we innovate and reinvent our food to move with the times, pies often remain more or less the same as they always have – heavy on the stodge, uninventive in their flavours and…
They called you ‘Pie Muncher’ at school, didn’t they? Well, yes, that might come into it a little too. But here’s the thing – who better, then, to take this book on and see how functional it is as a manual to all things pie? After all, Franklin’s book takes in all sorts of pie forms, includes extensive information on pastry-making, and aims to show off the dish at its very best.
So how does the book fare when preaching to the unconverted? Pretty damn well. Franklin knows his audience, so has plenty of time to spare for all the big names in pastry. If you’re looking for a recipe for a massive bloody sausage roll, a suet pudding, or a classic gala pie, you won’t be disappointed. But Franklin also makes room for more unusual ideas – a Keema-Spice Cottage Pie with a cumulonimbus potato topping, or a Moroccan Chickpea & Feta Pie, hidden beneath filo pastry that has been scrunched up like torn wrapping paper on Christmas morning.
What’s the faff factor? Not nearly as bad as it could be. Franklin acknowledges the effort involved in making your own pastry from scratch, and is happy to accept that his dishes will work just as well with a shop-bought pastry. In fact, he doesn’t even give a recipe for filo pastry, claiming that ‘I don’t see a big enough difference in handmade and shop-bought filo that justifies the time needed to make it’.
I’ve taken on a couple of the recipes from the book so far – ‘Nduja Stuffed Brioche, and the Hot and Sour Curried Cod Pie. The former definitely took some time – I was making a brioche dough from scratch, and leaving it overnight to prove. The process itself was simple enough, though, and yielded beautiful results (as well as enough leftover dough for a brioche loaf the following morning).
The Hot & Sour Curried Cod Pie was a much quicker process. If, like me, you opt to use ready made puff pastry, it could just about work as a midweek dinner. Again, the end result was a delight – the tamarind, tomatoes and chillies all playing off one another perfectly. It’s likely to find its way back into my kitchen a few times this winter.
How often will I cook from the book? The nature of pie-making (and the potential mess you’ll need to clear up) might be enough to keep this book on the shelf much of the time. But for weekend treats and impressive dinner party dishes, this will be worth at least a few visits a year.
Killer recipes: Both the dishes I tried out proved to be worth more than the price of admission, to be honest – but there’s also the Red Onion, Carrot & Hazelnut Tatin, a ridiculously over-indulgent Mac ‘n’ Cheese Pie, a Honey & Five-Spiced Glazed Ham that looks set to liven up any Christmas lunch, and a Panettone & Gianduja Pudding that I suppose I could leave a little room for after, too. And, of course, the Beef Wellington recipe you’d expect.
Should I buy it? This isn’t going to be a cookbook everyone is going to find useful – but it’s a lot more accessible than I expected it to be, and has definitely converted this pie-skeptic. For those among us who really do aspire to eat all the pies, this is essential. For everyone else, it’s still a pretty excellent book.
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy the book
The Pie Room: 80 achievable and show-stopping pies and sides for pie lovers everywhere
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute
Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Brighton-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas.