I’ve recently been writing about my travels and sadly for Southampton it was little more than an overnight stop for me. I met up with some family there, deposited the mother with my sister for their onward travels, had a kip in a B&B and then fucked off home.
It’s a shame because a short walk into the centre showed me there was clearly more to Southampton I had not seen and it would be a joy and a pleasure to explore it further but the only significant stop I did make outside of the international food aisles of the central Asda (cracking selection of world foods there, by the way) was a restaurant called PieCaramba!
The décor is 100% nerd, with action figures in the windows, Pulp Fiction Star Wars mashup wall stickers and a very large poster of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters 2. At our table was a SNES Mini that allowed me to show my young niece what games were like back in my day and had to reset every five minutes so she could try something else because it was “too hard!” – They don’t know they’re born! Then I put on ‘Super Street Fighter II: Turbo’ and beat her mercilessly, so in order to even up the fairness I upped her attack rating and taught her how to range-cheese with Dhalsim. It was awesome.
Apparently we had to wait a long time for our pies but between the banging soundtrack and chilling with some Super Nintendo, I didn’t even realise!
There’s a charm to the appearance and, for people of a certain age, like myself, it will hit every nostalgia button. To people of a little bit younger it will tickle your retro-senses. Given that Star Wars is now 44 years old there’s even cultural references in here the elderly would understand…Christ! That grave inches closer by the day…
If you couldn’t tell from the punny name this is a restaurant that specialises in pies. They have a menu chock-full of amazing pie combinations, with vegetarian and vegan options, for this teetotaller they had a brilliant selection of iced teas and fruity shakes as well as boozy slushies, craft beers and ciders and all manner of wonderful things.
But I don’t want to talk about the drinks, although the Bantha Milk (a fruity shake/smoothie sort of thing with pineapple, coconut and banana) was exquisite.
No, we need to talk about a foodhole that has revolutionised pie, mash and liquor and turned it from a crusty, cockney classic into some retro-hip nostalgia feast and added twist after twist.
The menu is pretty straightforward. You can order a pie on its own but mostly they come as a pie meal – your choice of pie with either chilli-mint mushy peas or beans, and a mashed potato with a choice of plain, mustard, cheese or vegan.
Then there’s the ‘Piefull Tower’ meal, which is basically the same thing but with two pies.
And of course, in a post ‘Man v. Food’ world, the ‘Piescraper’ food challenge, 3 pies layered with mashed potato that if you eat it within 10 minutes you get a photo on their wall and a t-shirt.
I’ll level with you. Don’t do the Piescraper unless you’ll a well-prepared, very hungry person who doesn’t like pies. Their pies are too good to rush them down your gob in 10 minutes or under, you will want to enjoy them. If you’re that hungry, screw the challenge and just enjoy your three pies.
I’m a big boy, and I was hungry that day and even I struggled with my Piefull Tower, so do be aware. The plating makes it look almost like a small amount of food but it is deceptively much!
The mash was much of a mashness – I’ve never had a mind-blowing mashed potato, I’ve had bad ones but never one that blew my mind and that didn’t change here. It’s good mash. If you like good mash, it’s good mash. There’s no a lot more you can say about mashed potato unless it’s shit, which this wasn’t, it was good.
The peas, though – Oof! What a wallop! The herby freshness of the mint just seems to boost the fruity character of the chilli running through it and I found it to be an excellent accompaniment to my two pies. There was a touch of zing and freshness that really helped offset the richness of the pastry and the lovely, starchy mash. Do be mindful, though, if you don’t like spicy I’d put these peas at about a 5 or 6/10 on the chilli-chart. They’re not face-melting but there’s a warmth and people sensitive to spice may find them a little over-spicy.
As for the pies – I wish I could have tried a bit of them all! As it was I went for the ‘Burger, She Wrote!’ – Literally a double cheeseburger sans-bun and with pie crust instead, and the table favourite (except my niece we all had one!), the ‘Woolverine’, a stewed lamb, red wine, garlic and rosemary number.
These were two very different pies. The Woolverine is actually traditional, a braised or stewed meat, gravy and vegetable pie – that did not diminish its impact in any way. This was a classic pie perfectly executed, the crust lightly dusted with herbs that charred slightly in the oven giving an almost smoky, herby, barbecued flavour. The pies were densely filled, there’s little room for air and the chunks of meat were generous, tender and wonderfully cooked and seasoned. It was a great quality pie.
The ‘Burger, She Wrote!’ though – besides having a wonderfully ‘Bob’s Burgers’ style punny name it was…different. I’m not kidding when I say it was a double cheeseburger with a pie crust instead of a bun. Delicate minced beef patties, melted cheddar cheese, a tomato relish and pickled gherkins all wrapped inside a pie crust is what you get. It was incredible. It was a lot drier, so it definitely benefitted from the gravy or liquor (a sort of creamy, parsley sauce) that you get as a side, but I’ll be honest I ate it mostly dry! The meat was juicy enough and the flavours more than carried it.
This is where Piecaramba is special. There are classic pies on the menu, and they seem very amenable to people with dietary requirements or who wish to make alterations. If you want to turn up for traditional pie, mash, liquor and mushy peas I’m sure they’d accommodate you and they’ve got beef and onion, steak and ale and chicken and mushroom pies, all pie staples, on their menu.
But what they also have is spicy peas and burger pies, pulled pork pies, macaroni cheese pies, mushroom and walnut in pepper sauce pies. They’ve got old and new mixed.
Much like how their décor appeals to both nostalgia and retro crowds alike they have, with their menu, found a means of delivering a new traditional. They have taken the pie and levelled it up a little. It’s still unpretentious. In fact it’s so unpretentious it’s basically self-aware and mocking of itself! But where they don’t take their image too seriously what they clearly take seriously is their pies.
And you should seriously entertain eating them.
I believe they have three branches, in Brighton, Southampton and Winchester. I ate at the Southampton restaurant. If you’re a pie fan, honestly, it’s a must do and with their regular pie meal clocking in at only £9.95 it’s hardly a bank-buster either.Follow @wldiscipline