Melbourne Pie 'n Pale Winner Announced

Melbourne Pie 'n Pale Winner Announced

Guest blogger and Pie 'n Pale Judge Matt Kirkegaard writes:

Melbourne, the verdict is in.

The Age Good Food Month, the Melbourne leg of Australia’s largest food festival, has come to an end with much great food, wine and, happily, beer savoured during the month.

I was lucky enough to be asked to judge the Coopers Pie ’n Pale Challenge, in which pubs were invited to develop a pie paired with Coopers Pale Original Ale for $25 for the title of Victoria’s best pub pie.

As someone who makes a living drinking beer and observing the beer industry (trust me, it’s harder than it sounds) it was a fascinating experience to visit a far wider range of Melbourne that I had before. Having judged the Sydney round of the challenge as well, it was interesting to contrast the pubs and the pies between cities as well.

Melbourne, by and large, went for variations on the traditional lamb and beef pie, which were very well done and would have been savoured by any Australian pie lover. However, with originality being one of the judging criteria the venues that broke away from the usual scored a few extra marks.

Similarly, even a great traditional meat pie isn’t always the perfect pairing for the flavour characters of Coopers Pale Ale, the rich meat and gravy can overshadow the lighter body of the Pale. Coopers Dark Ale and Stout often pair better with these pies. The Melbourne winners managed to distinguish themselves by finding a flavour hook to pair to the selected Coopers, and highlighted the way in which many chefs are look at matching the food to the developing flavours of beer rather than just serving it with beer.

In this last element, Melbourne distinguished itself with the use of beer as an ingredient in the dishes. Many pubs across both cities used Coopers Pale as a braising liquid. This worked nicely to lighten the pies, especially lamb, and link the pie to the beer. A number of Melbourne pubs used Coopers Vintage Ale as the braising liquid, which added a delicious complexity to the flavour, which served to tie nicely with the Pale Ale as well.

In the end, the winners were an interesting mix of venues, from trendier inner-city hotels to suburban hotels embracing beer and food for its best qualities without much fanfare.

The winner, The Mint, served up a trio of mini pies. They were a two-crust pie of slow-roasted rabbit and porcini, cobbler of braised beef cheek with sweetcorn smash and a bottom crust pie of rockling and green olive with potato and white truffle top.

The pies, made from traditional ingredients sourced locally from independent suppliers and farmers' markets, were inventive and beautiful presented. They provided an interesting contrast of flavours, each distinct but complementary with the rockling being a personal standout of a very strong trio, mainly for its match with the pint of Pale. The Mint scored big marks for originality as much as for flavour.  

Second and third places were a tie between Yarraville’s Hyde Street Hotel and Richmond’s Spread Eagle Hotel.

The Hyde Street Hotel’s lamb shank pie differed from many of the lamb shank pies featured in this competition by encasing a beautifully cooked shank completely in pastry, including the bone and serving it as a pie.

It is quite spectacular on the plate, with the puffed and cracked pastry perfect, set amongst the mash and peas. Breaking the layered shell, the meat falls off the bone with a jellied gravy; the sweet lamb bringing out the fruity apricot esters of the Coopers Pale yeast and providing a surprisingly good match to the lighter-coloured beer.

The Spread Eagle Hotel’s Scots-inspired fish pie is made of blue eye, smoked over Earl Grey tea with smoked paprika adding a touch more. It is joined by mussels, river shrimp and clams topped with a truly delightful creamy mash potato. Again, aside from the great flavour and value of the pie, the entry matched well to the Coopers Pale Ale.

Congratulations to all of the venues that participated. Good Food Month is a celebration of food and flavour, and it was very gratifying to see the pride with which most venues approached the challenge.