Ben Chaplin: Britain’s best pies

Ben Chaplin knows his pies. He turns out 40 of them every day at The Black Friar, a once-abandoned Salford boozer, which has been handsomely restored into a modern British pub and a key part of the Manchester food scene. For us, he picks the three best pies in the north of England (and an absolute cracker from down south).

The cottage pie at The Church Green, Lymm 

My old boss Aiden Byrne is still the youngest chef ever to win a Michelin star and he makes the best cottage pie out there. It’s made from decent-quality beef with a lovely gravy and vegetables all through it, but what really sets it apart is the topping: he pipes a layer of celeriac and garlic purée and then a layer of awesome mash and he keeps going, alternating the layers and it looks absolutely fantastic. He serves it at his pub, The Church Green, in Lymm, which is a great little village in Cheshire full of lovely places to walk the dog and work up an appetite. 

The Church Green, Higher Lane, Lymm; thechurchgreen.co.uk

Braised beef bourguignon pie at The Black Friar, Salford

We use all-butter pastry in our pies, which is so rich that it’s almost yellow. And we change the pies daily – today we’ve got on a Moroccan spiced-lamb pie with flaked almonds and raisins – but our signature is our braised beef bourguignon, which we serve with mash so buttery that it almost splits, gravy and whatever is in season at the time: tenderstem, broccoli, kale or green beans. It’s the kind of pie that you have with a couple of pints and it makes you want to get into your pyjamas and fall asleep in front of the fire.  

The Black Friar, 41-43 Blackfriars Road, Salford; theblackfriarsalford.co.uk

Chicken, bacon and leek pie at The Windmill, London

The pies at The Windmill in Mayfair are almost as good as my mum’s homemade ones, which is saying something. They do great steak and kidney and a good vegan pie with beetroot and wild mushrooms, but the standout for me is the Shropshire chicken, bacon and leek pie with wilted red cabbage. The pub is tucked away on a tiny little street but it’s super-busy at lunch, so be sure to book. 

The Windmill, 6-8 Mill Street, London; windmillmayfair.co.uk

Lemon meringue pie at Fresh Approach, Warrington 

This restaurant is in an upmarket garden centre but they do an incredible lemon meringue pie. The pastry is sweet and really crisp. The lemon curd is homemade, and it’s so thick and creamy. The meringue is wonderfully whipped and smooth with the outside blowtorched, and it’s about six inches high so when it comes, you think it’s going to fall over but it’s got this real structure to it. Absolutely fantastic. 

Fresh Approach, Bents Garden Centre, Warrington Road, Warrington; bents.co.uk/destination-bents/dining/fresh-approach-restaurant

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