Last week, on Friday to be exact, myself and a couple of the Manchester’s Finest team embarked on a journey of self discovery. No, we weren’t traversing the Serengeti of our lives, or exploring Asia whilst wearing balloon pants, instead we decided to get in a car and head to Wigan, to check out the very best pie makers (in the world?).
Now, I’m not entirely sure why Wigan has become the very centre of the pie-making and pie-eating world – there’s quite a few theories out there about where it comes from.
One story is that it originates all the way back to the General Strike of 1926, that Wigan miners were the first to cave in and return to work – meaning they “had to eat humble pie”. I don’t go for this at all though – who in the North has ever even said that phrase?!
Personally I think Wigan’s reputation for pies comes from the popularity of Rugby League in the town, a sport that you just have to watch whilst tucking into a pint and a big, juicy pie out on the terraces.
I suppose it doesn’t really matter where the moniker came from – all that’s important now is that they have it – and, speak to anyone from Wigan and they’re fiercely proud and protective of their pies. And God forbid if you happen to mention a decent one anywhere else.
Thus we jumped into Elliot’s car and began our journey – stopping off at 5 pie shops along the way. Here’s how it all went…
Arriving promptly at 9:30am, Elliot was waiting outside the Finest office in his little Ford Fiesta, and Sophia and I jumped in. We were informed that some of these pie shops tend to sell out of their pastries very early, so we set off in earnest – heading to the one furthest away from Manchester.
If it wasn’t for Elliot’s sat nav I wouldn’t have had a clue that we had arrived at Gents in Standish – it just looks like some random house next to a chippy. There isn’t even a sign up outside.
To be fair though, once you start to get closer, you’ll notice that the windows out front are displaying an impressive array of sweet treats and baked goods – and, except for a few little meat ones at the back (the ones with the jelly on the top) – there was no sign of their famous pies at all.
Were we too late?! There was already a queue right out of the door, which we quickly joined the back of.
A bakery and shop has stood here for many, many years, and he prices haven’t changed that much in all that time. It was only £1.40 for one – that wouldn’t even get you a can of Coke in most places nowadays.
Stood in the queue, contemplating what to have, I noticed everyone in front of me ordering the ‘Hot Pot’ – and so decided that I must give it a go. Seeing as Sophia is a veggie – I also ordered their Butter & Potato Pie.
All of these pies are made fresh every single day and they certainly didn’t disappoint. The Hot Pot was nice and meaty and perfectly seasoned, while the Butter Pie was absolutely filled to the brim with golden goodness. The pastry too – buttery and solid – meaning these pies are perfect for eating on-the-go.
We even spoke to an old fella outside, grinning with his bag full of pies, who said that he’s been coming here for years – “Best pies in the world” he said – high praise indeed as he waddled off to enjoy his pastries whilst watching This Morning (presumably).
Back in the car and we headed to Muffin Man, which has been going since 1977 and which you’ll find a fair few dotted around the town – all of them truly excellent.
The choice here was impressive – with a selection of pies all laid out in front of you like that bit at the end of Indiana Jones when he needs to pick the right Holy Grail. Well, I definitely chose wisely as I opted for the Chunky Steak – with peas and gravy too of course.
Even though it was only around 10.30am, and we’re always being told that you can’t have pie for breakfast – I was in heaven. The steak filling was perfectly seasoned, peppery and soft as butter.
There was LOADS of peas and gravy and it was a nightmare to try and eat out on the street, so I ordered another one. This was also promptly scoffed at an alarming rate.
The Rolling Pin Bakery
Back in the car and we headed to The Rolling Pin Bakery on Ormskirk Road, not too far from the footy stadium and a belting little family-run cafe and bakery – where everything is made in-house every single morning, from the pies to the cakes and bread.
Because she missed out at Muffin Man, Sophia ordered a Cheese & Onion, and found it to be excellent – they even put a bit of potato in there. Again, prices are very, very good – coming in at a very reasonable £2.20.
By this point I was pretty full, but I wasn’t going to let my pathetic stomach get in the way of trying more pies, and the next place we were headed, well, let’s just say that we were in for a real treat indeed.
Baldy’s Pies is the only multi-award winning pie makers in Wigan, scooping two prizes at the National Pie Awards last year, one for their Chicken Kiev pie and another for their ‘Mexican‘ with steak mince and brisket, Scotch bonnet peppers, beans, dark chocolate and a smoked paprika and chilli crumb.
Set up by mates chefs Alex Melling and Chris Vernazza, Baldy’s is a seriously impressive outfit – and these pies are wonderfully gourmet – and probably the best pies that we’ve EVER eaten.
A huge departure from the more ‘old school’ pies that we’d been eating all morning, Baldy’s take great pride in their pastries – bringing their experiences of working in top Michelin-starred kitchens to Wigan.
So you’ll find brisket that has been slow-cooked for a whopping 14 hours, gravy that takes over 2 days to make, and unique ‘crumbs’ on the top that complement the flavours perfectly.
We were blown away by The Big Jim, with braised beef shin, bone marrow, confit onion and a pistachio crumb – as you can see from the pictures – it was a thing of true beauty.
The beef was sublime – there aren’t enough words in the English language to describe how good it was – soft, tender, juicy – they all apply – plus a million more.
We had a proper chat with Alex who owns Baldy’s and he’s looking this year to take his unique gourmet pie offerings and set up a restaurant in the centre of Wigan – which will even have a Pie Tasting Menu with paired drinks! Keep an eye out for that one.
The next gaff we were to try was always going to find it difficult to live up to the sheer exuberance of Baldy’s, so we decided to head right into the centre of Wigan and give Galloways a try.
Again, you’ll find a fair few Galloways dotted around Wigan, I think there’s 25 of them – with some even appearing as far as Preston and St Helens. It’s much more like a Greenhalgh’s kinda place this – offering up freshly baked bread, cream cakes, sandwiches and breakfast, alongside an always decent selection of pies.
On top of the pie heater in this particular branch of Galloways was a little sign offering up the speciality Wigan Kebab, essentially a pie in a butty and well-known across the North as a fierce rival for the Chip Butty in terms of sheer carb overload.
So, naturally, I went for the Wigan Kebab – with a Large Mince Steak. It was truly excellent – especially considering the barm/roll/muffin came very generously buttered. It took me right back to being at college again, when we used to head to the local butty shop on our lunch and see who could eat the most pies stuffed into a Lancashire Oven Bottomed Muffin.
The initial bite sent the filling spilling out the sides – the only proof needed that these pies are absolutely stuffed to the brim. It was only a couple of quid too!
And thus we were finished – the Great Wigan Pie Trail had come to an end. I’m sure that you lot have more suggestions for us to add to the Trail – so get commenting and we’ll have a go at Round 2 in a few weeks.