As you might expect from a middle-aged mumsy brunette, I am not one to trade on my looks. Not knowing how to dress well and never having been a head turner, I’ve always gone for substance over style.
All of this is a rather roundabout introduction to the thorny problem of gastro-pub dining in Melbourne. I met a friend at the dining room of one of the iconic pubs of Melbourne, one that has traded on its looks and position for over a century and a half. It’s got a lot going for it – magnificent architecture, a sympathetic renovation, superb position in the centre of the CBD.
But the food was woeful. Specifically, the much touted beef and guinness pie was watery, tasteless, ill-thought out and crucially, it was hurriedly cooked. I stabbed at it angrily, telling myself I could make it so much better. What was I doing in a place like this eating bad food?
Here is my offering. Substance over style. It may not be the most attractive meal you’ve ever placed on the table, but my goodness it’s got depth, range, a decent taste that leaves you wanting more. It’s memorable and for all the right reasons. You can use Guinness or any decent stout – the darker the colour, the better. I used a bottle of Abbotsford Invalid Stout because that’s what the local bottle shop stocked. It fitted right in with my theory that you don’t need labels and looks to be attractive.
Let’s hear it for brunettes.
Makes a large 22cm pie for up to six people, or four ramekins for four greedy people
- 750g chuck steak
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 onions, finely sliced
- 1 clove garlic
- 250ml beef stock
- 375ml Guinness or dark stout
- 2 sprigs parsley
- 1 sprig thyme (optional)
- 1 large bay leaf
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 1 cup mushrooms, finely sliced
- 1 quantity sour cream pastry
- 1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbsp cold water
- 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley, to serve
Dice the steak into 3cm chunks and toss them in a plastic bag with the flour and some salt and pepper until all the pieces are well coated.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large cast-iron enamelled pot, or a large heavy-based pan over medium heat.
Brown the meat in two batches for a few minutes until the meat is browned all over. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside.
Add the onions and garlic to the meaty pan juices and sauté for 3 minutes until the onion starts to soften and colour.
Place the meat and onions back the pot. Add stock and beer and stir well. Tie the parsley, thyme and bay leaf together with a piece of string and pop it into the pot with the meat.
Reduce the heat to as low as possible and cover the pan with a very tight-fitting lid. Cook, stirring from time to time, on a very slow simmer for 2 hours until the meat is starting to break down and become tender. Add the carrots and mushrooms to the pot and cook a further hour until the meat is fork-tender and the sauce has thickened to a glossy dark gravy.
At this stage, you can remove the casserole from the heat, let it cool down to room temperature and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze it until you’re ready to make your pie.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Place the meat into a 22cm pie dish or four large (at least one-cup) ramekins or small soup tureens.
Roll out the sour cream pastry on a lightly floured bench top until it is 3mm thick. use a saucer or plate to cut out a circle of pastry (or four smaller disks. Gently lift the pastry over the meat and press the edges of the pastry to the sides of the dish or ramekins. Brush with the lightly beaten egg and place the pies on a baking sheet. Make a couple of incisions in the pastry to allow the steam to escape.
Bake for 40 minutes for a large pie and 30 minutes for smaller pies or until the pastry is golden and flaky. Serve with a sprinkling of parsley over the top, some mash and some steamed green veg on the side.
$15.75 for up to six people