Singapore chilli crab, lasagne, Massaman curry and more are being sealed under lids of pastry as Melbourne pie-makers explore their creative side.
The city is home to a bewildering array of gourmet pies thanks to new businesses - some of them lockdown projects - and established bakeries who are gamely experimenting with fillings.
Austro's Sally Roxon has Polish heritage, while her husband is Austrian, so she gravitates to those flavours in the pies she offers from her South Melbourne bakery. There's a Polish hunter's stew pie, featuring sausage, pork belly and sauerkraut, and in the past mushroom stroganoff and beef goulash have featured.
Footscray's Pie Thief is one of Melbourne's most adventurous pie purveyors, with owners Aaron Donato and Scott Blomfield (an ex-Supernormal chef) breaking all the rules.
"I guess we don't really look at other pies when we're coming up with flavours," says Donato. "We look at what's a delicious meal and [ask] can that be turned into a pie?"
Singapore's famed chilli crab and the kebab shop HSP have both run as weekly pie specials. There's even a filling inspired by a burger from a famous fast-food conglomerate, who asked the pie to be renamed. It's now called Big Thief.
The shop also offers vegan pies, with a plant-based pastry that went through many rounds of testing.
Magnum PI, as well as being the best-named pie shop in Melbourne, also gets points for the top-notch ingredients it uses, whether you eat meat or not. The mac and cheese pie loads up its white sauce with spinach and herbs in some attempt at healthfulness. Pulled beef is cooked with merlot for seven hours for the shop's most popular pie.
West Melbourne cafe Udom House combines chef Aum Phithakphon's Thai heritage with Melbourne coffee culture - and pies. Everything that's served with steamed rice, from green curry to spicy bolognese-style pork, is also sealed in puff pastry.
Many of these gourmet pie-makers love the portability and accessibility of a pie. A hand-held pastry is an excellent gateway to flavours people may never have tried.
But rising costs are being felt. Pie Thief won't offer family pies because Donato says charging the true cost for all the ingredients required would make a pie of that size prohibitively expensive.
Wonder Pies founder Raymond Capaldi, a chef with 40 years' experience, believes his family pie, which weighs one-kilogram and feeds four, should be priced closer to $30 instead of $24.
The cost of Wonder Pie's ingredients, including flour and vegetable fat for the pastry, are steadily rising each month. But passing on those costs to consumers can be difficult, according to Capaldi, because there is only so much people will pay.
"I say we do the best pie we can for what you're willing to pay," says Capaldi.
Melbourne's most exciting pies to try
At this Fitzroy newcomer, pies of roasted cauliflower with beluga lentils or a vegan Sri Lankan curry are just as satisfying as meatier choices, which use free-range products sourced as locally as possible. Think pulled beef with merlot, saltbush lamb, or chicken with salsa verde. Magnum PI started as a lockdown hustle for ex Pillar of Salt chef, Jason Kubasek, but we're glad it stuck around. Most pies hover around the $9 mark, despite the premium ingredients. Don't live near the mothership? Delivery is available for orders of $30 or more.
402 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, magnumpi.com.au
"Pies are just one string to our bow," says co-owner Sally Roxon. That makes the beauties on offer here even more impressive. A rich chicken fricassee is enlivened by paprika, while zucchini gets the parma treatment thanks to napoli sauce and mozzarella. But the Polish hunter's stew - pork belly, sausage and more - has been the breakout star of the cabinet, defying Roxon's expectations that people would miss the slow-cooked beef pie it replaced. It's typical of the hearty, comforting and deeply flavoured dishes Austro casts in buttery puff pastry (all $9.50). Apparently, it's one person's sole job to make the puff, and you know what they say about practice: it makes perfect.
147-149 Cecil Street, South Melbourne, austrobakery.com
A borek might not be sealed on the sides, but it does have a pastry bottom and top, which is more than some Melbourne pubs can say about their pies. At Babajan, each borek filling, layered between 10 sheets of filo, is just as rich and comforting as any traditional pie. Crowd favourites include silverbeet and feta, and baharat-spiced lamb with potato. But the surprise hit is tuna, slowly simmered in white wine with carrots and fennel, paired with kefalograviera cheese. Each is available as a single (from $8) or in larger trays for easy entertaining or family dinner. Pie purists can stick to the haloumi, feta and cheddar pie, which owner Kirsty Chiaplis says is her favourite way to start the day.
713 Nicholson Street, Carlton North; Shop 5, 1 Little Collins Street, Melbourne; babajan.com.au
Run by two British bakers, Matilda Rexton and Keith Doig, this Prahran shop rolls out three different kinds of pastry for everything from pork pies to hand pies (a.k.a pasties) and your more typical round pie. Pasties are usually vegetarian, containing oozy bechamel and truffled mushrooms or spiced sweet potato with caramelised onion and corn. It's even heartier stuff when you wade into pie territory: pork and beef Bolognese with cheddar is joined by weekly specials like lamb rendang. We'll take one of everything.
21 St Edmond's Road, Prahran wildflourmatilda.com
There's nothing that can't be sealed in pastry, seems to be the motto of Pie Thief, which steals hearts with its line-up of lasagne, Thai chicken and barbecued jackfruit pies. For the pie of the week, the team really flexes their creativity: kashmiri lamb, venison braised in Garage Project stout, and Singapore chilli crab have all featured. There are always a couple of vegan pie options plus sweets like cookies, brownies and vanilla slice, and coffee by St Ali. In even better news, the team have added a weekend pie stall in Fitzroy adjoining their production kitchen.
297 Barkly Street, Footscray; 300 Napier Street, Fitzroy (weekends only); piethief.com.au
The Fishmonger's Son
How many can claim that it took a village to raise their pie? In a sleepy pocket of Melbourne's north last year, when takeaway was a lifeline for both diners and restaurants, that's exactly what happened. The local fish shop teamed up with nearby Maria's Pasta and The Pie Shop to create a fish pie ($35) that's since become a permanent item and is still made to the same recipe, even though The Pie Shop is no longer. Feeding four, it brings together the best seafood on the day - perhaps salmon and scallops - white wine, dill, paprika, potato and carrot, sealed under a crisp and golden shortcrust lid.
703 Nicholson Street, Carlton North, thefishmongersson.com
You'll understand what's behind the name when you realise how finely engineered these pies are. Masterminded by top chef Raymond Capaldi, the steak and ale, cauli and leek and lasagne-filled pastries are made with shortcrust on the bottom and a rough puff on top. Capaldi won't use butter in the puff because he says it goes rancid when pies are kept in a warmer. He uses a single muscle (brisket) for the steak and mushroom, so the beef cooks evenly. Each month, the team tastes its competitor's pies. "It was like going back to school learning pies," Capaldi says. With six stores around Melbourne and 11 choices in the larger pie that feeds four, we're glad he hit the books again.
Locations across Melbourne, wonderpies.com.au
Some come for the falafel wraps, others are all about the manoush. But the real gold at this Melbourne institution comes in the form of the cheese pie ($4.50). Don't be fooled by first impressions. What looks like a rather plain and doughy crescent is hiding molten haloumi, baked until warm and oozy. It's the perfect salty contrast against the slightly sweetened bread pocket. Other pie-adjacent treats include triangles filled with spinach and cheese or marinated spinach, or ring-shaped kaak filled with halloumi and coated with sesame seeds.
643-645 Sydney Road, Brunswick, a1bakery.com.au
If you're a believer in the saying it ain't broke, don't fix it, Babka is your spirit animal. A Brunswick Street mainstay for 30 years and counting, the bakery keeps its pie line-up the same from week to week and prefers classic fillings - mostly. A Moroccan-inspired lamb pie, involving lamb fillet cooked with dried apricots, bay leaves and peppercorn, is a surprise find. But beef with mushroom and red wine, spinach with ricotta, feta and pine nuts, and chicken and white wine keep the ship steady. Don't even try to leave without a wedge of lemon tart.
358 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Newsflash: the best Massaman curry you can get in Melbourne may be hiding inside a pie. Udom House, a West Melbourne cafe run by chef and barista Aum Phithakphon, has embraced pies as a vehicle for Thai flavours like green curry, Massaman and dishes that remind Phithakphon of her childhood. Vegetarian fillings might include stir-fried pumpkin with garlic scrambled egg or jackfruit with northern Thai flavours. Curry pastes are made from scratch, the coffee is by Padre (and includes Thai drinks not often seen here), and there's kaya (coconut) jam for sweet-tooths.
343 Victoria Street, West Melbourne, 0468 789 851, @udomhouse on Instagram
The Builders Arms Hotel
Not for the faint-hearted, the fish pie at this northside pub is a hulk of a thing. It asserts itself from the get-go, arriving in a square ceramic dish with a billowing hat of puff pastry. Pierce it with your fork and you'll be greeted by aromas of fennel, dill and shellfish, thanks to the bisque-based sauce that's crying out for bread (or hunks of pastry). You might be mad it's a pot pie, but the generous proportion of sauce to ocean trout, white fish, prawns and sorrel should set things right. Our advice is to skip lunch so you arrive hungry, or share it between two.
211 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, buildersarmshotel.com.au