297 Barkly St Footscray, VIC 3011
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 7am-4pm; Sun 9am-4pm|
|Features||Vegetarian friendly, Cheap Eats|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
Chefs get ideas for dishes in all sorts of ways. Sometimes they wake suffused with inspiration, naturally concluding that angels have whispered into their slumbering ears. Other times, a crisp ingredient plucked from a dewy field seems to demand that it be magicked into a bold new creation.
And, on rare occasions, they're hungover and suffering, stumbling towards succour when a samaritan dish looms before them. So it was with Scott Blomfield and lasagne pie. The New Zealand-born chef was the worse for wear in Wellington one fine day when a lasagne pie gently prodded him towards the road to recovery.
Years later, across the Tasman, he's opened his own pie shop and the lasagne pie that once saved him has been resurrected. A rich tomatoey ragu is layered with luxurious, fluffy bechamel and supple pasta and levered into a puff pastry box. It's sturdy but the pastry-to-pasta ratio is unlikely to send the eater straight from hangover to food coma.
In fact, it had me smiling from first mouth-scalding bite to final tomato-stained crumb. To scream, "Eureka!" in a pie shop would perhaps be overdoing it, but it's clear that lasagne and pie are allied dishes – meat, carbs, tomato, fat – and that amalgamating them is a way to amplify pleasure. Nice one.
Pie Thief is a funny place to have an epiphany. Open since June, it's a tiny, cheerily colourful shop with two window benches and a handful of stools. Blomfield co-owns the place with Aaron Donato, proprietor of craft beer hangout Bar Josephine next door. The two chatted one night about pipe dreams and realised they both had pie dreams. "Either this is a more common dream than I thought or this is a wonderful coincidence," thought Donato. When the adjacent shop came up for lease, they leapt on it.
Blomfield has cooked at Supernormal and Grub Fitzroy but he's just as influenced by a cooking adventure in the Dordogne in south-west France where he swooned over puff pastry made with cultured butter. I had a choice between long life or learning how Pie Thief's pastry is made; let's just say it's buttery, flaky and has excellent structural integrity.
Other fillings include steak and cheese, the New Zealand benchmark pie. This version is gold standard, with chunks of tender meat, oozy cheese, a rich gravy, and bang-on seasoning.
A Thai chicken pie is fragrant and fresh with juicy chicken and a nice chilli hit. Basically, it's a really good red curry that just happens to be in a pie.
The vegan pie's pumpkin and tofu filling is tasty but the real achievement is the pastry: it's an impressive I-can't-believe-it's-not-butter situation.
There are six pies in the warmer at a time but if you can't choose, four party pies are offered on a FOMO-reducing tasting paddle ($12).
Pie shops need sausage rolls. Keep it classic with pork-and-fennel – think high-quality Italian sausage but wrapped in pastry not sausage skin – or go wild with the chicken parma sausage roll, which is like taking the pub with you in a paper bag.
Other treats include thickshakes with housemade syrups and a classic vanilla slice. Blomfield told me that in New Zealand, they call them "custard squares". I wonder if that's to avoid the kind of trans-Tasman arguments we have about the origins of pavlova? It's the perfect thing to debate with a mouthful of pastry at Pie Thief.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)