Stuart Clarke’s end game is to open a pie and beer hall. The owner of Hardcore Pies, a small cafe in Stanmore’s high street, realises he’s at the beginning of that journey, but he has already mastered the pie-making part of the equation.
“I keep my pies very simple,” he says. “I’m not trying to be too clever. This is about nostalgic cooking.” Hardcore Pies start with a crust that complements the fillings and isn’t flaky or dry. Made from just four ingredients – flour, water, butter and salt – it’s so tasty you won’t want your pie to end.
The next step is the filling. The pies here are so varied in flavour and ingredients it’s hard to pick the best, but the chunky beef pie is an outstanding interpretation of a classic. Generous pieces of beef are slow cooked with a dark craft beer from whatever local brewery takes Clarke’s fancy at the time. The filling is thick and slightly sweet, with caramelised beef and carrots, and just the right amount of gravy.
The free-range chicken pie is equally great. Clarke roasts a whole chicken, removes the meat and cooks it with a creamy white wine and vegetable sauce that’s laced with tarragon. The result is tender, saucy and moreish.
Aside from pies, there’s a flat-iron sandwich menu, which is an excellent way to sample the assortment of barbecue sauces, tomato chutneys and pickles that are made in-house. Don’t miss the sauerkraut. When Broadsheet visited, there was a vat of chilli-ginger kraut fermenting.
Clarke says Hardcore Pies has a loyal following of British ex-pats seeking a traditional London pie. “I lived in London’s East End for 17 years, an area famous for pie and mash shops. We’re the only place in Sydney you can get a liquor sauce, and it’s the first thing a Londoner looks for.”
Traditionally made with the water used to cook eels, Clarke’s liquor is vegetarian and, although the name might indicate otherwise, it has nothing to do with alcohol. The savoury parsley sauce is often the star of Thursday and Friday nights when guests BYO beers to go with their pie and mash.
The majority of the menu – the sauces, pickles, pie fillings and corned beef – is made in-house, and for Clarke, producing the entire menu from scratch is incredibly satisfying. “This is my dream. This is what I cook for,” he says. “It’s so easy to pick up the phone and order something ready made from a catalogue, lots of kitchens do that. I want to get back to the traditional style of cooking.”
A liquor license is in the works, and Clarke says one day he’ll find a larger space. But for now, it’s the cosy, vintage furniture-filled shop where the scents of slow-cooked meats and vegetables fill the room and vats of sauerkraut ferment on tables next to folks eating pie.
124 Percival Road, Stanmore
(02) 8580 0107
Mon to Wed, Sat 7am–3pm
Thu to Fri 7am–9pm