Lord of the Pies, Macclesfield

One thing in life I’ve learnt recently is not to criticise where people decide to eat. I know that not everyone has the same taste as me and, honestly, that’s fine. Feel free to tell me how Miller & Carter is best for steak and I will look you in the eye and smile whilst my brain contorts and the backs of my eyes flicker uncontrollably. You love Rub Smokehouse? That’s great, I demand you tell me about it first thing Monday morning. And, what, you’re a massive fan of Wetherspoons, I hear you say? Good, me too. I’m not making that mistake; I’ve seen what they did to Marina O’Loughlin.

See, The Sunday Times’ latest food critic made the error of criticising JD Wetherspoons a few weeks back, an action that caused a reaction far greater than Newton’s third law could ever have imagined. The people spoke – no, shouted – via the medium of social media. It was pretty grim reading and totally uncalled for. It turns out the mixed grill is not named for the emotions it invokes, and paying customers really do eat for reasons other than necessity. Ms O’Loughlin rightly defended herself and made it clear it was not snobbery, pointing out that you could eat well for the same price elsewhere. In a stand of girl power not seen since I learnt the moves to ‘Spice Up Your Life’, I am agreeing with her. And I have proof thanks to a rather wonderful find in my home town of Macclesfield.

Thirty two pounds sterling, that’s what I spent in Lord of The Pies. For that, the bf and I had four pies; two we ate, the others we took home. We had two sides, and to wash it down he had a local beer, me my favourite Forest gin and tonic. According to her piece Ms O’Loughlin spent £42 purely on food. Now, price is where the comparison with Wetherspoons ends. The pies here are unbelievably good; the way you always imagine pies will be but so rarely are. They have burnished buttery pastry cases and fillings that have been cooked with love and patience. It’s easy to see why my beef and ale has won awards; the sauce is deep and heavenly, the large chunks of meat spoonable in texture. He who I am with has one with chicken curry. He doesn’t talk whilst eating it. This is why we leave with extra pies in hand; I need this weapon in my artillery.

The sides are almost as special. Mash with black pudding speaks to my Northern soul in the dirtiest of tongues. Likewise potato wedges that are really proper chips, crispy on the outside and fluffy in the centre. We dunk these with gusto into the last of the gravy jug. The lovely lady behind the till questions if we are local – the chip dunking should have answered that by itself. I love it here and it sits somewhere in-between seeing my mum and my dad in reasons why I should come home more often. A cheap meal doesn’t have to be a bad one; Ms O’Loughlin you really should give it a try.

Lord of the Pies is at 19 Chestergate, Macclesfield, SK11 6BX.

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Sticky Walnut, Hoole

My grandmother used to live in Hoole. It wasn’t very cool then; as kids our dining highlight was lunch in the Morrison’s cafe. We haven’t changed much – my sister and I still bicker incessantly after a few hours in each other’s company, and my dad still thinks it’s hilarious to wind everyone up – but luckily Hoole has. It’s now got some decent drinking holes, a hip barbershop doing a roaring beard trade, and the place we are here for – Sticky Walnut.

It’s charmingly bijou for a place with such a big Twitter presence. I like it a lot; the cookbooks lining the walls, the striped aprons hanging by the door, the relaxed, friendly service. It’s warm and unfussy, exactly the sort of neighbourhood bistro that everybody should have nearby.

Whilst browsing the menu, we drink a cherry bellini and a fantastic negroni that makes me want to go home and hone my cocktail making skills. The lunch deal is obscenely cheap – 1 course is £12, rising to £19 for 3 courses – with a quality far beyond it’s price point.

We start with fat Gordal olives and rosemary and thyme focaccia. My sister moans that it’s too salty; she is wrong. My boyfriend and I fight over her last piece.

My first course is a chicken liver pate that a previous guest claimed (via the always informative Trip Advisor) gave him instant food poisoning. Luckily I escaped this medical miracle and thought my generous slab of pate, served with red onion marmalade and more of that focaccia, was a brilliant rendition of a bistro classic. Butternut squash soup with chestnuts, miso butter and a milk roll had beautiful depth of flavour and umami tang, whilst the mackerel fillet with burnt apple, labneh, za’atar and cucumber was probably delightful, but unfortunately my dad fails to share. Typical.

Hours of my life have been spent drooling over photos of Sticky’s signature braised featherblade, so I was never going to order anything else. I’m not sure what deal Sticky have struck with the devil to produce a dish this fucking delicious but it was definitely worth it. The meat is braised into a tender, rich, sticky heap of bovine goodness that is every bit what I imagined and more. An onion purée and curly kale accompany it, as do moreish truffle and Parmesan chips. We order more bowls for the table and all swiftly disappear. A pork chop with Romesco sauce is simple and effective, although one of three is cooked slightly rarer than we’d usually take it, and pan fried sea bream is stunning; perfectly crisp skin, Jerusalem artichoke purée and a salted lemon tapenade that has me frantically searching the internet for a dupe recipe.

It’s my birthday when we visit – organised by my boyfriend as a surprise – and with every birthday must come cake. My boyfriend has a habit of writing things on plates and so appears a chocolate mousse cake, topped with strawberries and honeycomb, to wish me happy birthday. It’s probably the nicest birthday cake anyone’s ever got me, but it’s testament to Sticky’s menu that I am still insistent on trying the almond and fig frangipane tart that I picked out days in advance. Fuck it, it’s my birthday and I can have two desserts if I want to.

I don’t need to shout about how Sticky seem to just get get it – they’ve got four restaurants and Gary Usher to do that – but they really, really do. Please Gary, can we have an Elite Bistro in Birmingham?!

You can find Sticky Walnut at 11 Charles Street, Chester, CH2 3AZ.

Sticky Walnut Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato