Glancing at a restaurant menu, typically the first thing I do is decide the kind of mood I’m in, and how that manifests in my choice of meat. Imagine the struggle, then, of being faced with an entire menu comprised of only one meat… pork in abundance.
The English Pig is a restaurant in the City, near Barbican, and they specialise (as the name suggests) in pork. Of course, we knew that before we went, and are all fans of the humble pig. During a discussion over dinner the majority of our table said pork was their favourite meat, and I was the sole dissenting voice who dared to suggest a preference for lamb. I did so in hushed tones, for fear I might be ejected from the restaurant.
Everything on the menu includes some aspect of pigginess, except the desserts… but even there was a hint of swine. The menu opens with a warning to vegetarians that they may well be in the wrong place, though I did smell something resembling sea bass from the table next to us, so it would appear that the chefs show a little grace here and there.
The obsession with pig is slightly disconcerting insofar as it also extends to the artwork on the wall; pictures of happy smiling pigs. It reminded me of Leo McGarry’s line in The West Wing: “I take my daughter to a seafood place the first thing she does is name all the lobsters in the tank so I can’t eat ’em.” Thankfully the pictures bore no names.
The menu offered five options for each course, and it was insanely difficult to decide between them. We had gone with a couple of friends, and so were able to order different dishes each and try them all. I went for the crispy pig’s head, which had a beautiful deep flavour, served with a light apple puree. Other options included braised pig’s cheeks and pork scratching salad, both of which were gorgeous. But the highlight for me was the pork pate with bacon jam. It was a fun ‘building site’ of a dish, which tasted fantastic. Each element on its own was great, but together worked brilliantly; the light pate being complemented perfectly by the bacon jam to give a beautiful sweet flavour.
Then onto the mains. One glance at the menu and we were all quickly decided. The signature dish is a 21 hour slow roast belly with mustard mash and savoy cabbage. I considered being the martyr of the group and trying one of the other options just so we could try something different… but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, knowing I would be sick with jealousy seeing everyone else enjoy their pork belly. So four pork bellies it was. (Incidentally, if I had gone for something else, the smoked hock with roasted garlic, broccoli and radish sounded divine.)
The pork belly delivered perfectly: tender and flavoursome, with a beautiful sticky jus, creamy mustard mash and wafer-thin shredded savoy cabbage, topped with a golden strip of crackling. Every element was perfectly balanced and together tasted amazing. I was satisfied that I made the right choice.
Desserts were fun: chocolate fondant with white chocolate sauce served in a bucket, kahlua panna cotta. Helen had ‘strawberries and cream’ which was the most fun and fresh-tasting option. Strawberries with balsamic jelly cubes, cream, a tuile (with, I think, a hint of black pepper in), cream, an earl gray foam and, to bring out the childish side, popping candy. I think you could pretty much put popping candy on any dish and it would bring out a smile… except maybe my pork belly – that would have just annoyed me!
My dessert choice was… well… peculiar! I’m more of a savoury guy than sweet, and would happily do away with dessert in favour of something salty. So I went for the rather odd chocolate and bacon crème brûlée. The waiter said it’s a ‘love it or hate it’ dish, and I think I loved it. It was confusing; a taste combination you don’t expect at all, and the bacon was unmistakable, as was the chocolate. I did enjoy it, especially not having the sweetest of teeth. It’s hard to put it into words really, you’ve got the try it. (Just maybe encourage someone else on the table to order it, and then you can try it without having to commit to that being your major dessert experience!!)
The whole evening was great fun. The restaurant was unpretentious and not at all stuffy. We had gone on a Groupon voucher which we’d bought months ago, and sometimes you can feel a little looked down on when you brandish your printed bit of paper, but not here. The waiters were just as attentive as I imagine they would have been for any other customers. The food was fantastic, we had two bottles of wine; a light pinot grigio and a merlot, and we finished it off with coffee (illy) on the sofas by the window. A great experience.
Strangely enough, they are doing another Groupon offer today. It’s a slightly different deal to the one we got (we got two courses and a bottle of wine per couple, no cocktail) but well worth checking out. I’m sure you won’t regret it! Just don’t watch ‘Babe’ at any point in the preceding week…