"The Pigs, Norfolk: ‘Lives up to its name’ – restaurant review"
The Pigs had a surprise visit from the one and only Jay Rayner. Jay Rayner is the Observer's restaurant critic and a feature writer. And we are hugely proud to have such a great review.
Congratulations to the entire Pigs team who have worked tirelessly over the past few months who bring you a service we are all proud of!
'If you like all things piggy, then you will feel right at home here'
"Restaurant names matter. If you reference hedgerows, petals and berries, you are telling us you cook only to serve nature’s bounty. You may do it brilliantly or not very well at all, but at least we know your intention before crossing the threshold. Use words related to the shore and we have an expectation of a menu built around the most recent catch. And if you call your restaurant Sexy Fish, it indicates you have the sensibility of a 14-year-old boy who gets off on the underwear ads in his mother’s copy of Cosmopolitan. If you honestly think this is a good name for a restaurant, you should be forced to sit in a locked room with a pile of rotting herring for two days. Then you can tell us how bloody sexy you think fish really are. If this reads as if I have some corrosive beef with restaurateur Richard Caring, that’s because I do; the tawdry stereotypes used to market his Ivy Asia restaurants are fully deserving of opprobrium.
There’s a restaurant in Sidcup called Sophie’s Choice which, given the plot of the William Styron novel, is a little disconcerting. And I’ve always had a soft spot for what I assume to be the sweet and literal act of translation that has resulted in a south London Chinese restaurant being called After Taste. I’m not judging the food or service at either, only the names.
‘They have very much nailed the essentials’
The Pigs, a low-slung pub not far from Holt in North Norfolk, is making a serious statement with its name. They can serve anything they like, but a good slab of it better have something to do with pigs. The headline news is that they meet their commitments, and do so with enthusiasm and vigour. I have long said that there are no bad words, only words used badly. However, there are some combinations that make me flinch. Among them is the phrase “hearty fare”. It speaks of forced chumminess and Ukip bingo nights and the heady waft of Lynx Africa. Yes, of course I’m a snob.
Still, it works here. There is nothing elegant or poised about the cooking at the Pigs. That is a positive. It is solid, unselfconscious and, yes, hearty fare. It is there to feed you and keep feeding you until you lay down your cutlery and realise you’ve been roundly overfed. I’m told that the building has expanded somewhat since first it opened. Now there are a series of interlocking rooms stretching in all directions, but the staff have no problems servicing the brisk trade that fills them. The laminated menu appears to be more a symptom of these complicated Covid times than any attempt to place the business alongside other wipe-down food pubs.
‘A slow cooked, bronzed and generous round'
I could list all the starters. I could tell you that it includes honey roasted figs with goat’s cheese and chopped walnuts, as well as a rarebit with tomato chutney and mushrooms on toast. This is not what I’m here for. I am here for the Piggy Pieces, a mixed board of their pig-based starters at £16 for two.
They have very much nailed the essentials. Start with the crackling. If that’s a disappointment, you might as well curse the gods of expectations and sod off home. The two pieces here are crunchy and furiously bubbled. They are salty and have just the right underlay of fat. They lie, like some honour guard, across the top of the dense, spiced and potted pork that breaks into threads as you plunge into it. There are doll’s house-sized cheese and smoked ham bread rolls, served warm, to spread it on. To one side is a flaky, sesame seed-speckled sausage roll, atop a dollop of their own fruity brown sauce. On the other side is a black pudding and pork scotch egg, the yolk just the right side of jellied. There is a pot of crunchy pickled vegetables which, slightly oddly, is mostly sweetcorn, but which does the job of cutting through the plunging depths of what is here. There is also a cast iron skillet of sweet and tangy barbecue beans, complete with lardons. It is in the logic of this menu that I am destined to meet them again.
While I adore pork belly, I rarely order it as much as I would desire, because that would get repetitive. But hurrah. I have an excuse. Here, it is served as a slow cooked, bronzed and generous round, in a huge lake of those beans. Across the top is a piece of extremely good black pudding, seared so the outside has a salty crunch. There is a peak of stewed apple and then, naturally enough, more planks of crackling. It is £15.50 of “No dinner for me tonight, thanks.” We complete the theme with the Hog Butty: a toasted bun filled with most of the things we’ve already met, beautifully repackaged into an ungraspable sandwich. Use a knife and fork. There is well-sauced pulled pork, a slab of the seared pork belly, another of the black pudding and apple sauce. There are chips. There is crunchy red cabbage. There are honey-roasted root vegetables.
It is a lot of simple points, well made. A lemon meringue sundae of ice-cream and lemon curd, cream and meringue, is a concerted attempt at a palate cleanser. A strawberry tart is a quick piece of assembly, the sliced fruit laid over a crème patisserie filling. On the side is a scoop of elderflower sorbet which, after all that had gone before, was really the only dessert anyone needed.
'A lemon meringue sundae of ice-cream and lemon curd, cream and meringue, is a concerted attempt at a palate cleanser'
The drinks list is big on ales, many of them local, including Jigfoot Norfolk Golden and Woodforde’s Wherry. I have no idea what these are like. I just adore the names. The short selection of wines all come by the glass, carafe and bottle. The bill will not make you gasp, and if you have a Norfolk Passport, a scheme giving discounts across the region, you’ll get 10% off. Do note that from this month they will continue to open for breakfast, but not for lunch Monday to Friday, because of overly familiar hospitality sector staff shortages. But they remain open for dinner and all weekend, and it’s very much worth going there to discover just how well the Pigs lives up to its name. I mean, they could have called it Sexy Pigs. But that sounds like the title of an episode of Black Mirror penned by Charlie Brooker. And no one would want to eat there.