The Pig & Butcher (London)

I’ve just had a really great meal. And it’s put me in such an amazing mood that I knew I simply had to post about it ASAP.

I was very flattered when N asked me to recommend a restaurant for her birthday dinner, so I sent her a list of places, some I’d tried before and some I’d yet to check out, and she settled on The Pig & Butcher. And boy, am I glad she did! I’d heard a lot about it and it’s been on my list for the longest time, so I was really scared that it wouldn’t live up to the hype, but now I can safely say that my fears were completely unwarranted. Definitely book ahead if you are thinking of dining on the weekend. N had tried to book a table for the 6 of us (LHKEN and myself) pretty early on this week but could only get a table for 9PM on Saturday.

About 5mins walk from Angel tube station, it’s a gastropub-type place, very cosy and welcoming with its warm, dim lighting, feel-good music (think Bob Marley and Johnny Cash). The dining area has a very rustic, country feel with charmingly unpolished wooden furniture…

 

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And this.

We started off with some bread for the table.

 

House sourdough, homemade Jersey butter and dripping (£1 per person)

House sourdough, homemade Jersey butter and dripping (£1 per person)

 

Why would you want bread in a breadbowl – or, God forbid, a breadbasket - when you can have it all heaped up on a breadboard?!?! To me a wooden breadboard is always a very reassuring sign, and I definitely was not misled here. This was proper homemade bread with a sandpapery crust, soft, fluffy and aromatic, with the right amount of tang you expect from a good sourdough. And the dripping?!?! It makes you forget the butter, which you know is saying a lot. I also love bread and good olive oil but I would pick this over olive oil any day. It’s kind of like an essence of steak, in that every mouthful was immediately evocative of a well-marbled steak. (Oh yes, vegetarians please BEWARE – dripping is essentially fat rendered from roasting meats. You can have the neglected butter.)

For mains, we all – apart from K, our resident veggie – wanted the lamb, which made things really simple for the kitchen staff. It said ‘lamb rump’ on the menu but the waitress told us that they were using lamb shanks instead – even better!

 

Romshed Farm lamb shank (rump), salsify and spiced red cabbage (£16.50)

Romshed Farm lamb shank (rump), salsify and spiced red cabbage (£16.50)

 

This was really good. It comes in a very generous portion, and I don’t know about you, but there’s something very beautiful about a whole lamb shank on a plate – beautiful in a primitive, almost vulgar way. The lamb was gorgeously burnished and the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender, rosy and suitably fatty. I highly recommend taking about 1 minute to get everything off the bone at once…

 

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Like so. Then you can leave aside the knife and just fork everything into your mouth.

Now, the lamb shank doesn’t need any explanation, I don’t think. It doesn’t need to try hard to look and taste good. It just is. In lots of ways it’s very much like the James Franco of the butcher shop. The accompaniments, however, were really what made this a stand-out dish. Lamb shanks are often simply served with mash, and of course there’s nothing wrong with some creamy potato goop to soak up the rich juices from the lamb, but changing it up every so often can be a really good thing.

The spiced red cabbage was jewel-bright and tender, almost to the point of being melt-in-the-mouth, but with just the slightest bite to it, so that texture-wise, it went very well with the lamb. Taste-wise, it had a pleasantly subtle sourness that really undercut the richness of the lamb.

None of us knew what salsify was so L looked it up while we were perusing our menus and it turned out to be a root vegetable, very similar to a parsnip.

 

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I think, salfise to say (see what I did there?), we all really, really liked the salsify. It was nicely caramelized, maybe a bit sweeter than parsnips, and delightfully crunchy.

I regret to say that one downside to this restaurant is the lack of vegetarian options. But I suppose that is to be expected since it is called ‘The Pig and Butcher’ after all. There was literally only ONE vegetarian main, so K got that.

 

Wild mushroom risotto, ricotta and spinach (£12.50)

Wild mushroom risotto, ricotta and spinach (£12.50)

 

I did not try it but K seemed to like it so I’m really glad.

Then we moved on to dessert. One of the things that I had been looking forward to most, ever since I first heard about this place, was the ‘banana sticky toffee pudding’ I’d seen on the menu last year, but as they change up their daily menu, I had to choose something else. That wasn’t the problem per se – the problem was that I wanted to get literally everything on the menu. And you know what? It turned out that the one that had initially been my last choice – but which I ended up ordering for myself because, hey, if the waitress says ‘There are only 3 pear tarte tatins left.”, you had better make sure that one of the remaining 3 is yours – was my favorite desert of the night.

But in all honesty, they were all very good.

 

Hot chocolate pot, marshmallows, caramel toffee ice-cream (£6.50)

Hot chocolate pot, marshmallows, caramel toffee ice-cream (£6.50)

 

N and L, being the chocolate fiends they are, both ordered the hot chocolate pot. If you like chocolate fondant/souffle/molten lava cakes, you will definitely like this. I myself have personally always been slightly on-the-fence about things like chocolate fondants. Obviously I do eat them, and I promise you I have eaten far more than my fair share of them in the past 21 years. But in all honesty, I’m more of a big, bad chocolate cake with sticky fudge frosting kind of girl. Or a flourless, bittersweet chocolate torte kind of girl. Or a dense, fudgy brownie kind of girl… Mmm… Nevertheless, this particular rendition was not too soft and didn’t have too much of that raw egginess that is my main gripe about fondants. Then again, having said all that, one really cannot deny that the experience of breaking into the barely-set chocolate carapace and delving into the gooey, chocolatey core is anything but a pleasurable, decadent one. Do get this if you like chocolate fondants.

 

Lemon & thyme drizzle cake, honeycomb & sheep's yoghurt sorbet (£6.50)

Lemon & thyme drizzle cake, honeycomb & sheep’s yoghurt sorbet (£6.50)

 

and E both got this one. It was good. There was a very strong, unmistakable scent of honey as soon as the plates were set down on our table. The cake was dense without being hard and appropriately damp as lemon drizzle cakes ought to be, moist from soaking up all that syrup. Neither the lemon nor the thyme was particularly pronounced here – though it was perhaps a good thing that the lemoniness wasn’t too strong since the sorbet supplied much of the tang to the dessert – but I would maybe have added just a bit more lemon zest (which increases the flavor of lemon without any accompanying sourness) and maybe even coarsely chopped bits of thyme. The sorbet was very light and refreshing and did not have that tooth-aching iciness that some sorbets have – it was almost creamy, possibly from the addition of yoghurt.

 

Winter fruit crumble & vanilla ice-cream (£6.50)

Winter fruit crumble & vanilla ice-cream (£6.50)

 

I know how much H likes crumbles so I knew she would get this. It was good but it was much too tart for me. The golden crumble topping had a good ratio of crunchy knobbly bits and melt-in-the-mouth butteriness, though I would’ve liked a much more heavy-handed use of cinnamon.

 

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Hmm… I am really not sure what counts as ‘winter fruit’ other than clementines. I would personally have preferred a berry crumble, rhubarb crumble or traditional apple crumble. This was so sour it made my cheeks squeak.

But anyway, while these 3 deserts were all good, the one that was a clear winner for me was definitely the pear tarte tatin with creme fraiche.

 

Pear tarte tatin with creme fraiche (£6.50)

Pear tarte tatin with creme fraiche (£6.50)

 

A tarte tatin is a very simple, unassuming dessert, which is why I very nearly passed on this altogether. But this one was really quite delicious. The pear chunks were soft without being woolly, and were sweet and slightly caramelized with an almost-imperceptible hint of cinnamon (which N hates, I might add). And I like that this was served with creme fraiche instead of the usual vanilla ice-cream. The cool creaminess was a good match for the slight tartness of the fruit, and the slight sourness really prevented the dessert from being too sweet.

Overall, yes, it was a very good dining experience. Also, for the amount and quality of the food you get, the prices are definitely decent. But, while our food came reasonably quickly, without any compromise whatsoever on the quality or presentation of the dishes, the customer service wasn’t the most consistent but I’m inclined to overlook that.

I definitely do recommend The Pig & Butcher to anyone looking for a good place to go unwind and catch up with a group of friends over good stick-to-your-ribs kind of food. Sometimes that’s exactly what you need in life. Never underestimate the restorative power of a great meal with even greater friends. It makes you feel like you can finally face the world again and re-establishes the balance you thought you’d lost for good.

‘I believe in using words, not fists. I believe in my outrage knowing people are living in boxes on the street. I believe in honesty. I believe in a good time. I believe in good food. I believe in sex.’ (Bertrand Russell)

 

THE PIG AND BUTCHER

80 Liverpool Rd, 
Islington
London
N1 0QD

Monday to Wednesday: 5pm–11pm
Thursday: 5pm–12am
Friday & Saturday: 12pm–1am
Sunday: 12pm–11pm

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