The Spotted Pig
Two colleagues of mine and I took our maiden "dining group" voyage to The Spotted Pig last night. The Spotted Pig is helmed by April Bloomfield who just last week was deemed Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine - despite her resume that includes a stint at The River Cafe in London - and financed by Mario Batali, a guy who knows a good thing when he sees it.
We arrived by cab, passing Wallse and other fine dining establishments on the way, and stepped up to the restaurant at around 7:15pm, braced for a long wait time and a crowded bar scene. But that wasn't the case. I'm not sure if it was too early, or that Mondays are different or that this was the night before the deadline to file income taxes or what, but there was no wait. It was just a matter of putting place settings down at our table. So after about two minutes of examining the smaller downstairs area and all of its kitschy paintings and needlework items, we were escorted upstairs to an equally charming space and more specifically a corner table with just the right amount of room between tables for a place like this: snug, but not overbearing.
I don't want to go into detail about the place, simply because we ordered a lot of food, and I want to get to that right away. We decided that we'd order as much as we could stomach and just share it all. Here's what we got:
Duck egg with tuna bottarga ($3) - this came from the "bar snacks" portion of the menu and was simply a soft boiled duck egg, split in half lengthwise and topped with slivers of seasoned/marinated tuna (that looked more like sardines), salt, pepper and olive oil. The bottarga part was fine, but the attraction was the richness of the duck egg. Hearty and tasty.
Devils on Horseback ($7) - This is one of those dishes that is always going to be overpriced, yet each time I'll go back and justify it. Whether its here, Freemans or Salt, all of which offer this dish of bacon-wrapped figs, the outcome is swoon-worthy. Eight came to an order.
Antipasta plate ($17) - We ordered this after the devils on horseback were devoured, though our server, oddly enough, said that we couldn't add another dish since we'd already placed our order. Come again? We thought he was joking - to which he suggested that he'll ask the kitchen to see if it would be okay. Fortunately for them (and us) it was okay because it "wasn't that busy". So what we get is possibly one of the best dishes of the night. It had super delicious prosciutto, crunchy artichokes, breaded cauliflower, grilled bread heavily doused in olive oil (nice) and a huge, half ball of fresh mozzarella. I could go back for just this and a Spotted Pig Bitter Cask-drawn ale ($8) at the bar.
photo courtesty of Robyn
Sheep's Milk Ricotta Gnudi with brown butter and sage ($13) - Strike what I said above. This is the dish I could go back for. Actually, it'd be best to go with a friend and order one of each. This was as good as everyone that's had it before will tell you or has already told you. Not to be missed.
Photo courtesy of Plaid NinjaChargrilled burger with Roquefort cheese and shoestring fries ($15) - The burger was what you might call a perfect burger. There is nothing at all wrong with this burger. But there is something strange about this burger that makes me question if it could ever truly be the best burger ever. It was cooked perfectly medium rare. I mean perfectly. But where was the juice? The burger wasn't dry, but there was no juice. A strong bite into the burger and you got nothing but beef, cheese and brioche bun. No juice. Yet the beef was bright red like you'd want it. And the brioche wasn't really soggy. Bizarre. But delicious. I could go back just for this burger and a beer at the bar. Did I just have deja vu? The only issue is with the shoestring fries. I've said it before - they are not practical.
Homemade Faggots with Mustard ($25) - That is not a type o. It's basically a cross between a sausage and haggis, or, as our server described it: pork cheek stuffed with organ meats - mostly liver, and what appeared to be barley or some other grain. At first, it was fairly one-dimensional. The scent and flavor of liver was strong and the thin, squeeze bottle stripe of mustard on top did nothing for the dish. We weren't thrilled. So we finished our burger and the champ (I'll get to that in a minute) and then, after the faggots cooled to room temp, we revisited them. Now it was different. The flavors started to become more defined and the textures made more sense. I think the heat tensed the dish up. By letting it cool a little, it was able to mature into a tasty dish worth considering. Very hearty (pun intended) and not for the wary diner but it did get better.
Champ ($7) - From the side dishes part of the menu comes something called champ. It's basically mashed potatoes with scallions and more butter than I care to think about. And it is remakably delicious. I did a little research and it seems that in some British households, a silver sixpenny piece wrapped in greaseproof paper would be buried in it. To find it in your portion was to gring good luck for a year.
For dessert we ordered some sparkling muscat, which was excellent, the chocolate, walnut and amaretto cake ($7) which was just okay and the three-cheese plate featuring bailey hazen blue and two other fine cheeses that I sadly missed (I went to the bathroom and missed the names). All very good. Total bill (I looked later and noticed that they didn't charge us for the muscat) came to $176.65. Not bad at all.
It's no wonder this place is a huge success. And its no wonder that this restaurant is the model for many other restaurants to come. I know I'd be pleased to own this restaurant or simply to work there.