The Fat Pig review date: December 7, 2015
As is often the case, Bill Murray recently nailed it:
Pork is indisputably – at least in my mind – the greatest and most versatile meat on the planet. So a new addition to the Times Square tower of restaurants, The Fat Pig, had my name all over it, so to speak.
It’s a huge space, one formally occupied by SML, purveyors of the three sized menu. On a Monday night in December it was, at most, about 30% full, so those 230 covers will need to be filled regularly if it’s to recoup the costs of a whole new look under Tom Aikens. Tom’s reputation precedes him, not least his former days in London and his heading up The Pawn. I spoke to him last year, here.
There are some cute touches from the neon signs claiming ‘we’ve got the chops’ to ‘In pork we trust’. Despite – or maybe because of – the venue size, tables are very generously spaced apart, a welcome break from the usual.
The menu is an absolute celebration of the pig: do not bring a vegetarian here as even some of the sides feature bacon. Almost all their pork is sourced locally, from Wah Kee farm in the New Territories.
They’re open all day and will soon be serving a full English, which can only ever be a good thing. For this tasting – to which I was invited, alongside a fellow Porkfan – we jumped around the menu, once we’d dived into a Moonzen Bacon Red Ale. The notes of bacon are there, but this is more of a gimmick drink than a slow sipper you’d return to. One was enough before we moved on to the extremely fairly-priced wines, ‘good’ at $45 a glass and ‘Better’ at $55.
And so it began, starting with a slice of their Gala Pie, their variation on the venerable pork pie. Well seasoned, good pastry, great ratio of pork to fat, cut through by a sharp sauerkraut-esque bowl.
Next potted ham hock and parsley jelly, served with piccalilli. (Fact fans, the Oxford English Dictionary traces the word ‘piccalilli’ to the middle of the 18th century when, in 1758, Hannah Glasse described how “to make Paco-Lilla, or India Pickle”) Not for the first time at dinner, the bread seemed incongruous, a bit too heavy. Admittedly, few if any dining duos would order as much as we did, but it still felt like something lighter would have worked better. The jelly was a delight, though, the parsley still tangible.
Pork’s best incarnation often comes fried and a number of dishes took this to a whole new level. Pig’s head croquette with watercress salsa verde was knockout, a great contrast between the dense, fatty and crunchy croquette with the vibrant and floral salsa.
Pulled pork on a brioche bun came with coleslaw and a large onion ring. My fellow swine Musketeer found it very salty, but I absolutely loved it which probably speaks volumes about my cholesterol levels.
Pork jowl with ponzu and pickled radish was prettily and daintily plated, an homage to Japan:
Chopped pig’s trotter on sourdough was an awesome sticky, sweet and salty celebration of all those gelatinous and sinewy bits which get the most exercise and therefore make for some of the best eating. Again the bread just felt wrong, even if it needed something pretty substantial to carry it.
The penultimate savoury stop came with their version of barbecued pork buns, everyone’s favourite cha siu bao. The pork filling was excellent, as you’d hope, but unfortunately the bun wasn’t. Doughy and cloying, it needed longer in the steamer or rethinking altogether. It’s brave to take on such a Hong Kong culinary icon, but it needs to be re-assessed if it’s going to turn local heads, even at just $10 each.
Right back on track though with their meatballs on polenta with tomato sauce and parmesan. Polenta is always divisive, but here demonstrates how and why it can be such a brilliant grain, all the cream and smoothness of mash without the starch overload. The meatballs were ace, too.
By now officially porked-out, desserts were tried in the name of research, but proved to be excellent. A chocolate caramel tart was splendid, but a deconstructed lemon yuzu cheesecake trumped it with a brilliantly zingy counterpoint. As the peerless and hilarious We Want Plates Twitter account shows, all too often food is presented ridiculously for no reason, but here it was all good eating cheesecake from a whisky tumbler.
A final chat with the warm and knowledgable server allowed us a peak in the spacious kitchen and a chat with head chef Douglas Forrest, who even showed us their brilliant take on a wine fridge, converted for home cured salumi, chorizo and more.
Shop 1105, 11/F Food Forum, Times Square, 1 Matheson St, Causeway Bay +852 2577 3444