Or, Sense Memories: A Restaurant I Ate at Six Weeks Ago
P and I went to Naughty Piglets for her birthday last month. It is around the corner from her and we've been meaning to go since it opened. They call themselves a 'Charcoal Grill Restaurant and Natural Wine Bar' which is quite a lot to process but they have a relaxed, Francophile vibe and a great reputation.
They're almost exactly what you might hope an excellent local restaurant to be. I mean, in some ways it is a pity that you have to book and that their neighbours can't just walk in off the road but I am always and forever pro-restaurants that take bookings. Inevitably the neighbours would start queuing and I would lose my patience and never get to go. This is the story of so many London restaurants that I would like to eat at.
I have resisted learning exactly what natural wine is. Organic fruits? Unassisted fermentation? Brewed in mud? I don't really care - no need to answer in the comments. I am spoiled by a father and a partner and two excellent girlfriends who are full blown wine enthusiasts and experts. I am offered excellent wine and I will gleefully gorge on it and happily split the bill but I don't instinctively care about the details. I'd like to be a person who is knowledgeable about wine but not enough to actually make that happen. I am happy to merely enjoy wine and to take pot shots at restaurant menus and supermarket shelves when I am unattended by those in the know. I would like to be fluent in Italian and draw beautifully and be svelte and muscular but there are so many hours in the day and one must prioritise (by being none of the above?).
We had glasses with courses and we more or less ordered whatever the waitress recommended. They know their list better than I do. I remember that they were all pleasant and they all tasted pretty much like apple juice or, maybe, some kind of magical cider wine. Presumably there was a reason for this but we didn't bother to find out.
I think that we had burrata with lemon zest and lemon oil and probably some other things. Lemon and burrata is an interesting combination that I will happily eat even if I don't quite love it? I would rather have something acidic with all that luscious cream and the zest is more bitter than sharp. I like bitterness (I really want to read Bitter) but this isn't my dream pairing. My otp if you will. Ditto crab and peanut butter. Peanut butter improves all savoury food (and ruins all sweet and chocolate-based foods, you heathens) but it is pretty weird with crab. Also, I don't like crab so I'm biased. I think P enjoyed this. Both plates were cleared.
I think that we had some kind of lamb? I don't remember any of the details and I don't really care although I'm sure it was good. Unfortunately, for the lamb, not for me, it was grossly overshadowed by the star of the whole meal - 'BBQ pork belly, sesame, Korean spices'. A thick, wet, sticky slab of pork belly all black and sweet from open flames. The fermented chilli paste. THE FERMENTED CHILLI PASTE. Google suggest it was gochujang and I posit that it was some kind of umami dream. I love a sesame seed, I love smokiness on a fatty cut, there were probably other good things happening on the plate. It is all a blissful daze. I think this is a menu staple and I will try my best to eat it over and over again as long as this restaurant lasts.
There were also croquetas (fave) and some kind of pudding that I remember being enthused by at the time but which has since almost completely slipped my memory. There were crunchy bits and creamy bits? Maybe a custard? Maybe rhubarb? I have no idea. The pork belly is what has lasted in my mind.
Also, the beautiful and charismatic French waitress. I feel very strongly that women and waiting staff should be able to go about their lives and jobs without objectification but she had a winking swagger that rendered me inarticulate. If P and I managed to hold our shit together and not giggle coquettishly as we ordered it was a close won thing. It is a great relief (to me and the world) that I am not single. I have no game.
Gorgeous staff don't make your food taste better. I have been to very fancy restaurants where they seem to have hired their staff (both competent and incompetent) from central casting or some modelling agency's lookbooks. Generally I feel alienated by great physical beauty, especially when I am eating - who can lose themself in multiple courses when there are long, wispy supermodel types drifting about? I mean, I can but I do think it subtly undermines ones pleasure. Charm though? That is a different story.
I'm pretty sure that the food at Naughty Piglets was great but I can't rule out the possibility that the flavours were enhanced by a crooked grin and some Parisian witchery.