Victoria has been on a quiet rise lately, with more and more good places opening up to capture some of that civil service dollar. Where a few good spots on Wilton Road like A Wong and About Thyme used to compete with the likes of Loco Mexicano and an all-you-can-eat Brazilian meat place (terrible, but my secret shame), now the likes of Bleecker Street Burger, Shake Shack and Bone Daddies are opening to turn the area into a pretty decent place to eat.
The main downside is that these are all chains, and for some diminishing returns seem to be setting in so that each new restaurant seems a little worse than the last – that means you, Franco Manca.
Enter The Other Naughty Piglet. Branch two of Brixton’s The Naughty Piglet, located upstairs at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatre The Other Palace, it has the air of any upmarket theatre cafe or restaurant – airy, open and bright with tables squeezed just a little bit too close together for comfort, and a seasonal ‘modern European’ menu.
Small plates come one-by-one for sharing and give the feel of a tasting menu with fewer airs and graces. Our ham croquettes (£2/each) were hot and gooey, with (I think) manchego cheese mixed in with a bechamel and nibbly bits of ham. I wished I’d ordered more than one each.
Datterini tomatoes (£6) came with a generous topping of feta cheese and a japanese dried chili powder, and though I couldn’t really taste the chili, the tomatoes were sweet and fragrant and a good match for quite a mild feta. Each bite was a little burst of summery flavour, helped along by a little coriander included in the greens on top.
Burrata (like mozzarella with a creamy cottage cheese-style centre) with confit onions (£9) was a smart pairing, with gently fried onions giving each mouthful three or four different textures at once. Both the onions and the burrata came in generous portions, even between two people, and the soft creaminess of dish gave it the feel of a summery comfort food.
The real highlight of the meal was Cornish mackerel with gooseberries, cherries and English mustard (£8), served in a sweet juice that I presume was from the gooseberries. The mackerel was tip-top: firm, moist without being too oily, with a powerfully mackerelly flavour that still avoided being too pungent. The mustard was a nice touch but the sweet juice and gooseberries were the real stars; this sweet/sour pairing with mackerel is really hard to beat. The whole menu is clearly built around creating food pairings, and in some cases like this one it works spectacularly well.
Black pudding with grilled nectarine (£9) came topped with chewy, fibrous greens (bean casings, apparently) that nevertheless gave some toughness and texture to two other squishy ingredients. This kind of upmarket black pudding that contains minimal barley is not my favourite, but the flavour was good and the pairing with warm nectarine was clever, balancing the black pudding’s strong savouriness. The plating (off to one side of a large plate, as above) was a little silly but hey – the dish itself packed a flavour and texture punch and, once again, created a brilliant combination that I haven’t ever tasted before.
Our last dish took some time to arrive and was somewhat underwhelming. Barbecued pork belly with hispi cabbage (£11) was served with quite an interesting Korean-style gochujang chili sauce, but was overall a bit of a let down – not bad by any means but boring compared to the rest of the food, and not quite substantial enough to justify its price tag. Still, the pork was cooked well and it tasted nice – it’s just that in the context of the rest of the meal, it felt less innovative than usual.
The bill was over £100 for a fairly boozy meal, but the food only came to £53 in total for two, including service. For food of this quality and prepared this well, that’s a steal. The one fly in the ointment is the wine list, whose cheapest bottle was £29 – apparently it is all ‘natural wine’, which I couldn’t care less about and don’t really appreciate having to spend an extra ten pounds over a normal bottle on.
It’s hard to find superb ingredients paired together creatively and with such boldness. Food that is both delicious and interesting is rare enough anywhere. And in the somewhat one-track Victoria, as much as it has improved lately, The Other Naughty Piglet stands apart.
Rating: Two medals.