Before Pidgin there was the acclaimed supper club ‘The Secret Larder” that friends James Ramsden (who is also a broadcaster & food writer) and Sam Herlihy co-ran. Now they have a permanent residency in Hackney which opened on July 7th 2015. What makes their backgrounds more interesting is that neither honed their skills in the restaurant business, but in the back of a coffee shop once a week. Together with Elizabeth Allen who is a former head chef of Smoke House in Islington, they embark on a new journey in a small but perfectly formed 30ish covers intimate restaurant. The format remains in the spirit of the super club’s tried and tested formula of a weekly changing menu with matching wine and cocktails. It’s damn fine and all at a modest £35 per head, set 4 course modern British menu with meticulously sourced ingredients. You really can’t ask for more than that, I didn’t.
First impressions always count and the aged Negroni didn’t disappoint with it’s perfectly balanced, bitter sweet aromaticness. I would be happy sipping this in any speakeasy cocktail bar in London – great work Sam!
Speaking of first impressions their house baked sour dough was full of flavour with that nutty butter – so good we asked for more.
We washed everything down with a light bodied Allegrini Vapollicella (£35). It was decent and matched the food perfectly.
Dashi congee arancino, soy-pickled shiitake. I loved this Sicilian/East Asian mash-up, traditionally it’s a fried rice croquette, eaten as a snack by the Sicilians – the chef cleverly uses the congee (Chinese rice porridge) as a filling and she nails it. I could have eaten these by the dozen.
Clams, riesling, crispy pigs ear. The fruity aroma of the wine became one with the umami clam juice, little salty nuggets of bacon were jewels in the sauce which of course was mopped up by that sour dough. The eating pleasure just got better.
Smoked short rib, braised daikon, koji carrots, girolles. I was lost for words on how good this was, the beef was spoon eating tender and came with this thick marmite like jus that had the deepest savoury flavour. Apparently, it’s a reduction of roasted chicken and veal bones with other secret ingredients. There would be murders if the recipe leaked!
Where we sat at the copper topped bar and could see the red grenade shaped smoker which contained the short rib. I’m now hatching plans to raid it for all it’s contents during my next visit.
Rice amazake cake, sake granita, shiso. Amazake is a sweet drink derived from fermented rice, a new one for me as was the boozy granita. I found the cake dry and unforgiving to eat, I’m glad it was only a small piece as I would have struggled otherwise. Sadly not a defining moment of the kitchen for the evening.
The last drop was thankfully a good-un though as these slabs of mighty chocolate restituted the deserts downfall. Sam wasn’t shy in giving us shots of ‘pidginchello’ though leaving us a chilled bottle of their version of limonchello. It tasted slightly medicinal in a good way.
In case you’re wondering this is the Pidgin bill claw which with only 2 left in the restaurant vs the original 5 they are a rare thing. So those who have borrowed them please bring them back!
The damage: Expect to pay £65 per head with cocktails/wine.
The good: The concept of a set menu will be stress-free to those who can’t make their minds up and it’s a nice continuation of their supper club ethos. I also hope the short rib will feature regularly though as it was jaw-droppingly marvellous and quite possibly the best short rib I’ve tasted. Pidgin delivers simple yet very interesting food with top notch service with a gentle price point. l would whole-heartedly recommend a trip up to Hackney to see for yourself.
The bad: It clearly wasn’t desert day during my visit. Also booking in advance is essential – it only seats 26 covers.