“…..white asparagus given a final toasting on the grill is served with fluffy micro-planed Parmesan, an egg yolk barely able to contain its molten richness, melted butter and crisped roughly torn crumbs — almost a moral tale.” Fay Maschler, The Evening Standard
Naughty Piglets opened 3 months ago in an unheralded area south of Brixton tube, it is on the site of a former Caribbean chicken shop (though this isn’t a case of gentrification driving up rents – apparently its owner was tired of the business and has since gone on to open a nightclub). Founders Margaux Aubry & Joe Sharratt are a husband and wife team – they met at Trinity in Clapham where Sharratt was head chef and Aubry was doing a wine apprenticeship. Sharratt is a South London boy who grew up in Clapham and the couple still live in the area. Aubry hails from France’s culinary capital, Lyon, and studied for an MBA before moving to London to improve her knowledge of wine, learning the ropes at Eric Narioo’s Terroirs. She is a beautiful and ebullient presence in the restaurant, effortlessly managing and charming at least ten tables at once. Getting the Piglets off the ground was a stressful process, including securing a large loan and needing to sign up to a 10 year lease, but they have been rewarded with some great reviews, including 9/10 in The Independent and 4 stars from Time Out.
The restaurant is small, with around 30 covers, including some seats at the bar; it has been converted in a tasteful but rustic style with lots of pine, simple furnishings and the requisite filament light bulbs. They have a curt and daily changing menu (heavily inspired by Sharratt’s stint at Primeur) and many of the dishes are cooked using a charcoal grill. The food has European and Mediterranean roots, coupled with some far eastern and particularly Japanese influence. Unsurprisingly, given Aubry’s background, the wine list is carefully chosen and focuses on low-intervention wines, with many natural and organic options. We enjoyed our Gamay Noir although the mark-up was rather heavy – we paid £28 for a bottle that retails at close to £5 so I would recommend a bit of research before you choose.
We started with some wonderful prawns, served whole and cooked on the grill with garlic and chilli (£7), they were really fresh, sweet and juicy, but are a dangerous option for messy eaters – in my enthusiasm to devour and peel them I managed to spray oil and prawn juice all over my shirt…….. Our next dish was a very generous portion of monkfish (at £9 I wonder how they can be making money from this?) served with deep fried courgette flowers and a saffron aioli. The monkfish had again been cooked on the charcoal grill which lended a nice, smoky flavour to its meaty flesh. The fish was still moist and was complemented by the crispy, slightly tart courgette flowers. My only gripe is that there was possibly a bit too much aioli on the plate, but it was so tasty that I ate it all anyway.
Spatchcock quail with romesco sauce and almonds (£9) was a simple but well-executed main course, the bird had been very neatly butchered and was packed with deep, gamey flavours. The romesco sauce was properly seasoned and utilised good quality red peppers.
And the highlight of the meal was a barbecued pork belly with Korean spices (a bargain at £9) – the quality of the belly was outstanding and it had been cooked to perfection so that the meat was soft and moist; the fat was wonderfully crispy. It paired beautifully with the umami/spicy Gochujang sauce which was laced with sesame seeds and baby lettuce leaves added freshness to the dish. We finished with the best crème caramel I have ever eaten – it was the perfect texture, rich and smooth with a hint of sweetness.
Verdict: Aubry & Sharratt have got just about everything right – Naughty Piglets rivals Portland for my favourite restaurant of 2015 9/10