The Potted Pig launched in 2011, with probably the most buzz and excitement there has been around a Cardiff eating place for quite some time. Shockingly, I’ve not managed to visit until now – Mr W made it to the opening night, but as it happened in the days before I lived in the area, I wasn’t able to go – and I’ve somehow failed to eat there since then, but this was finally rectified at the weekend.
Under the same ownership as last week’s restaurant of choice, The Meating Place, The Potted Pig is in a basement location on St Mary’s Street, in a former bank vault. We were met at the door and shown downstairs to the restaurant, and offered a drink in the bar whilst our table was prepared. There are a few speciality cocktails on the drinks menu, at £7 or £8 each, and wine ranges from around £15 up to £65, with a selection of fizz taking prices up even further for those who want to spend more! We opted for a very nice French Merlot at £17, which was more than acceptable, and very good for the price.
The menu was an interesting read; the website suggests modern British food with French and New York Grill influences. The starters were particularly tempting, and included the eponymous Potted Pig (which Mr W sampled on a previous visit), a duck hash with fried duck egg, and an ‘offally good’ breakfast – which sounded very intriguing, but for the fact I am not a fan of offal! We decided to share the Truffled Welsh Rarebit, which was simply presented, on a piece of granary toast, with a salad of (mainly) rocket on the side. It looked and smelled great, but wasn’t really to our taste – we couldn’t actually work out what it did taste of! It had a slightly powdery consistency, rather than being creamy or cheesy, and although I thought that the overpowering taste was mustard, the hot taste lingered, which would suggest chilli. There was no discernible truffle taste or texture. On the plus side, the salad was nice, and went well with the rarebit. Mr W didn’t enjoy it at all – I thought it was okay, but certainly wouldn’t have it again.
There was a similarly interesting selection of mains, with two vegetarian dishes, a few different meat, fish and poultry options, and – for the ravenous – a whole suckling pig, which is for eight or more people, only available if ordered in advance, and with price on request. Some of the vegetable accompaniments cropped up a few times with different dishes, which I actually think is a good thing: it suggests they use vegetables in season and would rather do a few things well than lots of things okay. We decided to have the whole ham hock, which was recommended for two to share, and came served on a board for diners to help themselves. It was one of the higher priced mains on the menu, but at £16, we were fully expecting to be charged £32 for two people. Not so – we had a generous main for two for just £16 – a very pleasant surprise. Even more pleasant was the fact that the ham hock was exceptional. It was billed as having a mustard glaze, and although there was a definite tinge of mustard, what we could really taste was honey – which gave the ham hock beautiful sweet, crisp outer layer, with soft fat underneath, and the succulent meat inside. It was spectacularly good! It came served with buttered new potatoes, some purple sprouting broccoli (which could have done with being a bit hotter!) and a celeriac coleslaw with mustard seeds. It was a great dish, and we would certainly have it again.
To finish, we shared a rice pudding with jam. The jam was very tart, rather than sweet, and didn’t really add a lot as far as we were concerned. Our server suggested a shot of gin to drizzle over the pudding, assuring us on good authority that this is currently all the rage in Paris. We decided to give this a go, opting for a fruity sloe gin as this seemed slightly more complementary than anything dryer. It didn’t really work for us, but we only tried a small drizzle, and even though it didn’t go with the pudding, the shot of gin was a pleasant extra when drunk separately (by me!) To be fair to our waitress, she came back to ask what we thought, and when we said we were not sold on the concept, she offered to get us another pudding without gin on it – we were happy with the one we had, though.
The service in general was fairly informal and very friendly. We had a few different people looking after us and on a couple of occasions they asked what we thought of the dishes, and seemed to take on board our honest feedback (we told them our opinion of the rarebit starter!)
The underground setting is interesting – I quite liked the ambience and décor (exposed bricks, exposed air conditioning ducts, and partition-style walls so that the restaurant feels more intimate than it actually is for the number of covers). Minor issue, but I was unimpressed by the ladies’ toilet facilities. To get there, you had to go through a weird back room area, and then there was one ladies’ cubicle, which was freezing cold, had flickering lights, and could have been a bit cleaner – although admittedly I used it at gone 11 p.m. so I am sure it probably started the evening clean!
I’ve heard a few murmurings that the Potted Pig has its sights set on a Michelin star. It’s no more than hearsay, so I’m inclined to take it with the proverbial pinch of salt, but if it is true, then I think it has some way to go – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’d put the food more in the category of ‘exceptional gastro-bistro’ than Michelin cuisine, and I would rather see it continue to do the former well than try (and perhaps fail) at the latter, because it seems a far cry from what it currently seems to be doing pretty well.
For one starter, one pudding, a shared main (which was ample for two people), two coffees (each served with a lovely shortbread biscuit), a bottle of wine and a shot of gin, the bill came to £56, which really impressed me. Given the hype around the place, positive reviews in the national press and the relative lack of other well-renowned eateries in Cardiff, I had assumed the prices might be a bit inflated, but it’s refreshing to see that they’re not. If the Potted Pig keeps doing what it’s doing, I will certainly be back!
Food: **** Service: **** Ambience: ***
27 High Street, Cardiff CF10 1PU