Address: 231 Hoxton Street, N1 5LG
Nearest Station: Hoxton
Tel.: 020 7749 0705
Good For: Carnivorous eating, Casual dining, Filling meal, Chilled atmosphere
My brother was a very lucky man recently. Why, I hear you ask? He had not one, not two, but THREE meals to celebrate his recent milestone birthday: one with each parent and one with friends. Now, with the parents, he predictably chose some rather, erm, ‘grown-up’ *cough* pricey *cough* experiences (Balthazar and Hawksmoor) to be treated out to, but his friends opted for something a bit more within budget and a bit more down with the kids.
And so it was that on a Wednesday night we found ourselves traipsing down Hoxton Street – a street that one of the group used to live on some years back, and had fondly dubbed Crack Alley back then (or something similar – you know me with my drugs and thoroughfares, all interchangeable and mix-and-match) – being led to a ‘secret’ location.
The Ginger Pig Café must be a well-kept secret then, because it was fairly quiet that Wednesday. The few couples there who were probably looking forward to a nice, quiet and intimate meal may very have been a bit put-off by the arrival of a boisterous birthday crowd (mwahahaha). On the other hand, I quite liked that we could very nearly say that the place was ours that night.
Simple and parsimonious are the two words that spring to mind when I remember the setting: tiled floors, straightforward wooden chairs and tables, and little baskets/tins of condiments on each table. The Ginger Pig is trying to evoke a bit of an old caff feel – it is a ‘café’ after all, duh – and of course this fits in with the whole small-time, chilled neighbourhood atmosphere of the place. Perfect, I guess, for local Hoxtonites (and interlopers such as our good selves) to call home.
The only beer they serve on tap is Meantime – a good brewery, but it would have been nice to see some of the local alternatives being given some face time. The wine selection looked quite interesting, drawing on a lot of French and Italian choices from what I can remember, and covered a good price range, and was attractively put on show (a downside I could think of this was that other diners and even your date would be able to see very clearly exactly how much you paid for your wine… but that’s just the snob in me coming out now).
And so, we have an English caff, with French wines, serving… American-inspired food? I settled for the hickory home-smoked pork belly with chips, pickled gherkins and coleslaw, which was good as it sounds. It was a lovely chunk of pork belly, cooked tender and juicy on the inside and charred and crispy on the outside; these guys seem to care about the meat they dish out to hungry diners, and it is a care that extends to a well-balanced coleslaw and fluffy chips.
It was therefore a shame that the barbecue sauce seemed so… clichéd and generic. They could have gone with something a bit more exciting or daring (a bit Japanese, with teriyaki? A bit Italian, with apricot and sage? Or what about Filipino – OH YES ADOBO OR TOCINO MARINADES OHMIGOD THAT WOULD BE GOOD), but instead they opted for an average barbecue sauce that was squizzed rather sloppily all over the place. I’m sorry, but to me it seemed like they splashed mediocrity over an otherwise brilliant dish.
The rest of the table headed straight to the ‘home made ground beef’ section to make their choices. Now, call me a bit dim (actually, please don’t), but a brief glance at the description did not lead me to immediately assume that what the Ginger Pig actually meant were burgers. After all, there was no mention of a bun anywhere, which seems to be a big no-no for many burger joints these days that talk about their brioche buns etc.
I only made the link between ground beef and burgers when they arrived on the table, stacked high and with knives thrust deep into them to keep their burger integrity. The general opinion was that these were very good burgers – cooked with as much care as went into my pork belly, with an excellent selection of fillings (the El Panchito with Monterey Jack cheese, chorizo, guacamole, red peppers, chimichurri and chipotle sauce was a winner of a burger), but rather interestingly they were categorised as “amazing pub burgers”, rather than in the same league as the numerous burger specialists populating London these days (price-wise, the Ginger Pig is a bit cheaper too). Choice of descriptor and category aside, I was a bit jealous of what I saw… maybe next time it will be burger time for me.
And if it weren’t so far away in Hoxton Land, I would venture there for their breakfasts. New Cross may only be twenty minutes away from East London, but that’s twenty minutes too far on a Saturday morning…
VERDICT – A good place. Everyone involved had a brilliant time and ate very heartily and well. It’s a charming little place that has some very enticing options on the menu (all offered at a reasonable price), and they seem to take care over what they do… the only thing stopping me from being more enraptured by the Ginger Pig is that barbecue sauce. Deal with that, and things will be just hunky dory.
Currently listening to: Metallica – For Whom the Bell Tolls