Timothy Oulton’s name is all over SW3’s latest gastropub, The Chelsea Pig. It was on the advance publicity info, it’s on the menu… I kept meaning to look up his name because, well, it was a chef I clearly hadn’t heard of. And with very good reason. He’s not a chef. Timothy Oulton, it transpires, is a designer. Yeah, alright, you knew, I didn’t. I write about food not furniture and colour schemes, alright? Sheesh. As you can imagine then, the appearance of The Chelsea Pig is rather funky, from the massive chandeliers to the diver in the massive fish tank in the far corner, via the original wooden floor and the ultramodern bar shelving. And, somehow, it works. Well, certainly for this corner of Chelsea it works – your average Wetherspoons is not going this way any time soon – and, happily, for those seeking substance not just style, it also works, due to its admirably concise menu, confident cooking and, particularly, the very charming, informative and well-informed team. And sure, it’s been interior designed to within an inch of its life but it still works as a pub… just. Most of the floor space has been given over to tables (and the aforementioned fish tank) but there are a few stools around the bar, and a handful of beers on draft, so you could pop in for just a pint…
Although you may – read “will” – be tempted by the menu. Head Chef Fionnan Flood comes to The Chelsea Pig via the likes of Maze Grill, Lindsay House, Arts Club and Riding House Café – and his original inspiration, his mother and grandmother in County Wicklow. His food here reflects all the above – classic dishes and comfort eating, given a SW3 – worthy twist – in portions that are definitely more pub than fine dining. So much so, in fact, that a computer error that meant our starters didn’t get ordered saved us from our gluttony.
We did get some snacky Small Plates though, as should you. Ancient loaf was lighter than the name makes it sound, and the accompanying “chef’s butter” simply means that Flood plays around with the butter on a regular basis. On our visit, it was honey mustard butter and a very nicely balanced thing it was too. That combo hinted heavily at what was to follow, with sweet and savoury an ongoing, and mostly successful, theme. Salt & Pepper Scampi was a fine update on a pub and chip shop staple, with a nod to Chinese takeaways: five crispy battered bits of seafood, under a heap of interesting, crunchy, occasionally very spicy fried bits. Glamorgan pork croquettes, with toffee apple sauce were equally good: nuggets of slow-cooked moist pork, lightly coated and served alongside a sweet, fruity dip. It’s a great bar snack and, for the quality / portion, £9 makes this an absolute bargain.
Mains are a strong mix of the crowd-pleasing and the slightly different. There’s a steak, a burger, fish and chips for a selection of no-nonsense crowd pleasing, plus lamb breast – with spring vegetable medley, minted salsa verde, champ – and a spatchcock baby chicken, coronation marinade, apricot puree, flaked almond for something more elevated (and, in the case of the latter, royally-themed). We shared the hearty Suffolk T-Bone Pork Chop – exactly as it says on the tin – with accompanying sauce of maple syrup and rosemary yoghurt and, best of all, Hen of the Woods mushrooms, with polenta and herb dumplings, celeriac and mushroom ketchup, a plate of great textures and deep umami flavours. The side of mac and cheese – truffled and topped with hazelnuts – is also a winner.
I’m not always a pudding person but, according to Ross, our man on the floor, who’d expertly, enthusiastically and amusingly guided us through the menu all night, our lives would mean nothing without the Treacle Tart. And he was right. Sweet deity-of-your-choice he was right. It’s a sticky, crunchy, sweet, rich, no-nonsense slice of a thing, with a marmalade-like sauce that takes the edge off and keeps you coming back for more. Like I say, not always a pudding person but I’d detour for a piece anytime I was in the vicinity. Peppermint crème brulee was an interesting one, possibly in the euphemistic sense. I will argue blind that crème brulee needs no twists and the first spoonful seemed to confirm this long held belief. The peppermint flavour was remarkably intense and true but Ross’s promise that it was like an After Eight seemed misjudged. A second spoonful though got a little of the accompanying Valrhona chocolate ice cream and suddenly the dish made a lot more sense. It’s not my thing – doubly so with that treacle tart in front of me – but I wouldn’t judge you for ordering and finishing it. Not now, anyway.
Prices are remarkably keen – for London, not just the postcode – and portion sizes are also generous. “Bargain” wasn’t a word I expected to use to describe a Chelsea gastropub but it is. “If you liked this, you’ve got to come back for Sunday lunch,” raved Ross and colleague. And you know what? I rather suspect I will. The Chelsea Pig is a very solid performer.
The Chelsea Pig
35 Old Church Street