Five Little Pigs, Wallingford: ‘The food really delivers’ – restaurant review | Food
five little pigs, 26 St Mary’s Street, Wallingford OX10 0ET (01491 833 999). Starters £3.50 to £8.50, mains £12 to £25, desserts £7 to £8, wines from £22.50
It is always good to recognize your weaknesses. I’m starting to think melted cheese might be one of mine. The menu at five little pigs, a well-dressed and classy little bistro in the town of Wallingford, Oxfordshire, lists many interesting things among the entrees: fried anchovies with sage and a bone marrow aioli catch my eye, as does the scotch egg , enriched with haggis, alongside their own brown sauce. He lists among the snacks, fried olives, stuffed with capers and marjoram. We snack on a few casually, as fried olives are something we always do, while giving the menu the attention it deserves. They are golden orbs, breaded panko, sour-salty, the size of a quail’s egg, brackishly beautiful. They are a good sign.
It was then that I was about to take another, that our waiter told me one of the specialties: a local cheese toastie Nettlebed Creamery, plus apples and some dandelion greens, served with a dandelion salad. I immediately know it’s going to happen, because it’s a toast and I’m literally unable to say no to any of them, even though I should. It is the completely domestic, made public. It’s alcohol. It’s the thing you eat before you go on the whipping; the thing you eat while your BAC is peaking, because that seems like a damn good idea then, and it still is; the thing you eat in the morning after the night before.
And now we introduce him into the good society of the restaurant, with a salad of dandelions. It’s like your dissolute, outrageous uncle who never really understood where the limits were, but still manages to do his hair and put on a suit for a family wedding. But you know that under the sweet smell of laundry fluid and Paco Rabanne, it’s still him. Even if you shake your head at his behavior, you know you’d be a little disappointed if he cleaned up his act.
There is no raised form of the cheese toast; no, gastronomically evolved version. Of course, you can forage the leaves of the Oxfordshire hedgerows for the salad and be careful with the choice of cheese, but it should always be coarse and coarse. The Five Little Pigs toastie is exactly that: golden and a bit greasy, and crusted in spots with rich, salty cheese that has leaked out and come in direct contact with the iron. The bright, slightly bitter salad tones down the richness, but if you didn’t want richness, you shouldn’t have ordered cheese toast, right?
The only problem is that it’s so captivating, so good, that it might limit the space for all the other good stuff on offer here. But hey: I have a job to do and I’m going to do it damn well. I trained at low altitude. Five Little Pigs, partly named after the nursery rhyme, and partly named after the novel by Agatha Christie, who lived in Wallingford, opened in May 2021, after successful crowdfunding. It is a partnership between the owners of The dungeona local craft beer and gin bar, and restaurateur Aimee Hunt, who has also lata lata in High Wycombe.
They get much of their local supply, not only from Nettlebed Creamery, but also fruits and vegetables from claysa market garden just three miles away run by a former math teacher, as well as Dexter beef and Gloucester Old Spot pork from Blue pewter products, five kilometers away. It’s all a great story. This supports the local community and means greater transparency in the food chain, although claims about carbon sustainability may not stand up to scrutiny; transporting food is much less important to its carbon footprint than how it is raised.
Granted, none of these virtuous purchases matter if the kitchen isn’t up to snuff. Here it really is. Next to the toastie, which I may have already mentioned, we have the flambéed and oily mackerel, its skin properly blistered and burnt, with a whorl of buttercup yellow aioli and a heap of crispy pickled vegetables. We have seared slices of lamb heart, deep and crimson in the center, with a few bitter leaves, a little blood orange vinaigrette and a dollop of crunchy green relish.
Among the mains is a black and caramelized venison stew, which must have started cooking the day before or the day before. Or the day before. It comes on a big pile of soft, buttery polenta, whipped to within an inch of its life, then lightly dusted with a grating of hard cheese, like a just-passed snow shower. No knife required. Fork it. It is the best type of nutritious, invalid and extremely comforting food even if you are not under bad weather. Another main course of a fillet of trout, the color of orange sorbet, comes with Swiss chard fronds, the cheery deep red stalks, potato slices and a yogurt vinaigrette. . If the venison stew is designed to make the poor feel better, the trout dish is simply designed to make you feel better about yourself, whatever.
It’s no surprise that after all the hot cheese toast action, dessert space is limited. Here, it’s all about the rice pudding and ginger cake, and a dark chocolate delight with more blood orange that accompanied the hearts of lamb. We barely manage to share their big, sugar-crusted donut, whose winter jam filling changes depending on what’s most available. Today it’s rhubarb and a little cardamom custard on the side. It looks like another household dish introduced to the restaurant world. This is a suitable bookend for lunch.
The price for this quality of cooking, with starters firmly in the single digits and most main courses in the mid-teens, is quite attractive. The cooking speed is, I’m afraid, a bit less and I wouldn’t tell the whole story if I touched on that. It takes 45 minutes for the starters to show up. Oddly, I put this down to the fact that the restaurant was completely empty when we arrived and not particularly troubled by a lot of customs afterwards. The thing is, kitchens really move when they’re under pressure; when the orders come in and the plates go. The old adage that if you want a job done quickly, you have to give it to someone who is busy, also applies to restaurant kitchens. This one deserves to be very busy indeed.
Liverpool will host a new food festival throughout the Jubilee weekend from June 2-5, with chef Paul Askew of the city’s art school restaurant as patron. Taste Liverpool. Drink Bordeaux will take over Hope, Bold and Castle streets in the city center, with a range of culinary demonstrations, street food menus and cultural events. As the Bordeaux Wine Council and the French government have poured funds into the pot, there will also be wine tastings and masterclasses. Learn more about visitliverpool.com/tasteliverpool.
The Seafood PubCo, which originated in the English North West before falling into administration and being taken over by the Oakman Group, continues to grow in the south. After taking over the Pointer in Brill in Buckinghamshire last October, they have now taken their fish-based menu, led by a seafood to share for £79.95, to the Grand Junction Arms in the town of Tring, in Hertfordshire. To thegrandjunctionarmstring.co.uk.
And sad but understandable news from Sowerby Bridge where the Moorcock Inn, much loved by many when it opened five years ago, including me, has announced its closure in January 2023. The menu, built around fire cooking from wood, wild ingredients, fermentation and preservation, have found a large following but, according to a statement from co-owner Aimee Turford, business terms have simply become too tough, with the twin challenges of supply and rising costs. “Frankly,” she says, “this is just not the time to run a company like ours. To themoorcock.co.uk.
Email Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1