Birmingham Restaurant Review: A yummy Brummie bistro - The Pickled Piglet

Delicous belly pork with saffron and honey.
Delicous belly pork with saffron and honey.
I’m a bit geographically off piste in terms of my latest restaurant review.  It’s not of an eatery in Edinburgh, nor even one in Glasgow.  For this week, I am dining at a place nearly 250 miles due south of “Auld Reekie”.  And it turns out to be a restaurant I liked very much indeed.   I probably should explain.

The first day of spring has always been memorable for me, not only because it marks the passing of winter, but also because 21st March is my Dad’s birthday.  So to mark his 79th year on planet Earth I thought it appropriate to arrange a wee visit back to Birmingham – the city of my birth – to celebrate this notable event.  I’m sure it’s no surprise to learn that the exact form this celebration took was to take my parents out for very pleasant meal.

Now Birmingham is a very different place from the depressed, and – to be honest – somewhat depressing, metropolis I left in the mid-1980s.  Though the “city of a thousand trades” may have well and truly had the stuffing knocked out of it during the Thatcher era, it has now become a vibrant, cultural hub.  Its centre has witnessed massive regeneration over the last two decades, particularly around its “canal quarter”, as the development of Symphony Hall and Brum’s architecturally impressive Library of Birmingham bear testament.  The waterways that were once at the heart of Birmingham’s industrial revolution are now the focus of a Bohemian collection of cultural and culinary establishments.  And as my Dad was born a stone's throw from the canal hub of Gas Street Basin, I thought it might be appropriate to find somewhere close by for a relaxed – but good quality – lunch.

Turbot with samphire and cockles.
Fab turbot with samphire and cockles.
A quick bit of searching on the internet and I had made a reservation for Friday lunch at the Pickled Piglet.  Located on Gas Street itself, this bar and bistro's website promised much of what I look for when I dine out - locally sourced ingredients, and free range, properly matured meat.  "Any chef can dress a plate, but taste is a different game" the restaurant's website sagely stated.  Occupying a compact, converted warehouse building, the Pickled Piglet’s dining and bar area is located on the upper floor.  It's bright and airy space which is tastefully furnished, whilst retaining features which nod to the building's industrial heritage.  Being Friday lunchtime in the centre of a bustling city, I'd expected the restaurant to be full.  Yet even though our reservation was for 1pm, as we were seated it quickly became apparent we were the only diners there.  Had I chosen a dud, I wondered?  Read on, and you will find the opposite to be true.


Chocolate torte with a berry compote.
Choco-berry sumptuousness
The bistro's brunch menu certainly presented us with a decent amount of choice.  An appetising range of tapas-style small plates were on offer - which could have easily doubled as starters - as well as various meat, cheese and seafood sharing boards.  We decided to dive straight into the mains however, which were simply described and tasty sounding.  My choice of roast turbot, green beans, samphire, new potatoes, toasted almonds, and a cockle sauce was just great.  The fish offered perfectly cooked, sweet, firm, white flesh that was really well complimented by the salty-freshness of the bean-samphire-cockle combination.  The addition of the toasted almonds was really clever, giving the dish a nice contrast in both flavour and texture. 

The birthday boy hummed and hard before deciding upon slow roast saffron and honey pork belly, with scallops, seasonal greens and smoked bacon.  This turned out to be  quite some present, consisting of three sumptuously tender chunks of Gloucester Old Spot belly, reclining on a bed of vibrant looking – and tasting – spring greens, bejewelled with moist smoky lardons, and bathed in a subtly sweet, saffron-tinged jus.  Plus there were two perfectly cooked scallops guarding each end of the oblong plate on which the dish was served.  To be honest, I was a little envious of my Dad’s dish.  But then my Mother let me try some of her chicken. Or to be specific, pot roasted chicken, creamed leaks, roasted shallots and sautéed potatoes.  The vegetables - and the creamed leaks in particular - were really great, but it was the portions of simply-cooked Poussin that made this dish exceptional.  All around the table agreed it was one of the most succulent and flavourful chicken dishes any of us had sampled in a long while.

Bitter orange croissant & butter pudding
Bitter orange bread pudding - yum!
The quality of our main courses certainly left us wanting to try more of what the Pickled Piglet had to offer, so the dessert menus didn't have to be brandished twice. My Limoncello curd, baked meringue, with honey and ginger crunch was perfectly fine - a citrusy-tart crème patissiere married well with the crunchy shortbread and crispy meringue.  Yet I could have gladly hijacked either of my parents' puddings.  My Mum’s chocolate torte with winter berry compote and vanilla cream was a triumphant melding of rich cocoa, sweet yet sharp fruit, and subtle vanilla creaminess.  Father's croissant bread and butter pudding with marmalade sauce and clotted cream was so good it's hard to do it justice in print. Wonderfully buttery pastry bathed in bitter-sweet Seville orange sauciness, that provided a perfect flavour counterpoint, then this all topped with in a creamily sour-tinged quenelle and candied orange peel.  Pudding perfection.

By the time we had finished our coffees and liqueurs, half a dozen or so other diners had arrived at the restaurant.  But, to be honest, with food as uniformly good as that offered by the Pickled Piglet, together with the flexibility of the menu, and the relaxed - but nonetheless chic - ambience the restaurant and accompanying bar ooze, I amazed that potential punters aren’t queuing at the door to secure a table.  If there is one regret about my visit to the Pickled Piglet, it's that I live 250 miles away from it.  I certainly will be planning to visit my parents again very soon - just to be a good son, and nothing to do with sampling fab food, of course...

Food 8.5/10
Atmosphere 7/10 (but only because it was so quiet)
Service 7.5/10
Value 7.5/10

Ambience - Expect a venue with a relaxed – but elegant – bistro/café ambience.

The Pickled Piglet on Urbanspoon
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