The Black Pig With White Pearls
Traditional Spanish small plates in a cosy candlelit venue with funky decor and flamenco soundtrack.
Reviewer: Andy Millward
The Black Pig With White Pearls is cool in the uncool sense – it doesn’t have to try too hard. Quite the contrary: a small and unremarkable shop front in Stoke Newington hides an interior notably for its lack of plush. A largely black interior, plain tables, plainer chairs, a few stylised wooden bulls’ heads, a funky bar and music flirting with cool tells you this is not a joint pushing at Michelin stars, but it sure caters for those prepared to traverse east London in search of top quality tapas.
The menu is short by the standards of tapas restaurants, but supplemented by daily specials. It certainly tempted my taste-buds by virtue of being unusual and more authentic than your average tapas parlour, though before I go there the drinks menu is also worth a mention. Not that we partook extensively, but the array of fine Spanish wines, sherries, caves and digestives, many of which would prove ideal accompaniments to the various tapa. Sadly, I was driving, but I still look forward to sampling vintage sherries with my Spanish small plates.
A good place to start any Tapas dinner is with the mixed meat platter, which certainly does sort the men from the proverbial boys. The point is that it’s not difficult to identify great from good from inferior quality, and easy too to spot meats pre-sliced or worse – bought in. I’m very happy to report that these were brilliant in every particular: gloriously succulent Jamon Iberico, richly textured, an unmistakably dark flesh and a depth of flavour you will learn and love; lomo – pork loin – like you’ve never had it before, fresh chorizo as it doesn’t come in Tescos and a subtly spiced salami akin to salami Milano. The meats were served with small wobbly breadsticks of a kind I have not previously encountered, though some proper bread would have been a better fit.
Next on the agenda were morcilla lollipops. Yes, that’s right, spheres of Spanish black pudding on sticks, coated here with crushed almonds and embedded in what is described as a “sweet pequilla pepper marmalade” – though to our way of thinking it did not have the texture of marmalade. It was however sweet, peppery and a delicious contrast to cut through the rich fatty black pudding – quite apart from being a novelty you rarely see in the UK. By rights it ought to go down well in Lancashire, the heart of English black pudding country.
The third plate looked ravishing and was in any case my companion’s favourite. Pulpo can be as tough as old boot leather, though once we had got past the exquisitely arranged plate, in which curls of octopus tentacle topped off roundels of potato like a grand moustache, amid a small slick of olive oil and paprika vinaigrette, these were as flavoursome and textured as any I can recall eating. The tips were tender and the thighs meaty with a hint of chewiness. This was veritably the Rolls Royce of octopus dishes, worthy of the Spanish masters.
Fourth came the first vegetable dish, protein augmented by Spanish blue cheese. A blue cheese salad sounds run of the mill, but this was more than mere bitter salad leaves with chunks of cheese. As with the morcilla it came with nuts, this time walnuts; the saltiness of the cheese had been sweetened with a honey dressing. This is a salad to die for, and certainly one I will be attempting at home.
Next came more seafood, this time calamari hidden within an enamelled dish of arroz negro. This is to all intents and purposes Spanish, or rather Valencian version of the Italian risotto al nero, though in this case made with squid rather than cuttlefish ink and topped with a dollop of homemade aioli – a perfect match. To those who are put off by the inky colour, you are missing a treat. The flavour is sweet and wholesome but unmistakably redolent of the sea. It reminded me that I have a jar of squid ink in my cupboard waiting for the right occasion, which may come very soon. Finally for this late lunch, a plate of habas – fresh broad beans, another Spanish favourite, here with a whiff of jamon and a sauce including wine and tomato.
Had it been later we might well have tried some of the bigger sharing dishes, of which milk-fed leg of lamb, entrecôte and acorn-fed pork fillet all sounded truly divine, quite apart from the rabbit and cod with chick peas on the specials menu. The pricing tells me that the quality of raw materials matters, such that I know the lamb will be young, tender and delicious. I’d have liked to have tried the croquettes of the day too, but alas we could not fit in any more.
This was a rare thing: a simple meal yet bounding with Spanish authenticity and bursting with flavour. The attention to detail was spot on; no dish was sloppy, despite the fact that we were the only people in the restaurant for much of the afternoon. It was served with a smile by a Spanish waiter who proved knowledgeable and happy to answer questions about the food.
In short, this is unquestionably a no fuss, no frills venue, but definitely my tapas restaurant of 2016 to date; it will certainly be in the mix for my overall restaurant this year. A second visit will follow in due course.