‘Gastropub’ – it’s a bit of a dirty word isn’t it? There’s a suggestion inherent in the way the term strives to differentiate from “regular” pubs, of aspirational mediocrity. Too many a ‘gastropub’ has served up piddling portions of chips with a sliver of fish and a microgreen or two and charged through the nose for it. They’ve tarred the word, and perhaps that’s why The Pig and Butcher largely refers to itself as a country pub. It’s a fair distinction, nodding as it does at the venue’s history and extended food offerings. But it’s also fair to say that The Pig and Butcher very much succeeds where many awful gastropubs fail: delicious, elevated food, great drinks, and faultless service.
So, here are five reasons, having spent a delightful evening at The Pig and Butcher, why they’re the gold standard for what a gastropub can, and should, be.
1. The in-house butchery
Great food comes from great ingredients. Furthermore, great ingredients come from those who care deeply about what they’re doing. Those ingredients must then, in turn, be treated with respect and knowledge – even the best ingredients can’t save a poorly prepared dish! It makes sense, then, that The Pig and Butcher have taken matters into their own hands by preparing all meat on-site. They can also hardly not have a butchery on site with a name like The Pig and Butcher, can they?
It’s no wonder, then, that they’re famed for their steaks. Only the best meat from around the UK is used, from Lake District Herdwick Lamb, to Aberdeen Angus beef from the highlands of Scotland, White Park cattle, Iron Age pigs, Hebridean lamb, and plenty more. They reckon “you’ll be pushed to find better quality meat in any pub in London”. Butchering meat on site, and working closely with suppliers and producers means that the menu changes daily, so there will almost always be something new and exciting to try. And you can bet I’ll be back shortly to see what else I can gorge myself silly on.
2. The location of The Pig and Butcher
There’s something to be said for venues, particularly restaurants and pubs, that manage to situate themselves in busy, popular areas, but are able to find some respite and quiet. Located just minutes away from Angel’s ever-popular (for good reason, it must be said) Upper Street, The Pig and Butcher finds itself in the perfect sweet spot of location. It’s convenient enough to get to, and affords easy access to a plethora or entertainment and activity options around Angel and Islington. But it also finds itself ever so slightly removed from the hubbub. You turn down Theberton Street and the noise quiets down. It’s almost tranquil. And there is The Pig and Butcher, waiting on the corner at the end of the street, like a friend waiting for you to join them.
3. That Sunday Roast
There’s a reason why we put The Pig and Butcher in our roundup of London’s best Sunday Roasts! The options set mouths watering immediately upon picking up the menu. How often do you find yourself conflicted about what to order from a roast? Never! Well, The Pig and Butcher just might change that. In addition to an already difficult decision between their five standard roasts – nut roast, hogget leg, pork loin sirloin, or braised venison shank – they also offer incredible sharing roasts. You could split a lamb shoulder with a friend, or a Norfolk chicken crown with truffled brioche stuffing. That’s no easy decision for Sunday diners!
4. Those cosy vibes
You’d be forgiven for reading all this and perhaps getting a touch intimidated. With how great everything is, there’s a possibility for the place to reek of snobbery or pretentiousness. Indeed, my own usage of the word ‘gastropub’ has no doubt sent chills down spines as readers recall sneering service from lesser venues. But The Pig and Butcher is warm, welcoming, and frankly joyful.
The feeling in the dining room is akin to a mix between someone’s living room and a large country pub. You almost expect a fire to be a-roaring in the corner. A tall shelving unit divides the large room into two sections, with trinkets and heritage touches littered across them. The walls are a mixture of bare brick, tiling, and pristine white paint. On some, hang taxidermy heads constructed from woven wire and wicker. Some tables are constructed from polished wood that looks like it has been in place for decades, with others opting for a more bare, unfinished look. It’s just a delightfully charming place, characterized by thoughtfully contrasting elements and ever-so-slightly off-kilter accents.
5. The Ginger Jamaica Cake at The Pig and Butcher
Never, and I mean never, has a dish ever been so eagerly recommended by a member of staff, as when the topic of dessert came up at The Pig and Butcher. The lovely person helping us jumped at the chance to tell us how much she loved the Ginger Jamaica Cake. She told us how she would tell the cooks all the time how great it was, and how she urged every guest to order it. It went well beyond a sales pitch or an upsell into genuine enthusiasm. The Ginger Jamaica cake, which comes with whisky toffee sauce, and orange and cardamom ice cream, was easily as good as promised. It is not just one of the best desserts that I have ever eaten, but one of the best dishes I have ever eaten.
And all the rest of the food…
At The Pig and Butcher, things feel considered. Dishes aren’t sent out to live or die on the merits of a single flavour or intensity. Instead they’re harmonious and thoughtful. Crunch and acid come at the exact moment they’re needed. A punch of umami or a lick of fat makes itself known where the dish commands it. That’s not to say that dishes don’t deal with any degree of intensity. The pork head felt almost wholly constructed out of fat with a touch of meat to hold the affair together. But that fat was so perfectly rendered that it give way completely in the mouth. Even that dish, however, offered up roasted hazelnuts and a jammy gooseberry affair that called to mind a PB&J atop a divine piece of fatty pork, in the best way.
Dishes that look small pack enough complexity and flavour to sate you. A plateful of cauliflower and leeks ended up being a heartier meal than the Aynhoe Park Fallow deer. At the end of your meal you sit back – rather full and very happy. It’s almost like, just maybe, they know what they’re doing at The Pig and Butcher.