I stumbled across this restaurant whilst flicking through the ‘East London: an opinionated guide’ published by Hoxton Mini Press; a little book exploring new and interesting places to eat in East London. Observer FoodMonthly Awards Winner 2017 Pidgin’s no-nonsense interior stands out on the first few pages in. I’ve heard friends and colleagues talk about Pidgin dining: a snug and simple space with an air of honesty. A British-inspired set four-course menu that changes weekly along with the wine and cocktails list (including a G&T using Pidgin’s own homemade tonic water). With sister restaurant Magpie up and running at the end of July this Hackney hideaway adopts the narrative of a supper club: laid back dining with short no-choice menus. Pidgin shares this philosophy bringing customers a quality, stress-free menu that uses seasonal, carefully-sourced produce, all enjoyed in a relaxed space through the use of copper trimmed tables, and walls decorated in wood gathered from New Forest.
Walking out of Dalston Junction Overground station heading East the location of the restaurant seems odd. Moving away from the busier high street in to quiet residential areas. I walked for about half a mile before turning down Wilton Way which is populated with coffee shops, cafes, barbershops and local supermarkets; Pidgin sits at the end of the road. Coming from a background of supper clubs, Pidgin is extremely convivial. This laid-back vibe continually expressed through the materiality and restaurant layout. The glass fronted facade invites the local neighbourhood in, greeting them with a small bar and references to the outdoors. The small restaurant is very cosy and intimate, seating about 25 covers. Made up of loose tables and chairs and a long banquette towards the back of the space and a small bar at the front with an open kitchen where you can see the chefs working away to prepare the dishes. What I loved was the attention to detail. Staff are well informed about the many types of wine the restaurant stocks and friendly in discussing the menu. The chefs are adept at choosing quality ingredients and pairing them with unique flavours. Going from complex to musky to earthy all in one sitting - all handled with care and finesse, producing fantastic results.
First things first, the waitress explained the menu a little and served up a not-so-traditional bread and butter pre-meal standard; there was nothing conventional about the one served up at Pidgin. Restaurants seem to be upping their bread game and Pidgin is no exception. Crusty potato sourdough is paired with the creamiest brown butter I’ve ever had, presented in a sack-lined basket for that extra homely feel. Coming up next is a starter of potato, tapioca crisp and Thai green curry foam with a sprinkling of caviar. The flavours are complex and well-balanced in terms of flavour and texture, especially the Thai green foam that was authentic and unexpectedly wonderful.
The main course of cibette onion, crosnes and a fried ‘chicken parcel’ (aka a chicken nugget) were equally delicious. The flavours were accompanied by different sauces and a jus packed with the flavour from cooking the meat. It’s evident that places like Pidgin are evolving because these independent (but somewhat unknown) restaurants allow diners to enjoy great food in a casual and accessible environment. What I love about these types of places are the complexity in each of the dishes - even when it doesn’t sound like there’s much going on, it’s all rather clever and done in such an unassuming, unpretentious way that you can just sit back and enjoy really excellent food.
It was almost disappointing to know that the meal was almost over with only one course remaining. Pidgin did not disappoint in its last course. Out comes a beautifully colourful dessert. The waitress presents the dish and the ingredients seem to go on forever: Banyuls vinegar ice cream, caramelised quince, passionfruit, cocoa nib & almond brittle, goat milk, lemon balm. I was unsure how and if any of the flavour combinations were going to work but it surpasses my early dubiousness. Each element was perfectly balanced and it was an elegant affair when eating. The tartness of the passionfruit and freshness of the lemon balm combats the sweetness of the caramelised quince that is sticky almost like toffee apple (without the annoying stuff in your teeth afterwards).
More and more restaurants are starting to realise the importance of brand and how this can have an impact on how diners enjoy the food. The branding is expressed as a hieroglyph of an avian claw hand drawn in simple black and white lines to further emphasis the simplicity and honesty of the restaurant. The ‘claw’ makes another appearance but this time as a three-dimensional object in the form of a wire bound foot when you’re presented with your bill at the end.
The dining experience comes to a close with some petit fours. Amazingly smooth truffle chocolates with hints of rose, all washed down with a complimentary glass of ‘Pidgincello’, another one of Pidgin’s homemade concoctions, but this time infused with rosemary. The four-course menu left me feeling more than satisfied and a memory of my favourite dishes, the chicken and passionfruit dessert linger.