Tom Aikens’ latest Hong Kong venture is all about pork.
Text by Mandy Li, food photos by Samantha Sin
Masterminded by British chef Tom Aikens, The Fat Pig’s concept is explicit and straightforward: it’s all about pork. The menu features a world of pork with dishes starring different parts of the animal cooked in the most appropriate ways. It categorises dishes by cooking method: under “Fried” are deep-fried pig’s ears, pig’s head cake and crispy pig’s tail, while “Confit” includes pork jowl and pork rillette. Other sections list braised, boiled, poached, steamed, baked, potted, barbecued and smoked dishes.
“I had this pork idea six months ago, and it came sharp and clear,” says Aikens, the chef behind the revamp of The Pawn and who helped steer Pied à Terre in London to two Michelin stars. “As a chef, I have always loved cooking with pork: it is very adaptable, and you can have many ways of cooking it. That’s why we have our menu divided by ways of cooking.”
The pork is all bred locally by Wah Kee Farm, which uses no hormones or antibiotics. “I chose them because I want pigs that are well-treated and have a consistent quality,” says Aikens.
For the chef, part of the concept’s appeal lies in cooking less-popular cuts such as offal. “Like liver pâté, it’s a very interesting thing to cook,” he says. “Later when the kitchen is more ready, we will start with other parts such as heart, kidney – I won’t say they are challenging, but they require very precise cooking, and that’s why they are fun to cook.”
On the flipside, a less glamorous aspect of cooking with pork is the preparation. “Some preparations are quick, but most are messy and time-consuming. Take pig’s ear, it takes four hours for us to trim, cut, coat in breadcrumbs and cook. They look like simple things, but they are not.”
In keeping with The Fat Pig’s casual vibe and contemporary interior – pink neon lights, paper menus, wooden tables – plates are small and are meant to be shared. “It’s a global trend. Everyone wants quality food in a casual environment now. We are removing all formality here. We hope people like it and are able to connect with the interesting concept. That would be our biggest compliment.”
Pig’s Head Cake
Taking a nose-to-tail approach, Aikens skillfully turns every part of the animal into delicious dishes. First up was pig’s head cake. The wholehead is brined, hand-pulled, mixed with caramelised onion, formed into patties and deep-fried. It appears humble, although the onion slightly overpowered the meat’s taste. Watercress salsa verde at the base provides a welcome herbiness that cuts through the richness.
Chopped Pig’s Trotter on Sourdough
Trotters are slow cooked with herbs and served on pieces of sourdough. We loved the gelatinous mouth feel unique to this part of the animal. We also enjoyed the roughness and masculinity of the homemade sourdough, which we agreed was the right choice for the bold ingredient. Our only complaint was the quantity of trotter – a thicker layer would amp up the pleasure.
The rillette came in a small bowl topped with a good layer of fat. We mixed the fat into the rillette and piled a big chunk onto the accompanying sourdough. It was delicious, with the right level of saltiness and greasiness. Sour apple chutney, which takes three days to cook, was served on the side. While it gave an acidic kick to the rillette, we preferred the dish alone for pure indulgence.
Deep-fried Pig’s Ear
In Chinese dishes pig’s ear is usually served bouncy, so it came as a surprise to find Aikens’ version was soft and tender. We were a little disappointed at the beginning, but gradually came to appreciate the extensive labour involved in giving this part of the animal a new texture. Instead of ketchup, Aikens paired the ear with green caper sauce, which was tangy and sour and complemented the dish well.
Salted and Dry-roasted Pork Belly Brioche Bun
The mini burger arrived with a hot, plump bun – a good sign the dish has been treated seriously. Pork belly is marinated in dry spices and roasted to rich, flavoursome perfection. Fermented cabbage added a pleasant level of acidity to the dish and imparted a sophisticated flavour. We also liked the simple plating – no garnish, no gimmick, just a wooden board that lets the food hog the spotlight.
The Fat Pig
Shop 1105, Food Forum, Times Square, 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay
Tel: 2577 3444
*Featured in Crave’s December 2015 issue