I AM not one of those people who gets obsessed about their diet, but when I was feeling mildly under the weather the other day a restaurateur friend told me that it was down to a conflict between my blood group and my eating habits.
South Street, Perth
01738 248784, www.pighalle.co.uk
Main courses £9.90-£17.95
I’m a common or garden O-type, which should apparently govern what I (and half the population) eat. As we’re the original hunter-gatherer carnivores, red meat is supposed to be good for us while dairy products and wheat are out, as is pork, which is poison to me and my blood brothers and sisters.
I nodded sagely while thinking it all sounded like a lot of old tosh. When I eventually proffered this opinion, it was patiently explained to me that there is a scientific basis to the blood-based theory. Never one to take these things at face value, I thought I’d try out my own field experiment to see if I could amass some empirical evidence to refute this bunkum. And, ladies and gentlemen, I’m happy to report that it worked. After an evening in Pig’halle, in Perth, I have demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that we O-types can avoid the straitjacket of avoiding dairy and hog and still lead a healthy and happy life.
For anyone who hasn’t been to this quirky little bordello-style French restaurant in the centre of Perth, Pig’halle is almost like a one-stop shop for testing the veracity of the O-type theory. As its name suggests, there’s pork by the barrel-load, and given its Gallic roots there’s also a fair bit of cream and cheese sloshing around. If you try really hard – as I did, suffering for my craft yet again – you can even choose dishes that combine pork and dairy products. And instead of feeling rotten afterwards, I actually felt rather chipper. But then good food generally has that affect on me.
As we had planned a pork-fest for main course, we gave the porcine starters a swerve. So no pig’s head and prunes galantine, and the ham hough and foie gras terrine was definitely off limits. Instead we went for steak tartare and a twice-baked goat cheese soufflé, both of which were excellent.
The steak tartare, in particular, was perfect. The beef fillet had been finely hand-minced and topped with a quail’s egg yolk, while the kitchen had left the seasoning and capers on the side of the plate so they could be mixed exactly to the diner’s taste.
Anyone who is addicted to watching food programmes on television will know that the twice-baked soufflé, which came with a waldorf salad and spinach, is a Hairy Bikers favourite – although on this occasion the goats cheese gave it a beautifully tart, acidic edge. Less welcome was the scruffy presentation, which detracted from an otherwise accomplished dish.
When it came to our main courses, we could happily have chosen any of the options from the menu or specials board. Instead, we ended up with two huge plates of pork, largely thanks to the persuasive powers of Paula Tabourels, the forceful front of house who owns Pig’Halle with her French husband Hervé, who she met while working in Edinburgh’s Café St Honore almost 25 years ago.
This is their latest French restaurant, and it’s housed in a former bank building that is decked out in red to “represent the Moulin Rouge and the sexy, velvety, red, sleek black décor and endless mirrors of Paris’s red light district” – which struck me as a big racy for Perth on a wet Wednesday night. For unrepentant Francophiles, one wall is a mirror that has a map of the Paris Métro stations on it, including Pigalle, which the restaurant is named after.
Tabourels is actually Portuguese, but she chirrups away in French and works the room like the veteran restaurateur that she is, and before we knew it we had both ordered variations on the same porky theme. Passing over the pig’s trotters (even Tabourels isn’t that persuasive), Bea went for the assiette 100% cochon, which consisted of suckling pig, French black pudding, pork belly and Iberico presa with baked apples and calvados juice. This turned out to be a huge plate of pork that she struggled to finish, but which didn’t lack for quality. The contrast in textures and tastes was fascinating, starting with the succulent but subtle suckling pig and ending with an interesting version of black pudding that looked nothing like traditional boudin noir but instead looked like a salami studded with flecks of fat, but which had a dark, strident flavour that had Bea smiling. In an interesting dish, only the overly fatty pork belly disappointed.
If Bea also had a couple of slices of presa Iberico, I ordered a whole plate of the stuff, which came with dauphinoise potatoes (hence the mix of dairy and pork). Presa Iberico is the Wagyu of the porcine world, the muscle between the top of the shoulder and the beginning of the loin on the cerdo Iberico, the absurdly expensive Spanish pigs that gain their distinctive sweet taste by being allowed to roam free living on acorns for the last few months of their lives. Rather than the painfully pallid pork we’re used to from domestic breeds, this is altogether darker and much sweeter, yet gamier, while also having a far more solid texture. This came with a rich red wine jus and more than passed muster.
Pudding consisted of an enormous vanilla crème brûlée whose silky smoothness more than made up for the fact that the sugary film on top had barely begun to harden. My caramelised rice pudding was equally impressive, a one-way trip back to school dinners that came with a dollop of ground berries and a scoop of underflavoured cinnamon ice-cream.
With that, our immensely enjoyable meal ground to a halt. Decently priced with exceptionally efficient and knowledgeable service, this is one we’ll come back to – as should all O-types.