I’ve recently spent some time working at a food magazine based close to Portobello Road in west London (every single time I think, say or even write the words ‘Portobello Road’ I end up with a tenacious little ear worm of the song of the same name from the innuendo ridden Disney musical ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie the reference will no doubt be lost, those of you who have seen it will now be humming the song relentlessly for the next couple of hours and for that I apologise). Given my proximity to Notting Hill and the fact that I was working on a food title, it is hardly surprising that I enjoyed a few gastronomic related experiences during my time there: As one who has an almost unhealthy passion for bookshops and all things food related, ‘Books for Cooks’ on Blenheim Crescent is something of a personal Mecca and I did well to limit my purchases to a solitary tome. The market rivals many that I’ve seen on the continent, even on quiet days, although Friday is by far the best day to experience it. I also had a truly outstanding falafel from a small van although my request for hot chilli was almost denied to me and it was only on proving that I could handle the fiery sauce by sampling a small amount that he relented and tipped some onto my wrap. A Spanish food shop nestling just under the Westway had the largest selection of Manchego cheese I’ve ever seen and the Gran Reserva that I plumped for was an exquisite example. But by far my favourite moment was a serendipitous visit to a pub called The Fat Badger.
I’d phoned the pub earlier in the week to talk about a campaign that the magazine was running in support of British pig farmers and ended up chatting to the amiable head chef, Will Leigh, formerly of Kensington Place. His unbridled enthusiasm for food was immediately evident and we spent a good few minutes discussing the delights of cruibeens and other such delicacies. A couple of days later, I’d arranged to meet a friend there and walked over after work. He was running late and so I ordered a drink and went in search of the chef to indulge in some food chat with a fellow enthusiast. As it was barely half past five, the quiet before the storm of evening service meant he was more than happy to talk and it was a genuine pleasure to discuss matters ranging from the provenance of his pork to the benefits of buying smoked eel from Holland with someone so profoundly passionate about it. Gradually, as the place busied we realised that few people would get served if he wasn’t behind the stove so we shook hands and parted company, he to the kitchen and I to a worn Chesterfield sofa with a pint and my book waiting for Tom to make the arduous journey from Shepherds Bush (a treacherous two miles). I was busy thinking of ways to convince him that we should stay for more than just a drink when Will returned from the kitchen and headed over, bearing a plate of what looked like incredibly tasty food.
And it was. It was one of the tastiest plates of food I’ve had in a long, long time. Thick chunks of pork belly rillons with soft, meltingly soft fat and succulent flesh with artichoke hearts and crunchy croutons and a zingy fresh gremolata which gave the dish a zesty lift. Good? The best description, and compliment, I can give is that it was the sort of food that just forces an unstoppable smile spreading across the face thanks to its absolute perfection and I can’t wait to go back.