Carved at the table.
As written on the menu, one whole suckling pig will be carved right in front of us at the table by Chophouse executive chef David Clarke. Yes please, I absolutely have no objection what so ever to such glorious ceremony. I will bow and kiss the piggeh’s foot if I must. And I believe I am not the only person who worships such beautiful creature, because tonight I’ll be joining a group of eleven hungry hungry food bloggers for an exquisite Pig and Pinot dinner, except I am an hour late.
When I arrive at Chophouse, the food bloggers are unmistakeably easy to spot, gathering around at the long table with cameras in hands looking hungry. “You must be Billy from A Table For Two, how did it go with that Merivale dinner you were doing?” Adam Heathcote, the Operations Manager for the Pacific Restaurant Group (Kingsleys and Chophouse) greets me with a smile and a firm handshake as soon as I sat down. I am rather impressed that he knows what’s going on in our blogs, and apparently he’s been reading all our posts for the last 3 months.
Serves me right for being late and missing out on the starters of jamon and Italian buffalo mozzarella with roasted fennel, spring onion and almonds and Ceviche of Hervey Bay sea scallops with Mt Lowe truffle, avruga and apple. I shall down a glass of 2006 Ostler Caroline’s Pinot Noir from New Zealand to drown my misery. I shouldn’t really, because the best part of the evening is yet to come!
A moment of silence at our table as soon as David wheeling the roasted suckling pig out on a trolley, we can only contain our excitement for such a brief moment before breaking into an echo of ohh-ahhs, mobbing the golden beast with our cameras as flashes going off constantly like a rave party.
Adam explains that the pig is an organic pig sourced from the Macleay Valley near Coffs Harbour and they are usually female pigs which have more fat so they are lot more succulent. The suckling pig is at its best quality when it reaches three month-old, weighing at around 11kg, with the prefect ratio of flesh to fat and the thinness of the skin to guarantee a perfect wafer thin crackling once roasted.
David finally starts carving the suckling pig as we watch on. The knife is inserted into the back of its neck and slowly cut along the spine just deep enough to split the skin, the crackling sound of the crispy skin is a melody of merriment in my ears. He then chops off the back legs and two vertical incision just behind the pig’s ear, a whole big rectangle piece of crackling simply comes off as one sheet.
The whole pig is dismantled into parts within minutes, tiles on cracklings on one side, shredded meat on another. David explains twice cooked is totally unnecessary for a young pig like this one, as the flesh is already tender enough and it only needs to be in the oven at 140C for two hours, then crank it up to 240C for 15-20minutes just to crisp up the skin. The result is a succulent, juicy sweet pork with just the right amount of fat without being too greasy, the toffee-golden crackling is incredibly crispy, the deafening crunch in my mouth is like a thunder roaring in my head.
The suckling pig is accompanied by a few side dishes. The cauliflower gratin is a heavy dish, little cauliflower florets are baked until soft and happily soaking up the heavy cream, nicely coated with a layer of sourdough crumbs and melted Gruyere that gives the dish a crispy shield with nutty flavour from the cheese.
A bed of caesar salad with crisp iceberg and white anchovies is doused in creamy caesar dressing, sprinkled with parmesan and specks, but is the two halves slow-cooked egg with runny yolk on top what the food bloggers are fighting for. A simple bowl of seasonal green beans with herb butter offers the much needed refreshing crunch.
Whilst we are happily digging in with the abundance of meat and vegetables, those who sit at the front of the table are being offered the most succulent part of the pig, the cheek, and also the not so meaty parts – ear, trotter and snout. Exactly what a true food lovers’ dinner should be, nothing to go waste.
David tells us that he just likes to cook good food, nothing fancy but simple delicious food that everybody can enjoy and just eat. This dessert speaks for itself. The caramelised banana cheesecake is perfect with the amount of sweetness. A disc of light tangy banana cheesecake on top of the sweet sable biscuit is velvety smooth and creamy. Shards of peanut brittle are casually sprinkled all over for that extra crunch, and a slick of butterscotch sauce makes the dessert a million dollar richer.
Tonight has been a wonderful night and everyone seems to enjoy themselves. An impromptu decision by Adam I believe, two bottles of expensive liqueur are taken down from the shelf and pass around the table for us to pour as much as we like. Cupping around the oblong glass to warm the XO Hennessy Cognac tends to bring out the sweet nutty aroma of the brandy, whereas the Berta Grappa Nebbiolo Tre Soli Tre 2001 has a strong distinctive almond flavour with a sweet honey undertone. All I need now is a crimson red satin robe and a big cigar.
Chophouse house-made Swiss milk chocolate block is always a highlight at the end of the meal. The novelty of a solid bar of branded chocolate made by using latex mould custom made from Melbourne, served on a small chopping board and a mini cleaver never cease to amuse and bring a smile to everyone’s face. It is a manly dessert for the white collar in the financial district to express their stress and frustrations over GFC.
This is not a special dinner designed just for tonight. The suckling pig is actually available at Chophouse with booking and order in advance. I simply can’t imagine what can be better to have a whole suckling pig for birthday dinner party. Within the next few months, Chophouse will also opening the dining room upstairs as the new “Carvery” meeting place where they will carve up different meat each night for everyone to enjoy.
So pig lovers, “Oink if you are hungry’.
Chophouse 25 Bligh Street, Sydney Tel: 1300 CHOP IT or 1300 246 748 Opening hours: Monday to Friday 12pm til late Saturday 6pm til late
[A big thank you to Adam Heathcote and David Clarke for hosting such a wonderful night.]