I first ate at The Potted Pig on 13 Dec 2019 on the recommendation of the UK’s foremost warm-up artiste and bon viveur Mark Olver. Some of you may recall that was the day after a deeply traumatic event which ushered in the worst administration in British political history. If you can’t remember, I admire your ability to forget, or disavow your refusal to accept. Having stayed up late with a bottle of wine that grew more miserable with every glass, a slight hangover was abated with a superb mushroom dashi and some of the best roast pork I had ever eaten, but the trauma was clearly still too much for me to sit down and write about it when Britain had just elected the most unsuitable candidate to the highest office in the land with a quite overwhelming majority.
It’s quite something to realise now how much more trauma was to come. Considerably less meals in restaurants for one thing, although some of you might quite reasonably consider that to be one of the less horrific consequences of a global pandemic. One constant has of course been the crashing awfulness of that unsuitable candidate who has, in the well worn phrase, set himself very low standards he consistently failed to achieve. So it was, if not with a spring in my step, certainly a palpable sense of relief that I walked into Cardiff town centre to reacquaint myself with The Potted Pig in late July 2022, even if I knew I had a long afternoon ahead of me, reworking the Edinburgh Fringe show whose entire line of attack had been fundamentally altered by the enforced resignation of the Potted Prig a couple of weeks earlier.
The restaurant is in an underground vault that could be deemed oppressive if it didn’t feel like you have been admitted to a rather exclusive and comfortable bunker. On the day I was there, possibly a little too exclusive, which was a shame as it is always good to see good places busy. Still, we are all struggling at the moment – a fact possibly not unconnected with those in charge of the country.
Luckily, those in charge of the restaurant were doing a considerably better job. Kat, my chatty and enthusiastic waitress was on hand to bring me a very reasonable martini and talk me through what was an extremely tempting, if not inexpensive menu. It was also one of those relatively rare examples of a menu from which I wanted to order more or less everything, which might have made my choice of main course all the more surprising. She also informed me the restaurant was on its third head chef since my last visit, but luckily, change of leadership has clearly not meant declining standards. I wish I could say the same about Liz Truss.
To start, I had the smoked chicken, pancetta and spinach risotto topped with a delightful chicken skin scratching, for which I have only one criticism – it was a bit titchy. Mainly because it tasted so very good. It was also served on of those wide bowl-like dishes whose only actual area to fit food into is a small indent in the middle of the plate the size of half a boiled egg. I don’t like them. I find them difficult to eat out of, and in this case, I would suggest there wasn’t quite enough space to fit in as much risotto perfection as I would have preferred.
But still, it was a starter and set me up very well for what was an outstanding main course. I don’t often go for the vegetarian option, although I do regularly feel sympathy for vegetarians that the word ‘option’ remains resolutely singular on the vast majority of menus. It’s less an ‘option’ than a stipulation if you don’t eat meat. However, in this case, a number of factors pushed me towards a quite superb beetroot and truffle terrine. Firstly, to be honest, the price. Wages everywhere are stagnant, but they have been positively comatose on the comedy circuit for over a decade, and, as we all know, the cost of everything else has rocketed. Justifying £30 on a main course when you’re away working has become not just hard, but practically impossible to justify. The second reason is that I have grown some beetroot in my garden this year, and my, er ‘invention’ of the butter addled confit beetroot means I am planning to grow little else next year. This was an absolute delight, a wonderful contrast of textures with the soft earthiness of the sliced beetroot within and the crisped without, all offset by deeply pungent and satisfying notes of truffle. A perfect fricassee of greens alongside meant that I felt my lunch had also done me as much good as my run round Cardiff Bay that morning (were it not for the martini,) and at £18 it represented pretty good value for money too.
Desserts looked very tempting, but also veering towards the more overtly sugary end of the market, and for some reason my sweet tooth had deserted me for the day. Instead, in what is again a relatively unusual move for me, I opted for a selection of Welsh cheeses that were not only delicious, they also had the benefit of making me feel like a proper grown up. Maybe Boris Johnson should try some.
All in, with impeccable service, the bill came to £56, which is a lot to spend on a working lunch, but I justified the expense by driving off to a thoroughly hilarious, tiny and charming festival in Herefordshire called ‘Rock the Barn’ before returning to the joys of The Glee Club in Cardiff for the evening.
I then had the pleasure of driving home without the doom of a Tory election victory hanging over proceedings, before heading off to Edinburgh to give Boris Johnson the roasting his calamitous Premiership so clearly deserves. I suppose it’s also a small consolation to reflect that The Potted Pig would probably have done an even better job of it than I ever could.