It would be easy, I suppose, to mistake Brixton Market’s Tiger and Pig with another outpost of the higher-profile Bao group. It’s a huge success story, from streetfood stall to prestigious real estate. I first came across them at KERB South bank in 2014, moving them up The List after hearing from friends just how good Netil Market was. Seeing them branch out to Soho- and what a meal we had there– and Fitzrovia and Borought Market, and develop sister site Xu- has been a pleasure. And while you’re at it, don’t confuse them with Tiger Bites Pig, because that’s in Birmingham.
The sign outside, for one, baldly states ‘BAO’ and the decor is familiar with blonde wood and white walls, neutral and unfussy. You order on a little form, like a trip to a gluttons’ IKEA, but a Taiwanese-accented IKEA that doesn’t make you hate your life or mentally replay Fight Club as you trudge disconsolately round while the football’s on. I am Jonathan’s seething gall bladder.
The choices don’t stray far from the favourites, the crowd-pleasers, which is precisely what beckoned me in: an imaginative way with vegetables, the little steamed buns packed with various fillings, the promise of good things with fried chicken. Happy little portions.
It’s one of the smallest restaurants I can remember being in- since Mama Lan’s next door the previous night, anyway, and technically we weren’t ‘in’ that one. Seating is limited, even if your backside doesn’t have its own postcode like mine does (Listen- male restaurant bloggers usually only get to keep one: hairline or waistline. Not both. For better or worse, I’m opting for the former. Our female opposite numbers remain remarkably unscathed, further proof any deities are women) so comfort levels are functional rather than luxurious, but that’s fine because the dishes arrive at a fair old crack.
If you’ll pardon the pun.
There’s kimchi with plenty of bright heat and bite, and lightly pickled spiced cucumber speckled with ground chilli which is a lesson in simple things done well. It’s just the thing on a muggy day, too- refreshing, compelling, hydrating: the kind of thing which makes you forget the fetid bowels of the Underground, at least for a short while.
Baby pork ribs, crisp and sweet and tender from a sous-vide coaxing overnight, are finished in scalding oil and a spicy-sweet lick of gochujang and soon meet their end by being shoved rapidly into my by-now glistening chops.
These are not the sort of things you linger over, although ordering another bowl is a wise option to avoid any lecherous groaking: you can always take your time with the second batch.
Wasabi mayo could have done with a touch more heat, and sweet potato fries prove why they rarely rival ‘proper’ chips by being a bit flaccid after the first few have disappeared; but it’s gua bao I want and gua bao I need. And plenty of fried chicken, naturally.
You know how good these little handfuls can be. They are a marriage of simple elements which become a sublime pleasure. Bread, meat, pickles. You know that gua bao, or hu yao ju, (‘tiger bites pig’), conjurs the predator’s jaws gripping its porcine prey; that traditionally it’s a dish eaten during the Weiya festival, the last annual celebration of the earth god’s bounty, where eating a gua bao signifies devouring all the bad luck and bad deeds of the previous year in the world’s tastiest tabula rasa. That’s a creed I could cheerfully sign up to.
The fat shiitake mushroom bao is garlanded with crispy shallots and yuzu- it’s a nice way to sidestep the lack of textural interest which can bedevil meatless dishes.
Lightly-crusted pork belly bao slides a generous slab of meat between the hungry lips of the bun, the lusciously fatty cut weighed against the tart acidity of pickles. It’s simple, but very well done, and as close to instant street food happiness as I know.
Fried chicken bao is admirably crisp and grease-free, the lightness of the coating and the fluffiness of the buns (very good, if not quite at Bao level) making for one of those little handfuls of food which do precisely what you want them to do. It’s served on a bed of more of that hot, sour kimchi.
A bowl of fried chicken is plentiful and ticks every box you want it too, as it did inside the bun. Here it’s slathered doused with tangy, punchy sauce.
The kitchen here is small- minute, really, even by domestic standards- with hardly room to swing a cat, let alone the titular tiger. It’s always fascinating to see how kitchens knock out dish after dish all day long in a space smaller than the one you ate your smashed avo/smoked salmon bagel/artisan granola/Coco Pops/Quaver sandwich in this morning.
Later that day, I see Liverpool win their sixth European Cup with my best friend and my nephew. (Other football teams are available). This was a good day, and Tiger and Pig started it all off rather nicely. Mere yards from the original Honest Burgers, Tiger and Pig is reason to chalk up another mark in the ‘why should I spend a day grazing in Brixton?’ column.
Yes, another one.
What we ate:
BBQ Chicken Wings
Baby Back Ribs
Taiwanese Fried Chicken
Sweet Potato Fries
Pork Belly Bao
House Kimchi Mix
Tiger and Pig
Brixton Village Market
19 Granville Arcade,
Tue – Fri, 6 pm – 11 pm
Sat – Sun, 9 am – 11 pm
This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.