How appropriate is it that a restaurant with a menu that encourages people to order a lot and pig out would be named The Pigpen? Before this day, I had never heard of The Pigpen before. It may be because I live under a rock. Or maybe because its first branch is in Nuvali, which is a place I don’t really frequent. But in keeping with the way that the Universe likes to surprise, this place was a pleasant one.
It’s tucked into a corner of Makati that I am sure now gets a lot of footfall because of a certain milk tea franchise that just opened there. I only hope that’s good news for this restaurant. With lovely decor, pleasant staff, and a very interesting menu, The Pigpen had my complete attention the moment I walked through its door.
I absolutely loved The Pigpen’s modern feel. I especially loved the plants that added a splash of green to all the brown hues. There’s something inviting about the place because of that. Even the menu is equipped for making people want to stay and chill for a long time. They have a collection of cocktails and craft beers with recommendations on which signature dishes they pair best with. If you’re not the sort to go for alcoholic beverages in the middle of the day (understandably), they also have craft coffees from Yardstick located alongside their all-day breakfast dishes on the menu.
The dishes here are an interesting blend of Asian and European. I’m guessing rather than define the cuisine of the restaurant, the owners focused more on creating dishes that are comforting, nourishing, and even indulgent for both the soul and the tastebuds. These are dishes you would want to slowly savor over drinks and conversation. Many of The Pigpen’s offerings are familiar; drawn from a larger spectrum of European and Asian dishes, but with some twists added in to create semi-fusion dishes. Some of the dishes are still one or the other though. It made looking through the menu half the fun.
We ordered a refreshing Tinto de Verano (Php 495) by the pitcher, and I found myself enjoying the light flavor of the wine melded together with the lemon soda. This cocktail is a lot lighter than sangria. More than anything, it’s like a sweet fruity punch that’s perfect for a hot summer day. I normally prefer my cocktails with a bit more kick, but this one felt perfect for the occasion. After all, I needed all my wits about me for all the stories we were about to share during this meal.
The great thing about The Pigpen is that they offer a lot of opportunities for you to enjoy their various dishes. Whether it’s their daily specials, party platters, or their group sets, it’s virtually impossible not to find something that fits within your budget or your cravings.
When we dined here, our party of 8 decided to order two different sampler sets available on the menu. Referred to as Pigpen Group Meals, the sets are either good for 6 or for 4, and include unlimited rice refills. My Dad wanted to go all out for my baby brother’s birthday, so he ordered two different Group Meals. At first I thought this was a perfect opportunity to sample as many different dishes as possible, for a cheaper price tag. Later on I did some math and found that it doesn’t exactly give you a huge discount compared to ordering the dishes separately. However if you are a big rice eater, the Group Meals are probably a good idea. I don’t think they offer unli-rice on regular orders.
The first set we ordered was the European Flavors Sampler (Php 1,500 for 4). It’s made up of four dishes, with the European Salad as the starter dish. We always have salad when we eat out for some reason, so it’s normal to see a plate of fresh greens on our table. This one had very Mediterranean toppings and a generous amount of honey-mustard vinaigrette. It isn’t anything particularly new or special though, as far as salads go.
I didn’t take a photo of the very simplistic Sausage Plate (it had fries and sausages) because I was distracted by the Pulled Pork Cannelloni, with its bright yellow cream sauce. The pasta they use to wrap the pulled pork is apparently homemade, and both wrap and filling were nice and tender. This was a solid dish, but it’s the sort you remember more for how it looks rather than how it tastes.
Their Roasted Garlic Chicken was also tender and juicy, with a nice hit of garlic in every bite. I just wasn’t a fan of the dipping sauce. I think it was patis (fish sauce) and tamarind sauce that was clashing here. It was a little too much for my tastebuds. This is definitely not the type of sauce you’d want to slather onto your chicken, which is unfortunate because chicken dishes like these normally go well with lots of sauce.
Now if you had to pick only one sampler to order, I would suggest The Pigpen Sampler (Php 2,100 for 6). The food in this set left a more lasting impression in my mind. Even though I can’t really say that any of the dishes from the European Flavors set was bad, I wasn’t as wowed by it in comparison to The Pigpen Sampler. Just by the name itself, you can kind of tell this is where the REAL signature dishes are at. Just the salad itself is already more interesting! The Asian Salad features flavors as bright and tangy as the parts that make up the dish. The fact that they always have noodles mixed in with the greens, plus a tangy sauce that isn’t mayonnaise-based, makes me such a sucker for Asian salads.
I also enjoyed the Grilled Tamarind Chicken. It’s tasty on its own because of its lemongrass, coriander, and black peppercorn marinade. I had to remove all those charred parts though. Again, I found myself on the fence with the tamarind sauce. It had that same overpowering quality that the dipping sauce from the Garlic Chicken above had. Sauces are supposed to boost or complement, not distract. This one couldn’t help it either. Basically, what I’m trying to say is: Proceed with caution when it comes to the dipping sauces.
On the other hand, the Mushroom Truffle Pasta goes into my list of ‘Truffle Pastas I Enjoy in Manila’. There aren’t a lot of them in there! Creamy and with just the right amount of truffle flavor, this dish is utterly satisfying. The highly raved Pork Belly Kimchi does not disappoint either. Delicious and juicy, the pork isn’t melt-in-the-mouth but slow-cooked until left with just enough bite to leave you hungry for more. The kimchi can be found on the side and atop each piece of pork belly. This dish is not spicy, but it certainly has a bit of that fermented veggie tang that cuts through the fattiness of the pork.
On the portion of the menu where the story of restaurant’s conception is told, there’s this statement that perfectly captures the feeling of the experience here at The Pigpen, ‘You could be quite happy with your favorite… but pair that with a drink… and suddenly the familiar becomes fantastic. Playing with balance and contrast is what creates magic at The Pigpen.’
I know I complained a lot about the dipping sauces, but looking at the bigger picture, I think the magic here at The Pigpen lies in their ability to come up with new ideas to up the ante of the familiar. In fact, they are so filled with ideas that their menu is teeming with fun things to try. All their cocktail and signature dish pairings stimulate the imagination. I actually want to come back for the sole purpose of trying them out.
In my opinion, the most important thing about The Pigpen is that it’s set up in a way that really makes spending time with family and friends perfect. Apart from the great ambiance and friendly service, the food is different and enjoyable enough that when you look back on this particular point in time, you’d remember the memory of this moment and also remember the food you ate. At the end of the day, that’s what makes eating out worth the trip and the money. And for that, I would certainly recommend The Pigpen. 🙂
Full disclosure: This post is NOT sponsored in any way. I received no compensation for writing this review. All opinions stated above are my own.