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Ron Mackenna: Pig'Halle, Perth

We stick our heads into the Fergusson Gallery to see Debbie Lawson's Magic Carpets exhibition but it's just before five and we're shooed away on account of some official function about to take place.

Pig'Halle does a convincing impression of a French brasserie, both in its ambience and in its flavoursome and fetching food. Photograph: Stewart Attwood
Pig'Halle does a convincing impression of a French brasserie, both in its ambience and in its flavoursome and fetching food. Photograph: Stewart Attwood

It's too early to eat, though, so we wander through Perth towards the ancient and picturesque Greyfriars Cemetery to kill some time. It's padlocked and chained up already.

At least the lights are on in the bicycle shop and there is somebody in but we're shooed out of there by him as he closes up right behind us and heads off on a cycle. Lucky man.

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So here we are eating dinner at a distinctly high tea time in a brasserie with Parisian signs and ooh-la-la wallpaper and a distinctly un-Perthlike feel - today anyway - to its welcome. It's all good, though.

A salad of ox tongue ordered out of curiosity turns out to be crispy, fried, salty tongue slices served with a sweet poached pear, nuggets of tangy gorgonzola and a lovely toasted sourdough. It's fabulous. So, incidentally, is the basket of yeasty, doughy, freshly baked bread that's delivered to the table, though I'm losing count of the number of times the waiters' hands have touched that very same loaf as they repeatedly bring it up and down to the counter to cut slices.

Mussels poached in tomato and basil are more ordinary than the tongue, while the skirt steak ordered from the specials board looks like a bifter rib-eye to me. It is. In fact when we come to pay we'll realise the waiter has mistakenly given us the more expensive rib-eye from the a la carte menu even though - and this is the weird bit - at no point do we see that la carte menu.

Never mind. It's a decent steak and served with a slab of dauphinoise potatoes which are creamy and tasty. And those little flattened portobello mushrooms fried in garlic and oil? Fabulous.

Now, why is it the French and the Spanish seem instinctively to know what dishes to serve with chips? Pigs' trotters? I know, they don't sound appetising but Pig'Halle takes pride in its full-on Frenchness. Frogs' legs, pigs' head, even bone marrow and snails are on the menus.

These trotters are deboned, and the pink, sweet meat packed into a crisp parcel of filo pastry along with hazelnut and spinach. There's a tart and properly dressed side salad and a crisp and crunchy celeriac remoulade, all mustardy matchsticks with that basket of handcut - or chunky - chips fried twice, as is proper, and served crisp and salted. We're homemade chip fanatics in our house - twice fried from Russets makes for perfection - and these are not far off. Overall it's a beautifully prepared and presented dish, a tribute to the French art of taking ordinary ingredients and making them great.

More hard work has clearly gone into elevating a chicken leg by stuffing it with pork and bright green pistachio. It's then rolled, pan fried until golden and served on a plate sprinkled with spring vegetables. There's something called diablo sauce spread around the plate which is not very diablo-ish, tasting largely of tomato, but there's no faulting the work that's gone into this or the rich flavours of the chicken.

Incidentally, we've been eating from the pre-theatre menu - apart from that yet-to-be unveiled steak - so a dessert at an extra £3 doesn't seem excessive. A cherry clafoutis with cherry sorbet looks a bit thin on its terracotta dish when it first appears, but it's actually rich and deeply flavoured, and the batter-like mix excellent.

Throughout our meal the waiters have breezed back and forward, bringing an extra fork and plate when they notice Luca tasting our starters, delivering an unasked for but welcome jug of water. It's way past six now and the restaurant has filled fast. On a Wednesday evening. Unsurprising, really, when simple and unpretentious food is served this well.

Pig'Halle

South Street, Perth (pighalle.co.uk, 01738 248784)

MENU

Pigs' trotters, frogs' legs, chicken stuffed with pork and pistachio, frites and many less hardcore French dishes. 4/5

ATMOSPHERE

It feels very much like dining out in a real French brasserie, in a really good way. 4/5

SERVICE

The friendly French waiting staff may have got the steak order mixed up, but otherwise they're efficient and upbeat. 4/5

PRICE

Set menu at £15 for two very good courses. A la carte prices are around £6 for starters, mains from £11 to £19. 4/5

FOOD

There's a light touch in the kitchen and it shows in the dishes, which not only look good but generally taste superb. 8/10

TOTAL 24/30

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