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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Chophouse, Sydney: Suckling Pig

"Can you smell that?"

Suze stops short and looks at me, her eyes wide with excitement. I can only nod in reassurance as I breathe in deeply.

"It's definitely the smell of suckling pig," I say. "I can smell the fat and the crackling", and we both fall silent as we enter a Homer Simpson-like reverie.

David Clarke, Executive Chef, in the kitchen

We are are a group of eleven pork-loving food bloggers this evening, invited by Chophouse to experience a Pig and Pinot dinner. The star of the show will be the suckling pig, slow-roasted and carved at our table.

Inside Chophouse

Modelled on a traditional New York steakhouse, Chophouse has a moody heavy feel to the place. Dark timber, leather chairs and iron fittings will appeal to blokes. Cow print walls and wooden stall partitions between booths add a touch of the Wild West.

In fact Adam Heathcote, Operations Manager for the Pacific Restaurant Group (Kingsleys and Chophouse) admits that the current male:female ratio of customers is 80:20. This changes during summer when Chophouse salads appear on the menu. He also notes that the introduction of live music on Thursday nights has seen a huge swing in clientele so the male:female ratio is equal.

Jamon and Italian buffalo mozzarella
with roasted fennel, spring onion and almonds

We start with jamon and Italian buffalo mozzarella, soft balls of velvety cheese that have been drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Delicate shavings of jamon add saltiness and toasted almonds give a pleasing crunch. Roasted fennel is sweet and tender but it's the spring onion that I love best, slow cooked until it has become caramelised on the edges.

Our starters are paired with a 2008 Ostler Pinot Gris from the Waitaki Valley, New Zealand, a light wine which is ripe on the palate with notes of pear.

adam heathcote
Adam Heathcote, Operations Manager, Pacific Restaurant Group

Ceviche of Hervey Bay sea scallops
with Mt Lowe truffle, avruga and apple

A ceviche of Hervey Bay sea scallops arrives next, garnished with decadent slices of fresh truffle sourced from Oberon only the day before. Executive Chef, David Clarke says he prefers Southern Highlands truffles as they have left distance to travel, and usually take less than a day to arrive.

Despite the shorter travel time, I find that the truffles don't have as intense a flavour as the ones I've tried in Canberra nor the Perigord Truffles of Tasmania. David thinks this may have to do with the age of the truffle plantations.

The sophistication of the dish gives an indication of David's career cv which included five years at Quay, working with Peter Gilmore.

Suckling pig

The arrival of the suckling pig on a trolley creates a ripple of excitement at our table. Like a swarm of paparazzi, we must have looked quite a sight, a gaggle of lens pointed at the reclining beast as shutters were released with unrepentant urgency.

I was mesmerised. Weighing in a 11kg, the three month-old female is at the upper end of the suckling pig scale, an organic pig sourced from the Macleay Valley near Coffs Harbour. David says the thinness of the skin and the ratio of flesh to fat is unbeatable.

Suckling pig head

The pig, David explains, has been rubbed only with extra virgin olive oil and salt before slow roasting at 140C for two hours. This long and gentle cooking time enables the fat to render under the skin, and gently cooks the denser parts of the animal like the leg and shoulders.

After two hours, the temperature is increased to 240C for 15-20 minutes to crisp up the skin into glorious crackling.

Suckling pig butt shot

Suckling pig butt and tail

David Clarke carving the suckling pig

Cutting off the back legs

Removing the crackling as one sheet

Cauliflower gratin with sourdough and gruyere $7.90

Seasonal green beans with herb butter $7.90

The Wedge $9.90
Crisp iceberg, slow cooked egg, white anchovies, parmesan and speck

Suckling pig flesh

Suckling pig crackling

Fresh from the oven, the pork has been cooked to perfection. The flesh is soft, sweet and succulent, surrounded by melting layers of fat. The crackling is thin and earth-shatteringly crisp, shards that snap in two with ease.

Sides of cauliflower gratin and Caesar salad seem a little rich and heavy beside the pork, but the beans offer some cleansing vitamin-rich revival.

I'd called dibs on the cheek earlier on in the evening, and David deposits the jowl on my plate with glee. The jowl is 80% fat but it's the crackling I'm after. We also tuck into the pig's ear as well as the snout - both are mainly mouthfuls of crunch although the snout has a small amount of edible cartilage in the centre.

The pork is paired with a 2006 Ostler Pinot Noir from the Waitaki Valley in New Zealand, smooth with hints of cherry and plum.

Caramelised banana cheesecake with butterscotch and peanut brittle $8

Caramelised banana cheesecake is sweet but not cloying. A sweet biscuit base is covered with thin slices of banana and then a light tangy cheesecake. Shards of peanut brittle are addictive and a splodge of butterscotch is scraped clean.

We're quite surprised to learn that David emphatically prices all desserts at $8-$9. He maintains that desserts do not have to subjected to high profit margins, although he also admits that the lower price point means they tend to sell more, as people will weight up a $15 dessert but are much more carefree when desserts are a mere $8.

Berta Grappa Nebbiolo Tre Soli Tre 2001

To accompany our desserts, we're offered XO Henessy Cognac as well as the distinctly different Berta Grappa Nebbiolo Tre Soli Tre. This is a vintage grappa that is aged for 24 months in old cognac barrels. Unlike the harsh grappas one normally encounters, this version has a beautiful honey colour and a complex range of flavours. We find almond and peach notes that give way to a secondary aftertaste of caramel.

Monkey, who happened to be dining at the restaurant that evening, described is as being like "stollen [the German fruitcake with marizpan icing] in a glass".

Chophouse Swiss milk chocolate block $16.50
with caramelised hazelnuts (150g)

Second dessert is a block of Chophouse Swiss milk chocolate set with chunks of caramelised hazelnuts inside. The miniature cleaver and chopping board is perfect for channelling your frustrations.

Chocolate tart $9
with sugared salted macadamias and creme fraiche

And to prove that loitering does have its reward, Suze, John and I find ourselves facing a third dessert to share, a chocolate tart. The shortcrust base is extremely buttery and flaky, the chocolate filling almost mousse-like in lightness, and reassuringly bitter.

Sugared salted macadamias are made by agitating a sugar syrup at high heat until it crystallises and turns white. Creme fraiche is the ideal counterbalance for the richness of the dessert.

Chophouse is planning to open a new carvery section upstairs in the next two months or so. A different meat will be available each night and will be carved to order.

Grab Your Fork dined as a guest of Chophouse.

Chophouse on Urbanspoon

25 Bligh Street, Sydney
Tel: 1300 CHOP IT or 1300 246 748

Opening hours:
Monday to Friday 12pm til late
Saturday 6pm til late

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
37 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/19/2010 03:26:00 am


  • At 8/19/2010 7:19 am, Anonymous Fiona said…

    Nothing like seeing that at breakfast to put me off my food... :\

  • At 8/19/2010 8:20 am, Anonymous Tina said…

    Loiterers..! I couldn't even have the chocolate, let alone another dessert - so I suppose I didn't really miss out.
    Wasn't it a fantastic evening?

  • At 8/19/2010 8:55 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    The power of the pig! How delectable! How did you fit it all in after our indulgent time away? Love the shots Helen!

  • At 8/19/2010 9:07 am, Blogger K said…

    That pig looks totally awesome. Crispy goodness all over!

  • At 8/19/2010 9:53 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Piggeh!!! Haha I have to say I find his little crispy tail incredibly cute. Banana cheesecake sounds lovely!

  • At 8/19/2010 10:01 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    bahaha loitering ftw! im still dreaming about all the crackling zomg best night ever!

  • At 8/19/2010 10:03 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    That amazing mass of bacon looks mind-blowing. I'm very impressed you guys managed to hoover through it - I do appreciate the gratuitous pig shots heheh..

    Beautiful photography as usual Ms Yee!

  • At 8/19/2010 10:13 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    I could so easily go a bit of that pork and crackling between slices of bread right now. Thanks for sharing a little piece of your cheek!

  • At 8/19/2010 10:21 am, Blogger OohLookBel said…

    I really must go there soon (unfortunately, it's opposite my gym - guilt!).
    The poor pig looks quite desperate, but delicious :)

  • At 8/19/2010 10:27 am, Anonymous mr shawn said…

    That swine is the very definition of food porn, any opinions out there on the best suckling pig in town?

  • At 8/19/2010 10:47 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That pig looks amazing, so do the desserts! Not sure how you managed to fit it in too :)

    Might have to fire up our spit again for a suckling pig.

  • At 8/19/2010 10:47 am, Anonymous Howard said…

    That pig looks amazing, so do the desserts! Not sure how you managed to fit it in too :)

    Might have to fire up our spit again for a suckling pig.

  • At 8/19/2010 10:52 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    *snicker* Butt shot! I'm sure that pig was delicious 'n' all, but you know me. I'm swooning over the cheesy cauliflower gratin and the butterscotch and peanut brittle banana cheesecake. Swoony swoony swoony...

    And then you *would* go and have salted macadamia chocolate tart. Sigh. Swoon.

  • At 8/19/2010 11:48 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    omgbbqsucklingpig that was a life-changing night... must get a suckling pig at every opportunity I can!!
    Hee hee good work loitering around for chocolate!

  • At 8/19/2010 12:19 pm, Anonymous billy@atablefortwo said…

    Ahh now I know sitting at the front do have advantages :) I love the shot of the chefs in the kitchen, very cool.

  • At 8/19/2010 12:20 pm, Anonymous Jacq said…

    omg that is definitely one magical-looking piggy with all it's crackling glory! And yay for bonus loiterer's dessert lol

  • At 8/19/2010 2:31 pm, Blogger sugarpuffi said…

    piggie butt!! god that crackling looks so good *mind drifts off and foodgasms* and i think i can have the whole chocolate block to myself

  • At 8/19/2010 3:35 pm, Anonymous Anna Johnston said…

    Seriously jealous with this post, adore pork, adore suckling piglet even more :) Love the piggy but shot!

  • At 8/19/2010 4:29 pm, Anonymous MissDissent said…

    Wow, you got to eat the meaty bits as well as the skin... unlike at lunch today!

    Nice to see you Helen!

  • At 8/19/2010 4:30 pm, Blogger Fouad @ The Food Blog said…

    Dear Lord. I feel a bit sad looking at that pig. It's not really a pretty sight. I bet it tasted delicious, but it seems a bit brutal. I'd still eat it though. Did you experience any feelings of shock?

  • At 8/19/2010 6:05 pm, Anonymous Maria @ Scandi Foodie said…

    I find carving so interesting! Very generous dinner!

  • At 8/19/2010 7:33 pm, Anonymous FoodieChat said…

    Poor piggy!! :( How does it compare to chinese suckling pig, which would you choose? :) That's so cool that you guys are so well known you get to eat for free! :) Freebie makes food taste even better hehehe.


  • At 8/19/2010 8:24 pm, Blogger Sara @ Belly Rumbles said…

    Ookay drooling at that gorgeous crackling and thinking about that tender lil piggy. But..... I must admit that shot of the crackling coming off in one piece and showing piggie head and flesh in one shot, hmmm was a lil disturbed (not much mind you). Not sure why as I would eat it and be loving every mouthful, but yeah, i think it is just the lil facial expression of piggie that you caught.

    Saying that, awesome pics Helen :)

  • At 8/19/2010 8:41 pm, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    I love how the animal is served whole - it really does remind us of where our food comes from and there really is something special about suckling pig.

    And I've always wondered what the noun for a collective of lenses was =)

  • At 8/19/2010 10:02 pm, Anonymous Katie&Wags said…

    Wow, that little piggy looks absolutely incredible. And banana cheesecake with peanut brittle... oh my!

  • At 8/19/2010 10:25 pm, Blogger YaYa said…

    There's something wrong with me, that butt shot of the pig is actually looking really appetising! So eleven of you finished up the WHOLE pig? Legends!

  • At 8/20/2010 1:28 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Wow, I just love this meal! It was fun to see your photos for the evening.

  • At 8/20/2010 4:22 pm, Anonymous Julie said…

    That pig is such a beautiful sight. Gotta love the crispy skin!

  • At 8/21/2010 8:11 am, Anonymous Trissa said…

    In the Philippines my Mom had a Spanish restaurant that served suckling pig - the pig was only 3 weeks old so you can imagine how tender it was, the waiters would cut the pig using a plate! Having said that, probably not the most humane thing to do.... But they were delicious! Seeing your post now reminds me of how wonderful they were - we'd always fight over the crackling as well.

  • At 8/21/2010 8:24 am, Blogger A cupcake or two said…

    I used to feel so bad for the little piggy being taken at such a young age. Then I went to a petting zoo and s little piggy bit me. I was 7. I've loved suckling pig since. Oh that's delicious skin. This is one of the reasons I will never be a vegetarian.

  • At 8/21/2010 12:56 pm, Blogger Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. said…

    oh the cracklings! The dinner was just full of sigh in pleasure.

    OK, I was not told about the extra dessert you guys got. *humph* lol

  • At 8/22/2010 12:13 am, Anonymous J2Kfm (Malaysian Food Blog) said…

    Though yes, I won't say no to a marvelous serving of crackling suckling pig, but then again ... seeing that poor thing being dismantled at the table might just be a little too .... barbaric? :)

  • At 8/23/2010 10:53 am, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    Omy that pig looks so good right about now! Mmmm!! So hungry.

  • At 8/27/2010 2:34 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Fiona - Oh dear, hope you recovered quickly!

    Hi Tina - It was a fab nite, and lol, the extra dessert was an unexpected bonus.

    Hi Peter G - My digestive tract knows no bounds. lol

    Hi K - THe pig was amazing. Cracking ahoy!

    Hi Stephcookie - The tail does seem oddly cute, and the banana cheesecake was delicious!

    Hi chocolatesuze - The crackling was crazy good. I think we all were in heaven that night.

    Hi Margaret - Aww thanks. I did feel like I was running my own pork p0rn movie!

    Hi John - Thanks for sharing your snout :)

    Hi OohLookBel - I say a little gym, a little crackling - how can you go wrong? lol

    Hi Mr Shawn - I've only had the whole suckling pig from Emperors Garden BBQ - it has to be pre-ordered. Delicious.

    Hi Howard - What time should I come around? ;)

    Hi Hannah - The butt shot did feel wrong but oddly compelling. It was a pig-fest alright - by all parties!

    Hi FFichiban - I think every day should be a suckling pig day. And ha, that'll teach you to run off into the night!

  • At 8/27/2010 2:44 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Billy - It was a fluke we took those seats and aww thanks. That was a random shot I took - the joys of Lady Luck working with me for once!

    Hi Jacq - The piggy spread its magic to everyone!

    Hi Sugarpuffi - The chocolate block was yum. Chopping it up was half the fun.

    Hi Anna - Haha glad I'm not the only one mesmerised by the pig butt!

    Hi MissDissent - Yes I can't believe I had so much suckling pig in two days. Not that I was complaining!

    Hi Fouad - You're talking to a Chinese here. Suckling pig is a cause for joy at any celebration. lol.

    Hi Maria - I love watching carving too - mainly because I'm trying to learn the tricks of doing it!

    Hi FoodieChat - Both were good. I think Chinese suckling pig has more of a star anise flavour which I do enjoy.

    Hi Sara - I was actually quite fascinated by that shot, but I know what you mean. I find that kind of shot on humans also disturbing.

    Hi mademoiselle delicieuse - I agree, eating the whole animal is definitely my preferred method of consumption, and not just for serving sizes. lol

    Ha, i have no idea. A focus? A focci? lol

    Hi kate&wags - It was an amazingly tasty evening!

    Hi YaYa - haha, I dont think you're the only one. And no we didn't eat it all. A few plates were handed around the restaurant for other diners to enjoy.

    Hi Lannae - Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post!

    Hi Julie - Crackling is my reason for being :)

    Hi Trissa - I have heard of using a plate to cut the pig. I don't think it's barbaric - more a demonstration of how crisp the crackling is? And the tenderness of the flesh?

    Hi A Cupcake or Two - lol. That's a very cute story!

    Hi Yas - haha, next time you'll have to loiter with us!

    Hi J2Kfm - I don't think it's barbaric. I think seeing a whole animal gives you a greater appreciation of the food you are eating, and we were very keen not to waste anything, especially the tails, ears, cheek and snout!

    Hi Angie - I'm always hungry. lol

  • At 9/03/2010 3:16 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Holy Moley! I have never been more grateful for being vegetarian. I could never eat that even if it tasted like paradise. No offense to omnivores. :P

  • At 9/08/2010 8:36 pm, Blogger Beekeey said…

    Oh my, I was a bit disturbed by that pig's face :S

    But I recovered looking at that chocolate tart. um YUMMO!!


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