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Toby Young
Friday 9th December 2005

Pig's Ear


How do you make a sow's purse from a Pig's Ear? Well, if you're a gilt-edged gastro pub just off the King's Road the answer is simple: play host to the second-in-line to the throne and his beautiful consort. The Pig's ear hasn't had any problems attracting customers since it opened in June of last year, but it wasn't until it got the Royal seal of approval a couple of weeks ago that it became one of the hottest eating houses in London. Before marrying Lady Di, Prince Charles held his stag night at Julie's in Holland Park. If Prince William decides to tie the knot with Kate Middleton, maybe he'll bestow a similar honour on the Pig's Ear.

"William and Kate came in with two bodyguards and waited in the downstairs bar until they were joined by two friends," says Laurence Botha, the 24-year-old South African manager. "Then all six of them went upstairs to the restaurant and had dinner together. My sister was in here having a drink at the time and she was quite surprised to see that William's jumper had a large hole in it just below the armpit. She was like, 'Can't he afford a new one?'"

Clearly, Miss Botha isn't familiar with the sartorial affectations of Britain's young Royals. Prince Charles may favour Savil Row suits and hand-stitched shoes, but William and Harry prefer ripped jeans and brogues. In this respect, they're indistinguishable from the majority of the ex-public schoolboys propping up the Pig's Ear's bar.

"There are basically two types of Chelsea customer," says Ollie Daniaud, one of the owners of this upmarket tuck shop. "The young, nifty, well-dressed, groovy type who knows a bit about wine, and the ghastly Hooray Henry, who just drinks lager and cheap wine, and watches rugby."

I'd quibble with the word "ghastly", but apart from that I think William and Harry fall squarely into the latter category.

On the night I went there last week, a silver-haired plutocrat had commandeered the upstairs restaurant to celebrate his 60th birthday, so my wife and I had no choice but to eat in the bar. This was no great hardship, though, given how beautifully this Victorian pub has been refurbished since the days when it was known as the Front Page. Ox-blood ceilings and soft lighting combine to create a cosy, fireside atmosphere--just the kind of home-away-from-home you long for during these long winter months. A notice on the door tells you to give due consideration to the local residents when leaving, but I can't imagine there are many complaints since, as Laurence Botha points out, "They're all in here." As if to confirm this, several of the customers were accompanied by thoroughbred Irish terriers, clearly the companion-of-choice in SW3.

I'm willing to bet that this is the only pub in England that has Sevruga Caviar on its menu--a sign, perhaps, of just how ambitious the owners are when it comes to the kitchen. The head chef, Ashley Hancill, has done stints at Harvey's and Alistair Little, as well as Balthazar in New York, and even the bar menu is sprinkled with such delicacies as smoked eel, bone marrow and foie gras. If you're looking for a Ploughman's Lunch, you won't find it here.

My wife started with goat's cheese, truffled puy lentles and leek vinaigrette and followed up with chips and a side salad, while I plumped for the pint of prawns and, for my main course, bavette steak and pousse salad accompanied by lashings of Bearnaise sauce. I was perfectly happy with everything I was given--more than happy, in fact--but my wife couldn't eat her salad on account of it being too salty. ("And I'm someone who likes salt," she pointed out.) Luckily, by the time she'd polished off her second glass of Chianti her mood had improved and she agreed that the upstairs restaurant would be the perfect place to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. I have to confess, I loved everything about the Pig's Ear. Truly, a gastro pub fit for a King.

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