You’d think with a name like Pork & Co there would be every variant of nose-to-tail eating – not unlike St John in London, though Canterbury’s pork restaurant does not aspire to fine dining. In the US, BBQ smoke pit restaurants will do pretty much every part of pig, so it’s a disappointment that the pork on sale amounts to pulled pork sandwiches in various guises (probably extracted from the shoulder joint), a belly pork starter and scotch eggs (unspecified), but that’s it – not even ribs (don’t tell me there is no demand for ribs in a student town or I’ll scoff.)
What they do proclaim, albeit with no strong evidence, is that, “Our pigs are all free range happy pigs” and “the finest pork you ever did have.” I don’t doubt the pigs are free range and rare breed, though some provenance would be welcome on menu, website or both. However, the other two claims (happy pigs and the finest pork I ever did eat) are spurious and unmeasurable claims, of which more later.
So, a few curious omissions and marketing blunders, all the more since the menu also provides non-porky treats such as chicken and burgers, salads, croquettes and wings, but maybe it’s best to let these things wash over me and judge the restaurant on what it does offer.
The premises is a relatively small shop front on a charming old Canterbury street a stone’s throw from the Cathedral. There used to be a takeaway branch a few doors up, though that has now met its demise. Strangely, on the Saturday night my son and I visited, half way through a pub crawl, it was barely half full – in spite of warnings that people would probably be queueing out of the door, which leads you to suppose Pork & Co is not quite the draw it used to be – though the absence of students in town might mean a significant drop in trade.
In fact we got a table upstairs without difficulty, although the space is awkward, as old buildings often are found to be during conversion. We read the menu and in the meantime ordered drinks. I chose the wiser, with a pint of Kentish Curious IPA at £4.50, while my son’s small can of Neck Oil came in at the same price – leaving him gnashing his teeth in frustration, even though I paid the bill!
From the menu he chose a pulled pork roll and I the “meaty melt” – which contains everything including macaroni cheese (yes they have gone for the vile Americanism of “mac ‘n’ cheese”, greatly to my dismay.) While cheese is very welcome, I’m not sure the macaroni helped the dish.
Both included so-so chips and a selection from the slaw menu (I went for pink beetroot slaw and he chilli slaw, of course.) We could have added sauces or a range of sides (the profit earner, alongside drinks) but didn’t bother, slightly to the chagrin of our reasonably efficient black-clad waitress.
Our dishes were well-presented for what were pork sandwiches, though could certainly have used a sparkling fresh salad garnish to add colour and pzazz to plates dominated by the mountain of fries in Adam’s case, though to be fair the vertically-mounted pork sandwich did stand out on my plate. Perhaps the problem was that the pork did not really stand out enough. The reticence to showcase the pulled pork is all the more surprising given that the window display features a pig’s head with a tray of pulled pork apparently issuing forth from its mouth.
It was OK but not really the star of the show, where in American smoke pits you could tell at a glance what the restaurant was about. Truth be told, while the pork was clearly better than the current rash of supermarket and low-class mass produced piggy products, it was not the finest pork I ever did have – and this evidence suggests British pulled pork venues have much still to learn from the American pit masters.
Not that Pork & Co is a bad place to try, though next time I’m in town I’ll ask Adam to take me to Smokies BBQ chicken outlet, where the routine waiting time is up to and beyond an hour. Maybe the queues do tell a story?