When Broadsheet calls Nicholas Hill, the situation in the kitchen at newly minted French bistro Porcine is approaching code red.
“A broken dishwasher and a chef off sick had us a tad behind today,” says Hill.
Even with a former Old Fitz head chef (Hill) in the kitchen and an ex-Don Peppino’s co-owner and chef (Harry Levy) running the show, opening a restaurant is not for the faint of heart – especially when you throw a whole pig into the mix every fortnight.
Hill and Levy have been on the tools for two months now, transforming the former Micky’s Cafe on Oxford Street into a French bistro, where the pair’s impressive careers have culminated in intoxicating food and atmosphere .
For Hill, who won accolades with his Gallic-influenced pub food at Woolloomooloo’s Old Fitzroy Hotel, Porcine marks a return to the polished techniques he forged at fine diners including Sepia and London’s Michelin-starred Ledbury. For Levy (also ex-Bar Brosé and Love, Tilly Devine), it’s a return to a strip reinvigorated over the past several years by players including Fred’s and Saint Peter, as well as his now-closed Italian diner Don Peppino’s.
“Oxford Street is a vibe,” Hill says, laughing. “There’s plenty of life in her yet.”
The vibe at Porcine is all about good times with mates while enjoying great food and wine – which makes sense not only because it’s above the newly opened Paddington outpost of P&V Wine & Liquor Merchants, but because Hill and his front-of-house manager Matt Fitzgerald have been best mates for decades.
“After the Fitz closed and Harry had finished up at Don’s, it felt right to have a proper crack at it,” says Hill of the collaboration. “Harry has great experience in fields that I don’t, and [the] Micky’s [space] came up with the P&V guys. Matt has been my best mate for over 20 years, and his knowledge and experience came late to the piece but fit like a glove. It all just really seemed to work.”
As for the food, let’s talk about that aforementioned pig. Each fortnight a whole Berkshire pig arrives from Hungerford Meat. Each 60-kilogram carcass is aged for up to three weeks to improve flavour and texture before it’s broken down into house ham from the legs; cretons (a French-Canadian pork spread) and chou farci (pork-stuffed cabbage) from the neck and shoulder; 600-gram tomahawks from the ribs; as well as T-bones and rump chops.
“The head is pressed into a terrine and sold in the P&V courtyard by the slice, and the bellies are cured and smoked for staff bacon sangers on Sunday mornings,” says Hill. But vegetarians are also taken care of: there’s a dish of seasonal vegetables in a bay-leaf vinaigrette, a Jerusalem artichoke vol-au-vent with garlic hollandaise, and a salad of endive in grilled orange vinegar.
“That said, a big fat pork chop doesn’t go astray,” says Hill, laughing.
His top picks when we talk include a Québécois-style pate of spiced pork mince and chicken livers enriched with crème fraîche and pork fat. He describes the menu as “French bistro the way we like it: simple and homely.”
And the fact that you can BYO wine from the P&V bottle shop right downstairs is a game changer.
“For diners to be able to buy from the bottle shop to drink upstairs is a huge win and a fun way to dine,” says Hill.
In case you missed the pork memo, there’s a huge pink “sausage pig” mural on the wall courtesy of Levy’s partner, artist Kim Siew.
It’s part of a “very organic” approach to interior design that includes leftovers from Micky’s – a cosy fireplace, a balcony, red-velvet curtains, and a neon sign reading “Cocktails & Dreams”.
“Paint was decided over a wine and a laugh, and there was lots of foraging in op-shops and on [Facebook] Marketplace,” says Hill.
The hand-picked approach to decor echoes his flexible approach to the food.
“We refine in certain areas and leave other parts alone,” says Hill. “It feels like a Lyonnaise bouchon some nights and a bit more bougie Parisian on others.”
268 Oxford Street, Paddington
0423 015 032
Thu to Sat 6pm–11pm