4/19/2012 05:20:00 PM

First Look: The Pikey Brings a Taste of The Spotted Pig to Hollywood

It was just last year that chef Ralph Johnson was a Zagat 30 Under 30 honoree - in New York City. At the time, he was the chef de cuisine at April Bloomfield's iconic The Spotted Pig. But that was then - and this is now. Johnson learned his trade from culinarians like Jamie Oliver, Fergus Henderson, Tom Aikens and David Thompson before signing on with Bloomfield. And here in Los Angeles, he's cooking the sort of haute cuisine that makes the gastropub movement seem like more than a novelty - a lot more. And somehow, tout le foodies all know: just three days after The Pikey opened, the place was packed, and the crispy pig's ear salads were flying out of the kitchen.
The Space: The Pikey (slang for a "gypsy") sits in the space that for years was an old, well-worn Hollywood pub (Ye Coach & Horses), which owners Jared Meisler and Sean MacPherson (of Il Covo, and many other of-the-moment destinations) turned into...an old well-worn Hollywood pub. The change is a bit like the Minetta Tavern makeover in New York - a venerable dive was turned into a venerable joint - and young Hollywood can't get enough of it. There's a sizable dining room to the left, and a spacious (and packed) bar to the right, with a private room (with a second bar) in the back. The noise level is staggering, but not painfully so. The light level is low; the servers carry small flashlights on their belts.

The Food: Chef Johnson's influences are both British and Eclectic (one of his mentors, David Thompson, is a famous Australian master of Thai cooking). The dish that leaps off the menu is Johnson's crispy pig's ear salad with young kale and mustard - an exercise in crunch and spice. He's revived Welsh rarebit, a melted cheese sandwich loved best by those who went to schools with names like St. Trinian's. There's a lot of British on the menu, in dishes like potted chicken livers, bread-and-butter pickles, a beef burger topped with cheddar and a Worcestershire aioli, and a fine fish 'n' chips with tartar sauce. They even serve malt vinegar with the "thrice-cooked" chips. For dessert, there's a pudding and a fool - and you'd be a fool not to order it.

The Drinks: Though there's a full bar, and the bartenders will mix any exotica you crave, the sheer Britishism of the place makes it feel more like a joint where beer is the drink of choice. There's Black Butte Porter, Duvel and Scrimshaw Pils on tap, and a couple of dozen beers in bottles and cans, including Old Speckled Hen and St. Peter's Gluten Free. And for those who want to dance with the Green Fairy, there are three absinthes to choose from; you can be Paul Verlaine for a night.

The Crowd: The Real Housewives of Burbank were seated at an adjacent table, celebrating a birthday and going wild with their hubbies miles away. The bar is three-deep with what looks like the cast of Entourage. There are tables filled with nip 'n' tuckers and with wannabe actors, writers, directors, producers, whatevers. In other words, this is Hollywood, well-watered and well-fed.

The Vibe: Thanks to a staff led by stylishly dressed manager Halleluyah Wallcot (another New Yorker, freshly arrived in Los Angeles), the vibe is both hot and cool at the same time - crowded, but without a hint of attitude. This is New York edge with Los Angeles casual layered over it. And the people watching is so good, you won't want to leave.

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