From the sublime to the ridiculously wonderful! From the decadence of Pollen Street Social to the downright dirty (in the loveliest sense) of Chicken Shop in London’s Kentish Town. From the wallet-busting super-elaborate tasting menu of PSS to the single-dish delight of CS.
What a rollercoaster week it’s been on the gastronomy front! Last Thursday I went to Pollen Street Social with the Dads’ Dining Club for our bi-monthly sojourn into Foodie Town. It was good, but not great, because it was rather OTT and way too expensive (£78 for nine mouth-sized courses).
So for my wedding anniversary on Monday, I decided to treat my wife to something completely different.
I booked a surprise babysitter to turn up at the same moment my wife got home from work, then we got a cab to Kentish Town.
My wife was both bemused and a little annoyed, mainly because I hadn’t given her a chance to change out of her work gear.
‘You won’t need to where we’re going,’ I said, ominously.
I’d never been to Chicken Shop before, but I’d heard enough about it. It’s hidden away behind a green-blue door on the Highgate Road. It’s in a basement. It’s dark and moody. It serves chicken. Just chicken. Nothing else (well, aside from a few accompaniments – corn on the cob, buttered lettuce, chips, coleslaw, with apple pie, brownies and lemon cheesecake for afters).
It is about as far away from the Pollen Street experience as we are from Mars.
As the meerkats say, ‘Seemples’.
But was it any good?
You betcha! Better than good. Sublime. Incredible. Amazing. Finger suckin’, chin dribblin’, lip smackin’, belt loosenin’, sigh inducin’ good.
After queueing for five minutes (you can’t book), we entered the candlelit basement restaurant, which was bustling with guests and blues on the sound systemg, to see the star of the show – a huge rotisserie on which were spiked half a dozen chickens, slowly turning and dripping their juices, the skins blackening and crisping up.
It was a place where you felt instantly at home. No formality. No over-fussy waiting. And no menu, either.
We were directed to what was on the board: Whole chicken – £14.50; Half chicken – £8; Quarter chicken – £4; with sides at £4 each and dessert at a fiver.
We ordered a whole chicken to share, plus corn, plus coleslaw, plus chips, plus an unnecessary £20 bottle of wine (well, it was our anniversary!).
And then we watched the theatre, as our chicken was plucked from the rotisserie and then hacked into 12 pieces with a gigantic cleaver.
Drool? I almost needed a bucket.
The chicken arrived in a gravy of its own sticky juices and a couple of slices of lemon, which we squeezed over. And then we dived in, like Henry VIII at a banquet, chomping on great hunks of bird, nibbling at coriander-buttered corn, forking in tangy red cabbage coleslaw, and wolfing down fistfuls of chips.
I’ve never eaten so quickly, so noisily or so passionately in my life. The experience was feral.
But nobdoy cared – everybody else in Chicken Shop was doing the same. There were mums with daughters, dads with sons, PRs with cllients, office workers, backpackers, van drivers, us. All communing over the great fowl play!
After our main course, we somehow managed to summon the strength to order a slice of deep-dish apple pie, but instead of giving us one slice, the waiter left us with half the pan and a scoop of ice cream. I’m sad to report that this was the best apple pie, scented with cinnamon, I’ve tasted since my late mum’s. Sad, because we couldn’t finish it. We were just too stuffed, like the proverbial chicken.
Total bill for Pollen Street Social? £170, including wine.
Chicken Shop? £30, including wine.
We’ll be back. You’d better clucking believe it.
Here are the scores:
Chicken Shop isn’t in what you’d call the loveliest part of town. The busy road links Highgate and Kentish Town and seems to be a magnet for police cars flashing past and God-knows-what-miles-per-hour with their sirens blaring, and to be honest, it’s not a place I’d fancy wandering around after dark in the autumn and winter months. The place itself is hidden behind a green-blue door beneath a characterless office block, but right next door to what looks like a fantastic pizza restaurant, called Pizza East. Beware if you’re heading along: it has a no-booking policy and I’ve read that the queues can be long. Not so for us as we went on a Monday!
Once through the doors, you go down a flight of stairs to the basement, and then the atmosphere hits you. Low-ceilinged, low lit, every table occupied, the buzz of banter competing with the crackle of chickens on the rotisserie, with the backing sound of blues music. It should have been cacophonous, but somehow it all blends togehter, so that you can hear your dining companion, but not the people either side, sat at tables just far enough apart to be private.
Fast, efficient, friendly. We barely noticed it, to be honest. The food and drink came quickly, then our waiter left us to it. But extra points for leaving us with a massive slice of apple pie!
Incredible chicken: juicy, perfectly cooked, sitting in a sticky gravy of its own juices that you can mop up with hunks of bird. ‘Smokey’ and ‘Hot’ sauces come as complimentary condiments, but they’re totally unnecessary. There is more than enough flavour on the bird and in its juices, and the condiments taste synthetic by comparison.
Our bill came to £60, a third of which was wine (we would have been better off with a couple of pints of lager). For the amount we ate, for the quality of the grub, for the sheer satisfaction of the experience, for the ambiance, for the atmosphere, for the occasion and for proving that the best eating experiences don’t have to cost the earth, nor use a zillion ingredients, Chicken Shop deserves 10/10.
OVERALL TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE – 8.6