Tuesday, 15 January 2013
Clockjack Oven, Soho
If all you knew about Clockjack was that it was a brand new proto-chain, with a bare-bones menu serving only chicken with a handful of sides, a Piccadilly Circus location, carefully branded interiors and staff t-shirts, then I would understand why you'd steer well clear. I'll be the first to admit my expectations were low; the memory of the last ill-concieved crime against chicken (the risible Chooks) still burns like so much Frank's Hot Sauce and I wasn't in a hurry to see my hard-earned slip down the necks of another corporate blandathon or, for that matter, some Shoreditch art gallery where you can impress your friends with chicken that tastes like it's been rubbed down in Knorr (hang your head, Tramshed).
And yet from the moment the staff at Clockjack hollered a cheery greeting from behind the carving counter, I knew this was going to be the kind of place I'd have to try very hard to dislike. They're very on-trend these no-reservations, no-choice places but only the most stubborn (not to mention stupid) would automatically dismiss anywhere just because they happen to tick a few of the London restaurant cliché boxes, and everywhere deserves a chance. So with an open mind (or at least as open as I can manage in Piccadilly Circus) I ordered 3 pieces of roast chicken with chilli sauce, a side of double-cooked fries and hoped to God I wouldn't have to fill up at Pain Quotidien on the way back to the office.
Tap water arrived unprompted - a little touch that lightened my heart much more than it should have done. Why on earth does this not happen literally every time we eat out? Why are we even still BUYING bottled water? Tap water is available everywhere, is perfectly nice and is, for all intents and purposes, free. How is it, in 2013 I am STILL being made to feel like an inconvenience by answering the "still or sparkling" question with "tap please". From now on I'm going to make a special mention of anywhere, good or bad, that produces tap water for the whole table without being asked specifically to do so. What's depressing is that I expect it still won't happen very often.
As Clockjack is still in its first month of trading, there was a bit of gentle training still going on with some new members of staff. In front of the impressive gas-fired roasting chambers, as a quartet of chickens slowly rotated in comedy wings-aloft poses behind, someone was being given a carving lesson. And as I was the only customer in the place at 12:15 on a cold January lunchtime, I presume they were practising on mine. It sounded like hard work, so I wonder how they'll cope when the orders really start flooding in, but I was happy to be the guinea pig on this occasion.
I was also very happy to eat the finished product, as my chicken was, thankfully - not to mention completely unexpectedly - perfect in almost every way. I worry about the amount of time freshly-roasted birds hang around before being ordered in these rotisserie places so there's a chance I just hit some kind of perfect sweet spot of timing between too hot to serve and too dry to eat. But I can barely remember a better roast chicken cooked by anyone anywhere - every inch of it beautifully moist, with a golden crispy skin and aggressively (though by no means unpleasantly) seasoned. In keeping with the stripped-back nature of the place itself there was nothing fancy going on in terms of herbs or marinades, but you really didn't miss it. This is incredibly good chicken, free-range with a good strong showing of dark flesh, and yours for £6.95 for 3 joints.
By the time I'd polished off the last of the poultry, my mind was made up. Clockjack was a Very Good Thing Indeed. I could also mention the portion of double-cooked fries which did their job perfectly well, and a nice fresh ranch dressing which I was brought to try alongside the (slightly disappointing) chilli sauce. And if I was going to poke a hole in anything else it would be the rather uninspiring wine and beer list and the embarrassing logos on the t-shirts the women are forced to wear - "UNDRESS ME" they say on the front. Hilarious - but really these things are unimportant.
All you need to know is that chicken specialists Clockjack make possibly London's best roast poultry - and before you scoff at that claim you need to try it yourself - for very little money indeed. My bill came to a touch over £10 which nobody could have any cause to complain about, and I left with my faith in London's ability to cook chicken restored. It really is that good.