Thursday, 30 January 2014

Bones, Shoreditch

Apologies for the sense of deja vu as I report on yet another underwhelming rotisserie joint in East London but really, this is getting quite silly now. Why is it seemingly beyond the grasp of intelligent people to charge a normal amount for a nice slow-roast chicken, with a golden, crisp skin and flesh neither too dry nor too flabby, with a couple of well-chosen sides and a wine list that doesn't scream "we saw you coming"? I can do a decent roast chicken - me! - and I once tried to reheat a tin of beans in the microwave. It can't be that difficult, surely?

To be completely fair, none of the food at Bones was terrible - we ate most of it, didn't send any of it back, and it did at least look better than our lunch at Clutch (despite my photos threatening to prove otherwise). And, inevitably, it will do well - it's got an absolute prime corner position right near Shoreditch High Street, and the smart, low-lit interior is comfortable (if a little... familiar, more on which later) enough to attract just the kind of people they're after.

But the sheer, breathtaking lack of ambition of the place. Even the name - Fay Maschler pointed out on Wednesday the number of new places that seem to have no loftier goal than to become one of a crowd of similarly-monikered comfort food outlets, a lazy attempt to ride this latest fad while it has the attention of the moneyed youth. And while we're on the subject, why "bones"? Bone Daddies was the first I'm aware of to use it, and that makes sense because pork bones are an integral part of their tonkotsu broth. But in a chicken restaurant, the bones are the only bit you don't eat. It brings to mind leftovers, discarded Chicken Cottage boxes in the street, greying trash pecked at by feral pigeons.

First to arrive was a teeny bowl of fried broad beans, I'd estimate maximum 50g for £3.50. Brindisa sells 125g for £1.50. So that's quite a markup.

Starters were next, and portion size aside, were quite good. Chicken livers were plump and juicy, coated in an interesting sherry & paprika sauce, and a teeny but nicely-dressed salad. Artichoke hearts were nicely roasted and had a good flavour, but neither of us tasted a trace of the advertised paprika or truffle in the accompanying garlic mayonnaise. Or garlic, for that matter. Wouldn't have the paprika at least given it just a teeny bit of colour? This was bright, Hellmann's-white.

The main event, chicken was... fine. An incredibly powerful lemon marinade did at least give the skin some crunch, and though the flesh was chewy and dripping with grease it was at least not dry. But here's a thing - we saw the rotisserie itself at the back of the kitchen, with a couple of whole, pale yellow birds rotating slowly for all to see. But the chicken presented to us, weirdly identically portioned into two metal bowls (oh yes, metal bowls - no trend-jumping points dropped there) was dark brown and showed absolutely no trace of being recently jointed - it looked for all the world like they'd removed the chicken from the spit, jointed it and THEN finished the pieces off in a hotter conventional oven. I'm not saying that this is what they did do, just that it looked a hell of a lot like they did.

Rotisserie potatoes looked the part but could have done with a bit more crunch. Fries were good.

So. There are two ways of going about doing rotisserie chicken well, and evidence shows neither are beyond the wit of man. On the one hand, you can keep things simple and snappy and start a proto-chain, where you charge under £10 for chicken and chips and either have the turnover to prevent the birds from hanging around on the grill too long (Chicken Shop) or you come up with some clever brining menthod to keep them moist and lovely for longer (Clockjack Oven). On the other hand, you can go unashamedly high-end and charge a premium for lovingly-cared for chicken, roasted just-so and presented with a selection of fautless sides, and nobody will have cause to complain about that, either (Le Coq).

Bones' problem is that they are at the price point of Le Coq (literally - £17 for 2 courses, another indication of their lack of imagination) but the presentation and quality of the chicken feels more like sub-Chicken Shop, where a half chicken is only £8.50 and where, with a few mates last month, we spent a little under £15 each for everything on the menu and a heck of a lot of house wine. The bill for two at Bones was £54 with no alcohol (or at least it will be from next week when soft launch is over) and the cheapest wine is £20+ a bottle.

But actually, my main beef with Bones (as it were) isn't the price, or the wine list, or the service (which was actually rather lovely) or even the food, which was serviceable if forgettable. It's that everything about the place is calculated to ride as many London restaurant trends as possible for the least possible effort, a lazy clone of a number of other places, from the name to the decor to the menu structure, doing just enough to not get sued but absolutely nothing more. That may say more about this own particular trend-jaded food blogger than whether or not it will succeed as a business - as I say, I'm sure it will do well. But that doesn't mean I can't be a bit depressed about it.


Bones on Urbanspoon


Joanna Biddolph said...

I can't understand why anyone goes out to eat roast chicken - it is the easiest thing to do at home. There is little point in this review other than to confirm that you went to the wrong place for your expectations. Roast a chicken at home (you've said you can). Eat at restaurants where the chefs add value by using culinary skills you don't have or spending time you can't spare. The effort made in kitchens creating base stocks to use in silken shining sauces, for example, is worth paying for and paying attention to. If they make a mess of that, knock them, but why eat at a restaurant/diner that is clearly catering for people with lower expectations? I enjoy your writing very much (it's far better than mine) but I don't understand why you go somewhere so obviously wrong for you and then express surprise when it turns out to be just that. Personally, I never order chicken when out; it is always the least exciting dish and I'd rather be more adventurous.

Richard Dixon said...

What with the myriad chicken shop options around (I've only done Clockjack [a pretty sad affair] and Grillstock in Bristol's 5-hour smoked chicken [DING DONG]), I keep meaning to try one of the cheapest options of the lot - Liverpool Street Chickens.

A gaudy yellow shop round the backstreets of Spitalfields that - if I recall - does half a rotisserie chicken for £3.50. What could go wrong?! I'll report back (hopefully not from A&E).

Chris Pople said...

Joanna: Believe it or not, I never ever deliberately go anywhere "obviously wrong for" me. I like chicken, I like rotisserie chicken, and I have liked other rotisserie chicken places very much. I didn't like this one, because it's not very good. Do you not think people deserve to know that?

Alex C said...

Ha! You knowingly entered Angus steak house *and* went to at least 5 Jamie Oliver joints when your opinion of two of them was dire enough to justify never going to another. I'm not saying I don't like it - but you do go to places obviously wrong for you. Please don't stop :-)

Anonymous said...

Chris, I am a fellow food blogger and often go to places "completely wrong for me." The point is to experience someplace and report back for other diners in the city. On that point, it was a good review.

Also, 54 pounds? Yikes.

Dimo said...

Nice review, you should try clock jack oven as well, you might like it, although its not that much of a roasted taste.

Miss Jones said...

You'd think a food reviewer would know that a rotisserie chicken isn't the same as a roast chicken and doesn't cook the same… also why didn't you review their steaks, rack of lamb or some of the more interesting dishes off their menu :-|