Wednesday, 2 July 2014
Clearly there are some aspects of owning (albeit temporarily, more on that later) a fancy SLR camera that I'm yet to get used to. There I was at Bird, yet another new chicken place in Shoreditch, snapping happily away, artfully arranging my dinner and ensuring we were sat in the best-lit table in the restaurant for the best possible results, only to finally get back home and discover I'd forgotten to put the memory card in. And I'd only just stopped getting the smug feeling for remembering to bring out the camera itself.
So you'll have to use your imagination for much of this post, although anyone who's ever eaten at one of these new-wave chicken joints (Wishbone, Chicken Shop, Chooks, Clutch, Clockjack Oven, etc ad infinitum) should know pretty much what to expect. The decor is colourful and stripped back - diner-style, with an open kitchen at one end and exposed brick walls. The menu consists of little other than chicken and sides, which is fair enough, but they also try their hand at the Los Angeles favourite chicken & waffles, and they have a decently priced cocktail list and a couple of local craft beers. It is, of course, entirely derivative but whether or not there are a million other places just like it is the kind only jaded bloggers like me worry about. The question for everyone else is, is the food any good?
First, the good news. Bird's Korean chicken is very nice, a crisp and bubbly skin encasing moist white flesh and at least as good as the offering from On The Bab around the corner, and On The Bab have the advantage of actually being Korean. Buffalo wings were slightly less impressive - they'd used the same batter-style coating as for the larger pieces, meaning there was quite a high crunch to flesh ratio - but the glaze, while not authentic Frank's Red Hot (it was orange, for a start) did at least taste hot and vinegary. A horrid, thin "blue cheese" dip looking and tasting like month-old milk did nothing but make me think of the lovely chunky spring-onion-spiked versions from MeatLiquor or Orange Buffalo, though.
Fries, though. Fries were where things took a turn for the disastrous. At first, we thought they'd dipped them in squid ink or some kind of dark seasoning, but on closer inspection it turned out they all - and I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say every single chip in the entire portion - were horribly discoloured, pock-marked and blemished, cut from potatoes that either should have been prepared a lot better or rejected entirely. After a few minutes gingerly eating our way around the black/green bits we mentioned to the waitress that most of them were inedible. Her reaction suggested it wasn't the first time anyone had suggested it to her, but she neither apologised nor took them off the bill.
So while there are certainly things to enjoy at Bird if you look hard enough, it's hard to feel too positive towards anywhere serving food so obviously badly prepared (if not literally toxic - the green bits in potatoes can make you very ill indeed) and not in the least bit concerned about doing so. It's lazy. And it's laziness that seems to inform everything about the place, from the copycat decor to the identikit drinks list. Sure, there are places doing this kind of thing worse - it is, despite everything, at least better than Clutch up the road but then so is the Ebola virus so that's hardly a recommendation - but if the height of your aspiration is just to make money off trendspotting, why should anyone give a shit if you succeed or fail?
Anyway there it is, and there it will probably stay for now given Shoreditch's seemingly infinite capacity for mediocre chicken restaurants. Perhaps I'm just annoyed that my last post whilst still in posession of a nice camera turned out to be such a dud - yes, Olympus have asked for it back now, so it'll be murky shots of mystery meat from my iPhone5 until any other potential sponsors want to step forward (hint hint). Perhaps I need to stop worrying about the desperate lack of ambition from a good chunk of London's restaurateurs and just get on with my life. Yes, tell you what, I'll do that.