Thursday, 6 December 2018

Chicken Shop, Holborn

It occurred to me the other day that a good number of the "wishlist" dishes or cuisines I've griped about not having access to in London over the years have, gradually, one-by-one, been ticked off. For a while it was burgers, where years of crushed hopes and disappointment were finally answered in a little white van in Peckham and since then we've had more than enough decent options. Then attention turned to Mexican food where following a disastrous false start at a grotty US chain, suddenly like the buses Breddos and El Pastor opened in the same month, and now I don't need to wait for a twice-yearly trip to Southern California to get my taco fix.

So what's left? Well, I enjoyed trying the Salvadorian cuisine of San Francisco, with their pupusa and curtido, although perhaps not quite enough to start a campaign, and besides the chances of us being able to scrape together enough El Salvadorians in London to run a lemonade stall never mind a full restaurant are slim to none. The generally lacklustre offering of Greek food is perhaps harder to excuse - there's a pretty healthy Greek community in London and yet if the best it can come up with is Lemonia, something's gone wrong somewhere. I've had high hopes for a few places not least the relaunched Real Greek and they've all come up short so here's hoping some budding entrepreneur fills this gap in the market in the near future.

But there's one thing I've been desperately searching for almost for the entire time I've lived in London, which despite certain steps in the right direction has remained stubbornly just out of grasp, and that's Mediterranean rotisserie chicken. In Catalonia, every small town boasts at least one (in fact usually two or three) pollo a l'ast peddler, with banks of stainless steel spits full of birds, rubbed with obscene amounts of salt and herbs, slowly bronzing away. For the best results, and at the best places, you put your name down earlier in the day and turn up just as they're cooked, to whisk it home to eat with pan con tomate and salad, but even lesser pollo a l'ast from tourist spots near the beach can be well worth the effort. In Barcelona, as you might imagine in the regional capital, the humble roadside rotisserie chicken as been given the full posh treatment in places like Chez Coco but even here the concept is the same - plump birds rubbed with salt, lemon, thyme and bay, served with a salad or patatas fritas. Wonderfully simple, and simply wonderful.

Now, I should say in case you think this post is building up to something, Chicken Shop is not the answer to all our (ok, my) rotisserie chicken dreams. It's great, and I love it, but there's not the same depth and agression in the seasoning, or crunch in the skin. Perhaps I'm on a hiding to nothing expecting a chain of London restaurants to be able to exactly recreate the experience of a trip to Kan Kilis in l'Escala of a hot summer afternoon but even so I'm holding out hope that one day someone will get their act together.

In the meantime, anyway, Chicken Shop is very good. The seasoning, though not particularly complex, is still fairly robust - mainly lemon and salt which means the skin has a good colour and citrus tang. The flesh is - remarkably - never in the least bit dry, a result I believe of a day of marination and some fiendish steaming process, which means that yes some of the fire and flavour of the Spanish style is lost but hey, at least on quiet days you don't run the risk of recreating the National Lampoon's Christmas dinner scene. It's not perfect, but it is the best rotisserie chicken in London, by quite some stretch, which is of course to be much applauded.

On top of this, the crinkle-cut chips are great, the sauces are fantastic (particularly the chilli which is great to dip chips into), and they do a genuinely lovely butter lettuce and avocado salad, not to mention a great big apple pie and ice cream for £6. Oh yes that's the other thing worth pointing out about Chicken Shop - it's cheap; a whole chicken for £19 and on weekday lunches you can get a quarter chicken and chips for £8.50. For Holborn (my usual haunt), this puts it in direct competition with Chicken Cottage over the road. And I know which one of those is more deserving of your lunch money.

So though the wait goes on for the truly authentic Catalan experience, perhaps forever, us Londoners really should be grateful for Nick Jones, whose attention to detail and sense of style and occasion made Soho House such a runaway success and which make Chicken Shop such a friendly and reliable little spot to have a chicken dinner.



Andy K said...

Lucky you don't need to go to Asador Etxebarri every time you want an 8/10 meal then...

Anonymous said...

Fully agree that Chicken Shop is just as good as Etxebarri, a whole lot cheaper too.

Anonymous said...

Did you every try Le Secret des Rôtisseurs in Canary Wharf?

I thought it was rather good, although the reviews seem to be a bit mixed.

As well as dining in, you could phone in and order roasted meats to take away. You could even bring your own meats for them to roast!

Sadly closed down now :(

Aaron (@1dish4the4road) said...

I've been known to just pop in to Chicken Shop for a cheeky late-night slice of their apple pie..

Anonymous said...

Andy's Taverna in Camden is the most authentic Greek restaurant I've stumbled across - no-nonsense cafeteria decor, truly massive portions, warm friendly service and a bill that doesn't break the bank. Well worth a visit.

Also I agree, Chicken Shop is great. We had a bill quibble with them once (which I think may have been our mistake) and they immediately waived the sum with no argument (we ended up leaving it as a tip). The corn on the cob is stunning too - they paint melted butter on with a brush!