The chicken shop market is a crowded coop. Gone are the days that fried chicken was reserved as fuel for gangs of teenage boys or a second dinner for drunks stumbling home. Just like the burger before it, and the chip before that, fried chicken has shed it’s ‘fast food’ reputation and been given a makeover.
First came the dirty (Monkey Fingers at CHICKENLiquor and the like); American-style chicken burgers and wings, clogging you up with thick, sticky stuff, served in paper wrap on a big metal tray (or dogs bowl, or whatever looks the most filthy). As tasty as this face-plant inducing, cheese-drenched, bacon-suffocated cuisine is, this type of eating is not sustainable. I mean, it’s not the right type of food to set you up for for a quiet night, let alone a night of dancing (plus, you don’t want to add to that morning-after guilt with the regret that you scoffed all that greasy poultry).
Now there’s a surge of ‘high quality’ chicken shops that achieve perfect balance – that amazing fried chicken taste, made with clean, fresh ingredients and cooked with quality oil by fantastic chefs, so you can have all the fun to get together with friends or family, and great music that you still have the energy to dance to.
That’s not to say that achieving this is easy. This type of restaurant can be done really wrong. I recently visited ‘Spit Jacks’ in Victoria Park Village which has the potential to be great – the perfect location and a great concept; just simple spit roasted chicken with tapas-style sides.
Unfortunately, we were treated with such bad service from our entry that the chicken needed to be more than perfection, and it wasn’t. Our uninterested waitress didn’t bother to show us to our table so we sat ourselves in the cold conservatory dining area at the back. She then eventually surrendered us our menus (after which there were no more left so other tables were left completely menu-less) and unapologetically informed us that they were out of veg for their roast (it was 7.30pm, on a Sunday).
While waiting for our food, we even watched our waitress eat chips from someones plate that was waiting for service at the chef’s pass. We assumed that the food would be delicious, as she obviously couldn’t resist having a taste. But it was underwhelming – the fried chicken was slightly dry and although the spit roast chicken on my roast was lovely and tender, it lacked that smokey flavour, the trimmings were bland and I didn’t even get any gravy! Note: below is the knife I was given to cut my chicken leg.. Unforgivable.
This is an example of a great idea that just hasn’t been executed properly – ‘I like where you’re going, but this place is just WRONG!’
But fear not, because I just so happened to have eaten a lovely little place that does it just right.
Clutch, 4 Ravenscroft Street, London E2 7QG
Fifth result down on a quick google search, after handbags, care repair advice and a 90s American rock band, you’ll find the ‘home of guilt-free chicken’ Clutch. Their website is currently at a holding page, so gives nothing away, but I can tell you for free that their chicken really is clean-tasting yet addictive. We ate more chickens than there were diners at our table and no, I do not feel at all guilty.
Right around the corner from Columbia Road, Clutch pops up out of nowhere, like a petrol garage in the desert. A cute little ex-East End boozer building, painted cartoon yellow, a faux turf lawn out front with dolls house-style garden furniture, Clutch couldn’t be further than its former haunt.
We started with a Jay Z cocktail each (the making of which had so many elements it resembled that classic Rowan Atkinson ‘no bloody holly’ scene in Love Actually). It finished with a slice of crystallized lemon, raisins, sambuca and then burst into flames. This was just what me and a clutch of my favourite Swansea chicks needed on a balmy Saturday evening. The atmosphere was very relaxed. I always find that the diners at restaurants that condone eating with your fingers are always more chilled and friendly (just visit your local KFC at dinner time on a Saturday night – everyone looks very at home).
The food: To begin I have to say that the chicken really was almost indescribable (but i’ll try!)
Curry Leaf ‘Love Me Tenders’ – strips of juicy breast meat coated with a punchy curry-flavoured crunch were the best things that we ordered. They were so nice that we not only ordered another round even though we were pretty stuffed, but I also plucked up the courage (get it!) to ask the chef for the recipe. He described the process vaguely, and was reluctant to give me his secret. I don’t blame him! They marinate the chicken for 24 hours in buttermilk, before dredging 3 times in a special mix of herbs and Indian spices, two types of flour, pepper, mustard and finally black and white sesame seeds, then fry. The dish is crowned with spring onions and fresh red chilli and it served in a proper 70’s yellow transparent dish.
The truffle aioli was fabulous. Very heady, just as it should be and I can still taste it now. Slaw was posh slaw. Finely shredded onions, cabbage and I think celeriac. A bit too much dill for me but great if you love dill. The chips were just chips, nothing spectacular but did the job as a means to coat the fabulous aioli and chicken juices. The gravy was that thin American kind – very white peppery, a bit pointless. A gravy needs to properly coat a chip – this didn’t!
The Service: the staff were all very nice, chatty, ‘like your mate’. But we did feel slightly neglected once we’d been seated – the water jug we were promised never arrived, waiting staff were a bit slow and sometimes I like to be asked if everythings ok with my meal (especially if the reason for this question is sincere and not because the waiting staff just want to grab the wooden chicken from my table).
The price: We paid £30 each, which included one lethal cocktail. We also ordered another portion of the curry tenders which werent really needed but we just had to taste them again.
We ended the night chatting to the owner, and head chef at the kitchen hatch and tasting more delicious chicken. It was fantastic to speak to them both, to hear their passion for the business. This place truly is something special – it’s not just a ‘Chicken Shop’.