chicken

Rebel Chicken, 2019

The first year of trading for a business is the hardest. It is the Litmus test for the projections and spreadsheets, the qualifiers for how well you really do understand the users. For restaurants it is the process of getting the diners to hear about you, getting them through the door, and then keeping them coming back. It is the gradual process of the right levels of stock and staff, tweaking the dishes and the prices, the right opening hours, deals, suppliers, and drinks, accumulating (hopefully) the media column inches and the queues out of the door. It is a hard, unforgiving industry. Many fail, sometimes deservedly so, sometimes because of bad luck or location. I had my concerns for Rebel Chicken; the food was always good enough to return and they had one of the best beer gardens in the city, but would just rotisserie chicken be enough to convince people to walk down a side street in the Jewellery Quarter? They’ve adapted, adding far more to the menu, and transforming that big open plan garden into something that East London would be proud of. This is now a year-round area, complete with sliding roof and foliage. It is unique to anywhere else in the city and deserves credit for that alone.

We come on a Saturday when the sun is beating down and decide to make a day of it. They have a brunch menu that appears to be very popular, supplied under the banner of Ocho – their sister tapas venue next door that I have a lot of love for. It makes sense: they already have morcilla and merguez, they put pulses in tomato sauces and stuff on bread; they already have the basis for a breakfast. The breakfast board for one served as a nice size for two, swiftly removed from the wooden boards they arrive on and on to plates, like any sensible man would. It’s a bloody good breakfast, a perfectly poached egg with bright yolk, toast, beans in the same tomato sauce that normally gets served with the meatballs, mushroom, and three bits of minced animal in natural casing. That’s sausages to you, stupid. Of those three I get happy memories from the densely spiced merguez, and give kudos to the morcilla, which everyone knows to be a far superior black pudding. The most recognisable of them is a pork sausage. A British breakfast banger. It tastes of pork, mace, and a little black pepper. It’s a very nice sausage on a very nice breakfast. At nine quid it’s an absolute steal.

Late morning quickly spilled to afternoon and I’ll use this point to declare my drink of the summer. They do a drink here called Damm Lemon, a light, lemon flavoured beer found on the backstreets of Barcelona by the Geordie manager of this establishment. More refreshing than a cold shower, less alchoholic than a Glaswegians breath; it’s the kind of drink you could, and should, lean on to get you through a summer’s day without looking like a twat. And this is coming from someone who specialises in looking like a twat.

Back to the food. We make the most of the day by seeing how far the food has progressed in a year at Rebel Chicken. Back then it was rotisserie chicken and not much else – now it is only true to its name if the chicken’s way of rebelling is to identify as a cow. There is chicken everyway you can think of — roasted, fried, coated, pulled — but there is also a big section of beef burgers, and stuff like halloumi and falafel just incase the rebel chicken wants to disappoint his father by becoming a vegetarian. We try two burgers, one more conventional, the other a bastardisation of all the bits I want to try in a bun. The food has improved, absolutely no doubt about that. The Yard Bird burger has a chunk of poultry in a buttermilk batter which is brittle and well made. The other burger has (wait for it) beef patty, pulled chicken, halloumi, jalepenos, and caramelised red onion. I wasn’t sure I’d like the beef but it’s good stuff; carefully cooked to a consumer friendly light pink, with good quality meat and a nice fat ratio. The pulled chicken comes from the tasty part of the bird, possibly dressed in too much BBQ sauce, though that’s me being difficult for the sake of it. The rest of it works. Don’t ask me how it tastes as a whole because I have no idea. I’m no animal, despite what you’ll read elsewhere. They have chips, which have improved since the last visit. We don’t finish them, mostly become some idiot made a burger with everything on it.

I guess what I am trying to say is it has improved since the last time I was here, fairly substantially in parts. The wider menu has allowed them more freedom to be expressive and it shows; the dishes have a certain swagger to them that matches the decor. Rebel Chicken have not only survived that first year, but have come out in a far better position than when they started it.

I used A2B to get me from A to B

Nando’s, bloody everywhere

I was discussing dinner with my girlfriend the other night. “Where do you want to eat?”, I asked. “Nando’s”, she said. I tell her I don’t want to eat in Nando’s, but she does, so we compromise and go to Nando’s. It’s how all sucessful relationships work, I’m told. Plus it can’t be that bad, right? I mean Ed Sheeran and Example wrote a song about it and those two are the height of cool. And it’s always full, with the queue extending out of the door of the Bullring branch on the afternoon we go. Everyone loves a cheeky Nando’s. Except me, who hasn’t been to one in over a decade despite living on the stuff in my late teens.

I feel old just by being here. It’s not the clientele who don’t know better, or the torturous method of ordering at a till and repeating your order over and over and over again to a man who clearly has no interest. I think its the attempt at comedy which veers from downright lame (‘Piri-piri nuts. WARNING: may contain traces of nuts’) to the leching adulterous (‘cheat on your old flame with a spicy new dish’). Please, just fuck off and give me chicken and a large glass of overly-expensive red wine. That wine is awful by the way: maybe the worst I’ve tried from Portugal, which is saying something if you’ve ever tried the tinto in ASDA.

The menu is a kaleidoscope of child friendly colours, spoken in a language that appeals to the type of teenager who sees eating here as a prequel to a night of fingering behind a skip. It has grown a lot from when I remember it, expanding on the burgers and adding ‘fino’ options, which Google translate tells me means ‘up’ and presumably explains the price hike for a sorry bowl of sweaty veg. I have an extra hot fino pitta with peri-peri fries, Claire goes for the chicken breast and two of those fino sides. She takes her bird in hot, which is a relief, because I would have had to leave her had she ordered lemon and herb.

It has suceeded in not changing in a decade. The meat on that breast is still on the dry side and tastes of very little, whilst the fries are still truly awful and cant be saved by any amount of any of their sauces. From the new stuff I admire them for sticking thigh meat in the pitta because the fat content means it has retained some moisture, even if the halloumi has been welded to it by some form of voodoo. I get none of the promised aioli, a little of the red onion relish, and a lot of lettuce. Whisper it, but it is alright for £7.20. The same cannot be said for the chargrilled veg that bring back the horrors of Sorrento Lounge, or the watery sweet potato mash.

We dont have dessert because ice cream or cake must be the most half-arsed attempt at retaining customers I’ve ever seen. Considering that nobody made any effort to see how our food was at any point in the meal, I never hated it, because it is almost impossible to hate. They don’t need to care how the food is because the big boys in Nando’s head office have created a machine that churns out consistently average chicken tens of thousands of times a day across the country, by pre-cooking the chicken in an oven and removing the danger from the minimum wage grill operators. It is the epitomy of a chain restaurant; the ideal business model for anyone looking to make a large buck from the average eater. It may take me another ten years to return to here, but to those who know no better, you keep on being cheeky.

5/10

Transport provided by A2B Radio Cars