Rebel 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

Rebel Chicken, Jewellery Quarter

Let’s talk spit roasts. No, not the ones of a decade ago you saucy minxes, but those that I have now I am a lardy greying thirty-something year old. I am talking a juicy impaled bird, moist, with burnished skin and succulent flavour. And if your mind took you anywhere then other than chicken, then shame on you. I am here only to arouse you with food talk. You disgust me.

Rebel Chicken is the place that started life as Fowl Play, a rather catchy name until someone up north caught wind of foul play and forced them to change it. It is a slogan that still adorns the black outside wall in gloss against the matt bricks. Back inside and the upstairs restaurant has walls almost as distressed as I feel queuing for the singular toilet with my legs crossed. The room is pale blue and whites, light pouring through the large industrial windows befitting the buildings of these parts of town. It’s cosy and nice. Back outside and they have one of the city’s largest beer gardens. This is where we sit, with the sun blazing down on our faces with a cold beer and a smirk.

Now let’s get to the chicken, which if you stick to the rotisserie is really very good. Brined, steamed, stuck in a marinade overnight, and then impaled with a great big skewer up its arse and turned over cherry wood until the skin is crispy. It is a serious bit of chicken, not dry at all, the white meat almost as good as the brown. And that’s the thing with chicken; once you’ve gone brown, you’ll never go back around. Or something like that. The point is that it has flavour, loads of it. The technique is there and it pays off; it is a mile away from the usual rotisserie birds we are used to. And stump for the sauces whilst you’re at it, tightwad. The gravy is all thickened cooking juices, whilst the aioli packs a serious garlic punch.

Six months ago I would have been waxing lyrical about the wings, though now they suffer from serious competition. We try a platter of them in various sauces, which all get eaten somewhat less enthusiastically than the rotisserie bird. This isn’t a slight on them; they have a good amount of meat and taste as they should. It’s just the skin isn’t as crisp as I’d like and the wings could be better butchered. With a little detail they could be up there. And then there is the sides. Skip the chips that taste like they have come from a bag, order the sweet, blistered corn on the cob instead. And absolutely have the coleslaw sharpened with apple juice that goes perfectly well with the main event.

Eating here happens to have the plus point of being very affordable. A meal for two with a whole chicken, sweetcorn, two dips, and a couple of drinks will just about hit £30 between you. And I mention that precise order because it is the best way to enjoy Rebel Chicken. I can’t vouch for the buttermilk chicken burger, the wrap, or even the veggie burger, but I can tell you that if you stick to my advice you’ll leave full and happy. I applaud Rebel Chicken for sticking to one meat only, if they can bring the rest of the menu up to the same standard as the rotisserie they’ll have a mighty fine restaurant. But for now that spit roasted bird itself is reason to go.

7/10

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