Published on July 9th, 2015 | by Ben Southwood1
Summary: Bird is pretty good at birds, and perhaps not so good at non-bird items. And given their name, can you really complain?
A well-worn trope is that London—presumably along with other major cities, although I don’t live in or know about any of them—periodically goes through culinary crazes. It seems to happen mainly with reasonably-priced stuff, stuff that you can conceivably sell for £20 including drinks. One person brings out an excellent burger, excites the masses, and soon enough excellent burgers are everywhere. One person brings good southern BBQ or soul food to the capital, and soon everyone wants it. As I’m sure every conceivable reader is aware, a similar thing has happened with rotisserie and fried chicken.
In my view, no one has quite got fancy fried chicken down pat. You have the generic fried chicken places, which are generally mediocre but dirt dirt cheap and filling. For example, Strutton Fried Chicken by my work sells a piece of chicken for £1.20. Three of those, especially with chips, is more than enough for anyone. Above the generic single-location spots you have the smaller chains like Morley’s, which I’ve only seen in South and Southeast London, and Chicken Cottage, which has spots around the country and even an annual conference with award ceremony and all. These are generally a little better and a little pricier. Then you have KFC, which is much less omnipresent than you might think without considering the issue in detail. I think KFC is really rather good, but it’s another step up in price.
Now: above that you think you’d have fancy fried chicken joints that are more expensive—say £15 a head with sides rather than KFC’s £6 to £10—but I know of nowhere that has universal appeal. I went to Bird on Kingsland Road in Shoreditch on the back of a couple bad reviews, and while it doesn’t quite succeed to the point that it fills this niche, it makes a decent attempt.
I think a fried chicken place should be judged primarily on its fried chicken. The house (un-deep-fried) pickles at Bird were not good at all; merely crunchy raw carrot and slices of something (it had the colour and texture broadly of ginger, but no flavour whatsoever), drizzled with some average vinegar. The chips were—bizarrely—neither soft, nor crunchy, nor fluffy, but heavy and chewy. Not an experience I’ve had before. The buttermilk biscuit bun that came with one lunchtime special was very buttery but crumbled into nothing. The cocktails came rather warm, suggesting they hadn’t really been shaken or stirred. But the chicken was good.
A whole chicken—two giant breasts, two boneless thighs, two bone-in drumsticks, and a Mendelian four wings—will set you back £24. It’s more than enough for two people. In my view fried chicken is generally bad either because the inside is dried out, because the coating is insufficiently crispy, or because the batter is too thick. Bird fails on none of these counts: the 24-hour brined flesh is consistently tender and juicy, the (un-glazed) coating is consistently bone dry and crunchy, and the batter is a couple of millimetres thick, approaching my sweet spot.
It comes either glazed or with a dip, and they let us try every type they had. Their tomato sauce and barbecue analogues were fine; their honey and ginger and maple syrup offerings were very good; their buffalo was great—mainly because it was just Frank’s Hot Sauce mixed with butter. If I had to criticise it, I’d say that tenders would be better than entire large breasts fried in one piece.
So Bird is pretty OK at birds, and perhaps not so good at non-bird items. And given their name, can you really complain?
Bird, 42-44 Kingsland Rd, E2 8DAShare This Post