A restaurant that serves only chicken and eggs. It must have sounded like a good idea to someone – but who?
Kingly Court, off Carnaby Street, London W1 (020 3747 9820). Meal for two, including wine and service, £90
Let’s not pretend: the only people who order the chicken in restaurants are those who don’t care enough about their dinner. There are exceptions: the whole roast poulet de bresse at L’Ami Louis in Paris, which is so expensive it won’t so much empty your wallet as pillage it; the chicken at Tonkotsu, which makes every other deep-fried hen look like a waste of corn-fed biomass. For the most part, chicken is the beige of the restaurant world; it’s the Ikea shelving unit, the Vauxhall Vectra. It does the job, but not much more. You can do it better at home. The only downside is you have to tidy up afterwards.
That’s the point of the rash of recently opened one-dish rotisserie chicken joints, the Chicken Shops, Clockjack Ovens and the rest. By doing one thing pretty well, their economies of scale keep the price down to a point where you’re merely paying someone else to do the washing-up. I am, however, scratching my head over the point of Whyte & Brown, which has a menu based solely around “free-range chicken and eggs”. I know the restaurant market is crowded. I understand each business needs a point of difference. I just can’t quite work out why anybody thought this one was such a killer idea.Nungwi Village
The menu feels like the work of a backpacking student who’s desperate not to come home for lectures and so keeps travelling: a bit of America here, a touch of Asia there, a little Italian and French on the side. It’s also spectacularly overwritten. A gruyère quiche is “filled with a silky quichness of egg”. Lettuce “shells” are “cool”; a Vietnamese minced chicken salad comes with a “rick of slaw”, which is barely English. There are outbreaks of “chunky”, “nest”, “vibrant”, “muddled”, “plump” and “crunchy”. It’s not even worth playing menu language bingo because everybody would be shouting: “House!” Equally, the setting is mannered. The free-range birds we are eating may get to romp about in lush fields; we get industrial vents to eat them under, and bare floorboards.
Hidden beneath all of this is some reasonably solid cooking, though it never quite matches the greatness of the crisp chicken shards with which it begins. Whoever came up with the notion of serving slabs of seasoned, deep-fried chicken skin has a filthy mind. It’s £1.75 of glorious, salty artery blocker. Other starters have flowery 15-word descriptions but amount to dippers and wings. A Bangkok scotch egg sounds like something a businessman in Thailand might pay to witness late at night. It’s a fine scotch egg with a soft yolk, but without the fire or punch that the Thai reference implies. A bruschetta of soft salty ricotta cheese, whipped through with peas and pea shoots and topped with a poached egg, is fresh and lush but unbalanced by a pillow of cheese mix large enough for a child to rest their head upon. It’s unfinishable.
The brick chicken for £12.95 is, I suppose, the reason for being here: half a roast hen, “steeped” – oh do please stop – in lemon, thyme and garlic, with gravy. It’s roast chicken with crisp skin and moist meat. It functions. And I do also own an Ikea shelving unit which has been holding up books for years. By the time we get to the perfectly serviceable roast chicken breast with pancetta and clams in more sticky-salty chicken gravy, we’re getting quite bored of, y’know, chicken. Thank God we ordered the chicken Caesar salad, without the chicken.Nungwi Village
The dessert menu is noticeable for not offering a soufflé, which would strike me as an easy win for an egg and chicken restaurant. It does have a passionfruit mousse tart with a very soggy biscuit base, and a much better Eton mess, because it seems to be the law right now that every menu must.
Whyte & Brown is not bad. It’s just a little odd. The curious thing is that by attempting to stand out in a crowded market, it fails to make an argument for itself.