It’s very easy to be cynical isn’t it? Especially in East London, when so many places appear to be simply ticking off a list of current trends; industrial fit out, stripped back cool, fried chicken, cocktails, doughnuts etc etc. It’s also right to have your wits about you. But you know what? Sometimes, it’s ok to like somewhere, despite the cliches, when they seem to be so nice and convivial, and the food’s good. Maybe I’m gullible.
I turn up to an invite at BIRD, on the bottom of Kingsland road, the top of Shoreditch in what’s become a strange vortex of essex day-tripper/hen goer meets hipster hell, and I’m half expecting to want to leave as soon as I sit down. Almost. But, as soon as we’re settled, owner, Clara, slides into our booth and chats to us warmly, genuinely seeming delighted we’re sat in her restaurant, and it doesn’t feel effected or rote, she comes across as a hard working, small business owner. She tells us how despite opening in the second quarter of the year, they only stepped up their PR as of August – it shows; my Instagram feed has been heavy with images of *that* chicken waffle burger. Cara goes on to answer all our questions, explaining that fried chicken was something both her and her partners parents and grandparent all put on the dinner table, it’s something that comes naturally, and here they use the best, British, free range birds and make all their own sauces. The asian influence that’s apparent throughout the BIRD menu is just their own twist on a home staple, in order to lighten things up and cut through what could be an overly heavy menu. My friend notes a tiny BIRD logo tattoo on her wrist, hopefully not a flash in the pan then, and Clara leaves us to our meal, clutching a small takeaway bag of chicken as she rushes off to a parents evening.
I admit that I’d been ready to Write BIRD off as too many cynical marketing exercises, and it’s only after asking a few friends, who’d already been, for feedback, and consequently hearing positive noises, that I agree to visit. I’m not in the habit of going to restaurants I’m expecting to dislike, life’s surely too short?
And as it happens, the chicken *is* really rather good. We order a couple of ‘small’ mixed white and dark meat (nice touch – you can also choose all white or all dark meat) portions from the start of the menu, assuming they’re starter size, and are alarmed when a whopping great basket arrives. Chicken is crisp and greaseless; the gochujang, sticky and addictive, but it’s the classic buffalo that wins with that sharp, hot kick and crispy skin that is faultless whilst the chicken within stays tender and moist. Deep fried pickles are on the lacklustre side but corn pudding makes up for this as cheesy, stodgy fun.
We’re filling up fast, despite efforts to pace ourselves, when things take a turn for the ridiculous as our chicken waffle burger arrives. You may be thinking that it’s not likely to be the meekest order, yet we’re still not quite expecting and what is easily a double portion; a towering pair of beasts that I’m keener to Instagram than I am to pick up and eat, if I’m really honest. Whilst the idea is extravagant and eye catching, I think it works better as a ‘concept’ to splash across social media than it does in reality. I actually like the soft, stodge of the herby waffles – I’m not normally a fan, but these are rather good. However I think they’d work better not hugging chicken, cheese and bacon feel a bit unnecessary, and on a practical level, I can’t even fit it into my mouth. I’ll stick to the excellent chicken, with a waffle on the side next time, now I’m prepped on portion sizes.
Cocktails are good, my friend and I are both taken with a cheeky, Lolita-esque theme that runs through the menu, a cherry sour is a deceptively boozy number with a true cherry flavour, I switch to well made Negronis as the meal progresses.
Desserts are where we truly find our groove again. As a tray of freshly fried doughnuts is waltzed past, our magnificently delightful waiter packs away a couple for us with our doggy bags (we admit defeat fairly early on so as to squeeze in dessert), effectively knocking my top choice from the dessert menu; a doughnut ice cream sandwich. Going to have to go back for that and cocktails I reckon. Instead we decide to share the cherry sundae that’s so magnificently nostalgia inducing, we forget all reserve when digging to the bottom. Cherry and vanilla ice creams swirl with crushed meringue, cream and a tooth jarringly glorious cherry sauce. Despite our groaning bellies we quickly regret not ordering a whole one each.
Our doggy bags make for a fine lunch feast the following day. It’s the doughnut that I’m most keen to get stuck into though, and generously gifting the vanilla away, I find a quiet moment for the cherry one. I’m not going to lie, it’s not a life changing experience, but very, very tasty indeed; a classic light dough with a subtle hint of cherry in a thick fondant icing. I imagine that caught fresh from their doughnut hatch, with a decent coffee, they’d be even more of a treat.
I intend to do that.