Putting the Soul back in Shoreditch?

Red Rooster l https://thecurtain.com/red-rooster l 45 Curtain Rd, London EC2A 3PT, UK l +44 20 3146 4545 l Visited June 2017

What do you buy one of your best friends for their 30th Birthday? Would it only further exacerbate the situation to add the fact that you’re over a week delayed in obtaining a suitable token? Maybe you could get them an experience? Or take them out for dinner? Perhaps something with a candle in it? Or, maybe, just maybe you could combine all three and have them presented with a whole roast chicken, with a fountain sparkler jetting forth from the crown of the bird.

To rewind, I have been looking to satiate my soul food and Southern-States American food cravings ever since The Wandering Goose in Seattle. I’ve been hankering for creole spices, for mac & cheese, for biscuits and gravy. So when presented with the acclaimed, New York chef, Marcus Samuelsson’s new Shoreditch restaurant, I figured a birthday would be the perfect reason for a visit.

Now, bear in mind Mr Samuelsson is the man that was brave enough to open a place with fried chicken on the menu in Harlem, so he’s a man that knows a thing or two about this type of thing. With all of the usual Shoreditch trappings in place (yes there’s exposed lighting, lots of wood and a ton of quirk), he’s set about trying to make East London home.

Swedish meatballs at Red Rooster

Swedish Soul Food – Helga’s Meatballs with gnocchi and pickled gravy

But what of the London-based, chicken? Well, it arrives whole, ceremoniously through the dining room with its sparks spluttering forth. Carried like a magnum bottle of grey goose in one of those overcrowded Piccadilly Circus nightclubs, for people with deeper pockets than me. The wooden carving board’s roast bird at first glance looks bread crumbed. Until you realise that the brick red covering over the skin is actually a deep, earthy spice rub.

The bird is removed to be carved into more manageable, and potentially shareable, pieces. It comes back with willing accomplices of waffles, corn bread, mac & greens and sauces. It’s difficult to not note that it is somewhat of a Dulux colour chart of beige. It’s still more than tempting enough for hungry hands to reach and snatch, like all good sharing platters.

The chicken is wonderfully moist but with a real peppery edge to the skin, from the rub. It’s a welcome change from the all too common Piri Piri sauce everywhere. The waffles are an autumn brown, they’ve gone the shade of your friend who went back packing for 6 months. Fortunately, given all of the other elements, they aren’t overly doughy. Instead, they have a satisfying crunch against the soft chicken. The mac and greens are still slightly al dente and have a nice dose of salty cheese to the sauce. It reminds me of childhood dinners at my mum’s house. Bourne End may not be the Deep South, but my mother made some great mac.

The scale of the Chicken Royale feast leaves all of us unable to sidle out of our chairs with much success. So we can only be thankful that it was also suggested that we shared a few starters to nibble on. It’s hard to resist the shrimp and grits, but we stuck to the sharing-centric options. Helga’s meatballs are soft and coated in a creamy pickled gravy. Samuelsson’s Scandinavian charm runs through to them (He was born there). They seem a little out of place given the wider menu but we’re willing to forgive for the few pieces of gnocchi underneath. With a satisfyingly chewy bite to them, they would have been gleefully welcomed by the table solo.

Corn bread is an art in some parts of America. Red Rooster’s wedge-like pieces are toasted well on the outside but their inside still fluffy with jewels of corn. Unfortunately, the tomato jam and honey butter are both far too sweet. More than one remark equated them to scones at high tea. Consider that pretty much on point.

Entire chicken with gravy, cornbread, waffles, mac & greens

What Do They Call it in France? – The Bird Royale Feast with Waffles and Cornbread

Red Rooster is definitely a place to come with friends. Prepare to share a selection of things whilst chatting over a craft beer or cocktail. The platters are very much the focus and our server made sure to steer us towards them. The chicken is good value, despite the £44 price tag. Sure, that’s a lot for chicken, but it served the three of us more than comfortably as a main. The menu as a whole is certainly not cheap, however. Starters range from £9-12 and several of the mains hit the £20+ mark.

It should be noted that they also have live music, lending to the experience. Tonight it was some upbeat Jazz but they also have DJs. We were sat ‘outside’ in a courtyard with a glass roof giving the illusion of being outdoors. The inside has more of a perky, saloon-style vibe. Eclectic blues and Deep South Americana hangs on the walls.

Red Rooster fits well into the Shoreditch restaurant scene and its flexibility for different occasions is sure to be a hit most nights of the week. It’s definitely a notch above some of the other more established spots in a similar vein, like Blues Kitchen and Tramshed. It could also be very easy to run up quite a bill if you stayed longer. But when you see a birthday girl smile at a whole chicken ‘birthday cake’, can you really put a price on it?