At Bébé Bob, the new, plucky (ha-ha) younger sister to the infamously indulgent Bob Bob Ricard, there are just two main course selections: chicken and chicken. They are, to be fair, two very good chickens; the Vendée which gets crispy and slightly caramelised on the outside while still retaining a juicy interior, and the slightly larger Landes which has a deeper flavour and a slightly more decadent texture. To break up the poisson supremacy you can kick off your meal with a whole array of starters, from the group's classic caviar and blinis to soft-boiled eggs sitting in a puddle of dijonnaise and draped in two lithe little anchovies, which, when predating a menu so poultry-focused, does raise a few existential crises. What came first, and all that.
Universal quandaries aside, the chicken was incredible. Full of flavour, incredibly tender and no dry meat in sight, it was a straight middle finger to people who think it’s the boring meat (guilty). Douse the whole thing in an unctuous, deeply savoury chicken jus and serve it with crispy shoestring fries and a mustard-y salad for a dose of bracing crunch and you have something of a love letter to indulgence.
Opening this month, Bébé Bob is the latest in a string of restaurants putting the bird front and centre. In April of this year Tom Sellers, of two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Story, opened Story Cellar, a rotisserie chicken restaurant inspired by its Parisian equivalents. While the menu is a little less specific than that at Bébé Bob (diners can order, among other things, pasta, mussels and steaks as their main course if they’re not in the mood for chicken), it still firmly refers to itself as a rotisserie restaurant and makes it clear that chicken takes centre stage. I’m yet to visit, but friends whose taste I trust entirely have rhapsodised about it, and Jimi Famurewa at the Evening Standard gave it an easy five stars.
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I visited Solis last week and, while not rotisserie, grilled chicken was one of two main course options – the other being a steak. Both are served with fries; the chicken takes influence from Portugal and is doused in Aji-Aji oil and grilled, while the steak comes languishing in a peppercorn sauce. Hidden in the back of the new Arcade Food Hall at Battersea Power Station (and when I say hidden I truly mean it – it took me ten minutes to find and a further 15 to figure out how the hell to get out of there), the grill takes culinary inspiration from its namesake, 16th century explorer Juan Díaz de Solis, and the countries he visited on his journey that reportedly made him the first European to make it to Uruguay, namely Spain, Portugal, Uruguay and Argentina. It's a delightful new restaurant that has somehow managed to magic up ambience from one of the most lifeless buildings in London and is also serving up what might be the best cheesecake I've ever eaten.
There are, of course, others spotlighting chicken on their menus; Noble Rot Soho has consistently had roast chicken with vin jaune and morels on the menu; one of the courses Marcus restaurant at The Berkeley hotel featured a glossy, de-boned Fosse Meadows chicken wing stuffed with morteau sausage; while Casa do Frango has four locations dedicated to fiery, piquant Portuguese-style peri peri chicken. This may be sacrilege to say, but I’m not sure any peri peri will match up to that made by the Westmere Butcher in my hometown of Auckland, New Zealand. It’s so vividly orange it almost looks radioactive and so packed with flavour that it’s near impossible to replicate. The chicken at Casa do Frango comes a close second.
Long the reserve of meal-prepped lunches made by Gym BrosTM and dry, over-cooked Sunday roasts, chicken is not just seeing its day in the sun, but being firmly adopted by some of London’s hottest restaurants, too. It could simply be down to the cost of living crisis and the fact that chicken, even at its most luxurious, is a fairly affordable meat. Or maybe it’s just the relentless cycle of trends that has us all desperately innovating and grasping for the next cool thing. What I do know is that in that first mouthful at Bébé Bob, I genuinely felt like it was one of the most delicious things I had put in my mouth in recent memory. And so I say: long may the chicken reign.