Monday, 8 July 2013

Clockjack Oven: not ready to fly yet

Beautiful rotisserie chicken, with flaws on the side

In Giles Coren's brilliant "How to Eat Out" (yes I giggle every time I say it too) he talks about the things he hates when reviewing restaurants. Given he has the greatest job on earth you have to talk it all with a pinch of salt, but I agree with him on one thing. You should never get too friendly with the manager or owner, because as soon as you do writing a bad review gets much, much harder. Clockjack's manager is without doubt the most approachable, friendly man I have ever met in the restaurant industry, and it hurts to imagine his face dropping as he reads this. So I want to start by making something very, very clear.

Clockjack Oven's rotisserie chicken is exceptional. Truly exceptional. But there are flaws.

Comparisons to Chicken Shop are inevitable, but aren't quite as useful as you'd think. For a start, Clockjack is built for a rollout. It's clean-cut and smooth, and decked out cheaply but tastefully. It has a Wagamama feel to it.

More significantly for the diner, this is properly English-style chicken: salt, pepper, butter - you can even have it with gravy - while Chicken Shop marinate their chicken in paprika and oregano, which would make the addition of gravy a terrifying prospect. There's also a lot more choice at Clockjack – with wings, fried chicken, sandwiches, salads and sides. 

Sadly there was little choice on the beer front and If I could suggest one change to the menu it's update this terrible list. Why Estrella is on there is a mystery, and in the midst of a microbrewery explosion it's mad to ignore it all in favour of mass brewers. Instead we went for wine (a Malbec) and were brought a wine I know for a fact can be bought in Sainsbury's for £7.99. It's a tasty one, but knowing the mark up you're paying (300%) can make it taste a little bitter.

Getting abreast of things
Drink issues aside though, everything chickeny was a delight. Perfect rotisserie, seasoned to within an inch of its life and coated in a lovely golden skin. It wasn't as fall-off-the-bone tender as the Chicken Shop's marinated ones, but the flavour was incredible and the choice of dips (chilli, barbecue, ranch and gravy) was much better. After repeated visits I've come to think that Chicken Shop's sauces were far too runny and a little too strong, while Clockjack's are sticky and satisfying in texture but slightly weaker in the flavour stakes.

The chicken bites had all the crunch of KFC minus the guilt about higher-welfare animals and the hands so oily you could lather up the green room of a bodybuilding contest. I'd imagine my heart still skipped a beat with every swallow though. Still, you don't eat out to lose weight.

The wings were marinaded in a lovely, fruity sauce but were slightly overdone, and then served a little cold. They were still a joy though, and the glaze stuck stubbornly to my fingers even after three lemon wipes – always a good sign.

The only foodie blackspot was the veggie bites. Essentially just crunchy coated sage and onion stuffing balls, they were tasty enough but (roast chicken aside) they could not have been more offensive with the ranch dressing, barbecue sauce and chicken wings. Far better would be a spicy bean or sweet potato-based bite that matches the Deep South leanings of the other sideshow dishes. As it is, they look the part, but taste more like something you'd find on your grandma's 40s dining table, with the Constable-print place mats and the boiled sprouts.

For pudding we plumped for the Baileys truffles with vanilla ice cream – a beautifully simple concept. The manager was delighted by our choice and came over to claim the recipe as his own and offer us a masterclass in making them, which we may well take up. They were excellent. I'm usually dead against alcohol in puddings (trifle being my food nightmare) but I couldn't argue with the lovely flavours and that little kick of alcohol that gets up your nose. And I love arguing.

Clockjack Oven on Urbanspoon   Square Meal

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