Perfect grilled chicken? Keep it coming, says Tom.
Humble Chicken is, if nothing else, proof that there are many ways to slice a hen. Because this Soho yakitori restaurant is as much a lesson in avian anatomy as it is a damned good lunch, a fascinating paean to the Japanese art of cooking poultry (greatest hits and other bits) on skewers over burning coals. Nothing is wasted, save the beak and cluck.
It sits on the site of the original Barrafina, and keeps the same L-shaped counter, where you can gaze at serious, silent chefs going about their work with an intensity and precision that makes brain surgeons look slapdash. In the corner, a neon sign shimmers through the smoke giving the place, at night at least, a feeling of an 80s Ridley Scott film.
Japanese-born head chef Angelo Sato knows his stuff, training in high-end yakitori restaurants in Fukuoka, Japan, as well as the likes of New York’s Eleven Madison Park and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. His experience shows in the food, which mixes traditional yakitori (which rarely anoints the skewers with much more than salt, pepper and shichimi) with more modern ferments and flavoured oils.
And while the menu may seem a little daunting at first (neck? Achilles? Knee and cartilage?), throw caution to the wind and order a skewer of each. This is not just expert grilling, but precise surgery too. Where you’ll find the real thrills in the more extreme parts of the chicken’s anatomy. Sure, the breast (with Japanese plum and shiso pepper) is outrageously soft and tender, lightly caressed by the Binchotan charcoal. And the fillet is equally luscious, with a nose-clearing hit of wasabi. We dispatch them in seconds. Along with pert pickles, which are the only non-chicken things we eat.
Texture is every bit as important as taste – the cartilaginous crunch of that knee, the soft, lavish richness of the livers, the chew of the mixed offal, and the oyster’s plump succulence. Immaculate wings wear immaculately crisp skin. But such is the relentlessness of the skewer onslaught (and service here is divine), that after a while, we give up trying to remember which is tail, say, and which neck. And just feast in happy, greedy ignorance, our lips greasy with schmaltz.
One thing, though, is abundantly clear. There’s absolutely nothing humble about this blessed bird.
About £50 a head. Humble Chicken, 54 Frith Street, London W1; humblechickenuk.com
DRINKS: Olly’s zesty whites
Let’s extend the summer by sipping bright white wine and imagining we’re poolside at a Provençal pleasure palace. For under a tenner, these zingers are all mood-lifting day-brighteners. I love Italian whites for their gleaming refreshment and unbeatable value, Spain’s Atlantic coast delivers deliciously invigorating Albariño or try whites from the Mediterranean coast for a change. My Wine Society pick from Valencia is a unique blend of rare grapes including Verdil and Mersguera and a cracker for the money. Elsewhere, Austrian whites gleam with mountain purity, but Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand beams with the sunniest tropical tinge of all.
WINE OF THE WEEK VAVASOUR SAUVIGNON BLANC 2020 (13%), £10, Co-Op. Punchy as passionfruit, this New Zealand white is tantalising, tropical, scrumptious and delicious.
ORVIETO 2020 (12%), £6, Marks & Spencer. The peak of Mount Pristine covered in lemon sherbet! Splendid value.
THE BEST GRÜNER VELTLINER 2020 (12.5%), £8.25, Morrisons. Soaring as a nectarine fired from a cannon, this is bright, uplifting and excellent.
FINEST VIÑAS DEL REY ALBARIÑO 2020 (12.5%), £9, Tesco. Piercing white with beautiful zing: pinnacles of fresh pineapple and breezy grapefruit.
CELLER DEL ROURE CULLEROT BLANCO 2020 (13%), £9.95, The Wine Society. Stunning with shellfish, this unique zinger is an orange spliced with a peach. Try it!