After a string of recent restaurant openings in Newcastle which have (appeared to have) been fairly successful, I thought about the ins and outs of it, and well, the Peace & Loafs etc. of the world make it look easy, because in reality, it must be bloody hard to do so, not least for the little guy.
I think part of the solution/problem is the hype generated by social media nowadays means that pretty much any new joint is going to have a camp of in-the-know “followers”/smartarses before the paint is barely dry, i.e people like me. Six months in advance of new-awesome-independent-chicken-BBQ-place opening, I had already formed an opinion and expectations based on the limited information the social media profiles offered. (Love the play on “COOP” by the way).
On the one hand, I think it means places are less likely to flat-out fail, given that the exposure garnered through Twitter and the like means that everyone has heard about you, saw your opening photos, and heard reports from visitor #1, but on the other hand, that can go not so well if initial opinion is poor, or even if you are a bit crap “at” social media/PR. House of Tides, let’s be seeing ya?
We headed down when the coop was not even a week old, so, trying trying to offer some constructive here… It’s got a good spot on Collingwood Street (NE1 1JE), and you can just imagine the pissed-up frequenters of “the diamond strip” clambering for some chicken, reminiscent of that horrid Channel 4 series. It’s the latest in a line of “we’ll do one ingredient, and do it well” eateries which are finally making their way up from darn sarf.
So, to the star, the chicken. Expectation was high – for slightly blackened, smokey BBQ chicken. Beer can chicken. Proper buffalo wings. I dunno, maybe chicken feet. Anything like that. Possibly slathered in some sort of sauces, and served dripping with juices, much like that large chain of Portuguese restaurants does quite well, but even better, because, y’know, it’s an indie. But.
The chicken arrives chopped into large bits, as if by axe, which makes for friendlier communal eating, but it’s done with a bit of a gammy hand, so you end up with some annoyingly small and splintering bones. Over on “the Twitter” there’s’ some distemper going on for the lack of free-range birds being used, but y’know what, give these guys a chance. It’s £13 for a whole chicken, and that’s without the Nando’s buying power. The meat is very juicy and soft and tastes a bit more like a great roast than what the menu calls – “gnarly & charred”, and “best-ever”. The great shame though, is the skin which is just flaccid, or in my books, inedible.
To go with the bird we ordered the fries (£3) – well, we devoured these and nigh on a whole bottle of the sweet & tangy house BBQ sauce, and then ordered another portion – pretty good going for the humble chip. Less impressed with the coleslaw (£3), which had some of those huge bits of cabbage, and was just a bit, meh…I made some far superior slaw the next day for just a few pence. Corn on the cob (£3) was soft, juicy and absolutely dripping with butter, but was begging for some of that “gnarly, char” from the all important charcoal.
The rest of the short menu is to the point, including the drinks choices, with a few decent sounding beers, and one cider – OK, but £4.50, and wine, which the Mrs. did not enjoy. Pretty warming & friendly interior design, though heavy on the chicken theme, is matched by the canny attentive service. They obviously have big plans for the future, with a private dining room next door.
I’m sure the COOP chicken house guys will find their feet and step it up a notch – a quick chat with the manager revealed he was still getting to grips with grilling chicken; temperatures, distance from heat etc. which is fair enough, but really this should have been honed to god-like perfection before opening? Abandon all cutlery, embrace the post-meal wet wipes, stick it to Nando’s and have a go. More of a one to watch at the moment, but we’ll be back after the opening period with a fairer assessment.
Food hygiene: 5/5 [updated August 2015]