It’s a common phenomenon that bad memories linger more than good ones. This, at least, certainly seems to be the case for me. My childhood has been marred by various traumatic events. Like the time I shut my helium dinosaur balloon in the door. Its untimely demise still saddens me.
There are certain memories, however, that struggle against this tide of negativity and triumph over them. These are memories of very good food.
Aged four, I was taken by my parents to Spain. I have no idea what part of Spain. But, oh my God, I know we ate rotisserie chicken. I remember it well – the rows upon rows of succulent birds rotating in a warm, orange glow, and my utter delight at gnawing drumsticks clean.
Spanish rotisserie chicken infiltrated my consciousness and I often wondered why there were no places like it in the UK. I grew up in the British countryside where a local Chinese takeaway is as exciting and as exotic as you’re going to find. Even in London, good rotisserie chicken is a scarcity.
Over 20 years later, however, the arrival of Chicken Shop is set to sort the British public out with a whole host of good memories. It doesn’t matter that sunlight is a scarcity and all the trains are cancelled again. Because just like Dorothy clicking her red slippers together, we can screw up our eyes and say “There’s no rotisserie chicken like Chicken Shop’s” and then hop on the tube to the nearest branch should teleportational magic fail to happen. And pray the tube isn’t suffering from engineering works.
Chicken Shop began in Kentish Town and has recently expanded into Tooting, which is where I was headed for my first experience. As the name suggests, Chicken Shop like to keep things simple. The façade is simple wood and the interior aims for a faux-rustic aesthetic that emulates some kind of farmhouse. There are simple wooden tables and counter seating, which surrounds the focal point of the room – a large, open rotisserie, showcasing some prized poultry.
On one wall, a wooden board displays the delightfully uncomplicated menu. You can order a quarter (£4), a half (£8) or a whole chicken (£14.50). Dear vegetarians, you’ll have to be content with sides or maybe dessert. But why did you come to a place called Chicken Shop? The clue really was in the name.
The birds are all free-range and are lovingly marinated for 24 hours with a potent mix of flavours, including Spanish smoked and sweet paprika. They are then steamed at 75°C, cooled, marinated again and skewered above the open charcoal flames.
The result is really, really good. The chicken is delicious and succulent and could be devoured just as it is. But more flavours lead to more fun: greater excitement can be thrown into each mouthful with the addition of two Chicken Shop sauces. There’s the ‘smokey sauce’, which has a slight kick to it, and was perhaps too mild for my tastes. Yet it was all I could do to stop myself from glugging the bottle of ‘hot sauce’. Made from habanero chillies, it packs a pleasing punch and sends flavour ratings off the scale. If this sauce were a man, I would have proposed to him. And abducted him and locked him in a dark room if he refused.
Despite this love affair, I was able to appreciate some well-executed sides, all priced at £4. These included a generous portion of crinkle-cut chips and corn on the cob that comes with as much garlic butter sauce as you care to ask for. A particular delight was the butter lettuce and avocado salad with a light but tangy vinaigrette. It was so simple but hit the spot, particularly as the avocado was perfectly ripe.
Now, given that greed had made me work through two portions of chips, it might have been prudent to skip dessert. Yet the word on the street (or Twitter) was that the apple pie with vanilla ice-cream (£5) was a must. It appeared before us in a giant dish. I ogled it and ogled it, before realising that a mountain of it had been piled onto my plate. Apparently, you can ask for as much as you like, and, whilst it is not the fanciest dessert in the world, it is gloriously comforting.
Although the food arrived promptly, two hours later I was still fuzzily conversing with my dining partner as we sat nursing our food babies. The great thing about Chicken Shop is that – despite its simple premise and speedy delivery – you can linger and chat (although this does depend on how long you can withstand the heat from the fire if you’re on the counter seats). It’s the kind of place where you can strike up a conversation with your neighbours or the staff, and generally frustrate the people queuing to get in.
Do expect to queue because Chicken Shop is very popular. Given the very good chicken, friendly service and friendly prices, this is hardly surprising. We can only hope that the Chicken Shop empire starts expanding into the considerable space between Kentish Town and Tooting. Either way, I think good memories are going to be on the increase.
Follow Phoebe on Twitter at @PheebzEatz