Le Coq

Update: after a decent run, Le Coq is now closed.

I am a terrible entrepreneur. My current not for profit status is a stark reminder of this.

The problem is not that I don’t have good ideas, it’s just a lack of conviction and drive to follow those ideas through. I can think of at least one example in the food sphere alone.

I distinctly remember a eureka moment 5 years ago, during a wasted day waiting for a flight in Geneva – a city where there is only one restaurant that sells food you don’t have to remortgage your house for. That restaurant sold chicken, chips and salad in a basket. Nothing more. Maybe there was a choice of either a half or whole bird. But that was it. And it was cheap, and tasty, and totally rammed throughout the day.

“Why doesn’t anyone do anything like this in Britain?” I wondered aloud using my best Rick Stein voice. This was brilliant. It reminded me of holidays to France, picking up a rotisserie chicken and chips and taking back to a campsite to eat the best tasting and easiest meal of the year. Low overheads, low wastage, give the people what they want and they’ll be happy to pay for it. Everyone likes chicken.

I sat there, typing furiously away on my blackberry: a business plan; a resignation email; emails to wealthy friends requesting small capital investments. This was it. My Branson moment. Within two years I would be rich beyond my wildest dreams.

And then I walked out the door. The glare of flat grey sky, some bracing February wind and a depressing thought hit me: Nandos. Bollocks.

WHOA WHOA WHOA. Hold it there. Sorry. I’ve just realised this lengthy intro is copy and pasted from one I wrote after eating at Chicken Shop in Kentish Town over a year ago. I’m so sorry. Sorry sorry sorry. It’s just, well, those same regrets came tumbling down yet again after a lovely little meal at Le Coq, the lovely little “neighbourhood rotisserie restaurant” just off the lovely little, er, just off Highbury Corner.

Except, actually, Le Coq is even more enviable.

Not in a “this time next year we’ll be miwwionnaires, Rodney” way. Chicken Shop and its probable global roll out alongside Soho House has got that nailed. No, Le Coq is enviable as a seriously cute little indy place that’s taking a simple concept and doing it well, whilst discretely being quite cute and serious about the whole thing.

The decor’s plain but welcoming, compact yet comfortable. There are seats in every possible space. Only the three chefs have any cause to compare their conditions to battery; jammed as they are into a 5ft galley backed by a wall of rotisserie spits, on which plump, white Sutton Hoo chickens are skewered until they turn golden.

It’s all very easy for the customers. I know you’ll get this first time. There’s a choice of two starters, then a quarter of a chicken served with a seasonal side dish, and then a choice of dessert. Two courses for £16 or 3 for £20. Green salad and roast potatoes are extra.

Last night the starter options were knowingly kitsch and retro. A simple pear, gorgonzola, walnut and watercress salad, or crumbed and deep fried brawn with piccalilli. The brawn croquette was good, but I prefer my pig head cold and gelatinous, rather than hot and greasy. The pickle balanced sharpness and spice well and did its job at cutting through the fat. Desserts were no more taxing. Caramel bourbon crunch ice cream hinted at adult ingredients, but pleased the inner child. Yoghurt tart with slices of (also tart) orange doused in caramel was just set and delicious. There must’ve been something else other than yoghurt – condensed milk perhaps? So none of the starters or desserts were particularly precise and they bordered on informal and homemade. But they felt appropriate and the flavours were spot on. The influence of the Dock Kitchen and Rochelle Canteen were not unnoticed.

It’s really about the chicken, though, isn’t it. We’re told that Sutton Hoo chicken is a slow growing breed, “lovingly reared” in Suffolk. It certainly tasted like that. Fat, meaty thighs and drumsticks are evidence of a life strutting free. Off the rotisserie and well rested, those bits came moist, tender and flavoursome. A portion is a quarter chicken – so half a breast and a thigh or drumstick and wing. It’s all golden, crisp-skinned and you finish sated but secretly wanting more (who gets the oysters?). I really enjoyed that it came with an oozing orzo and purple brocolli side, rather than chips. Though that needed more salt and I’d personally like a touch more tarragon in the tarragon mayo too. Still, very enjoyable and decent value.

Le Coq is a top little place. Admirable and covetable. Everything appears low key and easy … and therein lies its success. I’ll certainly be back – and am particularly interested by the Sunday / PDR options, when the chickens selflessly give up their space on the spit for things like octopus, pork belly and bream. What a good idea.

Le Coq in 3 words

Tastes like chicken

The Bill

Sneaky buggers. You’ll have a drink or two and a side, and that mythical £16 for 2 courses, £20 for 3 will become £30-35 a head with service. Fair value.

le-coq.co.uk – 292-294 St Paul’s Rd, N1 2LH – 020 7359 5055