High street chicken shops. Four words unlikely to fill the mouths of those fond of fine foods with the gushing saliva of anticipation.
Up until my recent visit to Clockjack in Woolwich , perhaps the most memorable experience associated with one I’d enjoyed was an unexpected 2am serenade from a traditionally dressed Nigerian master singer, blasting open my ears with her piercing tone outside a Seven Sisters Road joint as the discarded bones of fowl crunched with cockroaches underfoot.
Unlike Tottenham, street sweepers don’t fear Powis Street near the south-east London terminus of the DLR.
But strolling to my destination around 6.30pm, despite the tidy brick walkway, all that met my gaze were shut shops and piles of neatly stacked refuse bags awaiting collection.
Listless individuals lolled about on cold benches. The lights in the chain stores weren’t on, nobody was home.
The approach was so inauspicious I nearly lost faith half way and turned back. But I’m glad I pressed on, for there, sandwiched between New Look and Holland And Barratt (just past Poundland) was my destination.
I like red restaurants. A scarlet shop front is immediately, cosy even when adorned with a cartoon chicken.
Clockjack’s interior, however, turned out to be predominantly brown, but the welcome was as warm as its facade from well-trained, enthusiastic staff and the atmosphere’s was as pleasant and refined as its parquet tabletops.
The menu presented was simple, a spare third way between the excesses of some fast food chains and the opaque, aggressive minimalism of the one-dish puritans.
Light bites of houmous and pitta (£3.50) and buttermilk chicken bites (£3.95) were good value, especially as the latter came with as many of the brand’s dipping sauces as desired.
The dishes also established a pretty consistent theme of red-edged enamelware piled high for the money.
The exception (at least when cast against the overflowing bowls of sweet potato fries and crisp coleslaw – £4.40 and £3.50 respectively) was the mainstay half roast chicken.
The two quarters combined, rather than a true demi-bird, looked a little lost on their ample charger at £10.95, bereft perhaps at the lack of a deal on the necessary accompaniments.
Still, their flesh was juicy, well roasted by the mechanical machinations of the spit – something to confound expectation and delight any committed gnawer of bones.
Better though was the distinctly non-avian white pudding burger, its patty and sausage slices buried under a great mound of caramelised onions and all for £8.95.
Delicious but aesthetically a shame as the beautiful medium rare pink hues of the meat were somewhat lost.
But, as it’s bashed up mess of a ‘scrambled cheesecake’ (£5) proudly proclaims, Clockjack isn’t primarily about prettiness, it’s about taste.
From sharply mixed cocktails to confidently cooked chicken and burgers this is a place that knows what it’s doing – offering polished fast food with clean stripped back flavours.
The world turns, tastes move on, the Clockjack’s ticking and it’s not afraid to seriously assault desserts on suburban high streets and still come up smelling of strawberries.
If I were Nando’s I’d be glancing nervously over my shoulder and perspiring into my lemon and herb sauce.
On Friday, October 7, the first 20 people through the door at Clockjack in Woolwich after 5pm will get free beer with Spanish brewery Estrella in residence.
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