Review - Crafty Chooks

Review – Crafty Chooks

I adore roast chicken. At home, I tear the freshly-cooked bird apart as soon as my asbestos fingers will allow, demolishing crisp skin and using chunks of meat to mop up the juices and sticky bits from the pan.

And so, I had high hopes for Crafty Chooks, in its own words ‘a bar and casual dining venue that specialises in great free-range chicken and craft beer’. We went on a Tuesday evening and the place was buzzing, packed inside and on the outdoor terrace. We were greeted warmly by the lovely staff.

Décor is great: stripped-back wood, exposed brickwork and leather banquettes, splashes of red and yellow, and walls of mirrors enhancing the natural light. We sat by the window, overlooking Second Avenue bathed in glorious sunshine, and quickly ordered two halves of hoppy, citrusy Freedom Four.

The menu covers all bases with a focus on European dishes, and a strong emphasis on chicken. We started with a crayfish and prawn cocktail (£5.95), and grilled buttermilk halloumi and aubergine kebabs (£6.25). The prawn cocktail was decent with that classic tang, though I couldn’t taste any booze in the two ‘vodka-braised cherry tomatoes’. My friend – a halloumi addict – felt her cheese could have been more crisp and flavourful.

The prawn cocktail was nicely presented, and not bulked out with lettuce.

The prawn cocktail was nicely presented with a dusting of cayenne, and not bulked out with lettuce

For our main, we decided to share a whole spit-roast chicken (£16.95) with house seasoning and a choice of BBQ sauce (smoky, spicy or sweet), plus double-cooked chunky chips (£2.95) and coleslaw (£3.25). We opted to carve the chicken ourselves at the table, which was fun, and the side portion sizes were generous.

Tools at the ready to carve the chicken at the table

Tools at the ready, an excited Suz prepares to carve the chicken at the table

The golden, almost charred, chicken looked enticing, yet the skin wasn’t at all crisp, while the succulent meat lacked flavour and could have done with a good whack of seasoning. The coleslaw was fresh and crunchy, yet was also under-seasoned and not at all sharp enough. The chips had seen a shake of salt, but had suffered a little from perhaps sitting around a touch too long after leaving the fryer. The BBQ sauces were spot on flavour-wise but the consistency, more of a thin gravy, wasn’t great.

Crafty Chooks has so much potential. The venue and staff are fantastic, and the portions are large – something that pleases me greatly. However, the chicken needs to be the star of the show – moreish, deeply savoury and demanding a return visit. We felt it wasn’t, as the website promised, ‘the juiciest and most flavoursome around’. Offering just BBQ sauce is limiting, too (though we were provided with mayo and ketchup). Some other homemade sauce options would be nice – maybe a spiky garlicky aioli or basil and tarragon mayonnaise?

We really wanted to love the food at Crafty Chooks, and left feeling full yet disappointed. If they can ramp up their flavours and find a way to get the chicken to the diner before it loses its crisp skin, they’ll be onto a winner.

Words by Suzanne Rose

Suzanne’s food and drinks were complementary, courtesy of Crafty Chooks

Originally printed in the Brighton and Hove Independent 4th July 2014

Crafty Chooks 10 Victoria Grove, Second Avenue, BN3 2LJ, 01273 722846

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