Review – H.en
H.en opened in Brighton’s achingly-cool North Laine area last month. Many flocked to the opening and were impressed. But how is owner Philip Ilic getting on now? And will his ethos of serving high-welfare chicken settle with the often hard-to-please Brighton crowd?
Located in Trafalgar Street, the first thing that struck me about H.en (which stands for “happy/healthy, eat natural”) was the décor: simple, modern, and a hipster paradise. Think re-purposed, light wooden tables, drinks served in old milk bottles, artwork on peg-board walls and, overall, a welcoming, light and spacious restaurant.
H.en isn’t another Nando’s, KFC, or late-night chicken-shop. This is a sit-down, table service venue – and the quality of the food reflects this. H.en serve only high-welfare birds that have been reared with maximum outdoor space from Brookland Farm, Surrey. Coupled with owner and manager Philip Ilic’s vision to make H.en somewhat of a low-sugar, all-natural restaurant, it is clear that the H.en team have the customers’ health in mind.
The menu is minimal and simple: choose from quarter or half a chicken, chicken burger, or vegetarian alternative and a range of sides, including fries, corn on the cob, and salad – all made in-house. Reasonably-priced, a quarter of chicken with two sides comes to £7.45 and, if you want to gorge on half a bird, that still comes in at an affordable £9.95. H.en is also open for brunch, serving gluten-free waffles with a range of toppings, including chocolate fudge, berry compote and maple syrup.
I chose the quarter chicken with sides of sweet potato fries and grilled halloumi. Fellow diner, Laura Evans, opted for the chicken burger (£6.95). Dry-January meant sipping on a glass of refreshing and fruity homemade pink lemonade; H.en is, however, fully licensed and serves a good selection of craft beers, as well as teas and coffee.
Positives first: the chicken. Oh my! What a wonderfully tender and sublime piece of meat! Grilled lightly, the bird was coated in lemon and fresh herbs. The skin eased away from the juicy flesh and was wickedly enjoyable. The quality of the meat was very good and put to shame many other chicken outlets; no preservatives, synthetics, or nasties in this bird. And you could really tell.
Torn at with my bare hands, dunked and dipped in a pool of tangy and spicy sauce, the chicken was a prominent highlight of our meal. Laura also enjoyed her chicken burger, proclaiming it the ideal combination of naughtiness, while also still feeling vaguely healthy.
The sweet potato fries doused in rosemary were okay, although a little too crispy. The two pieces of halloumi looked somewhat sad on my plate and were under-cooked. I cursed myself for not ordering salad as a side, as I’d heard good things about these from the launch event. The presentation also irked me; it felt somewhat rushed and unplanned, as though it were acceptable to throw everything onto a plate and hope for the best.
H.en is a cool restaurant. There is no doubt about that. It serves good chicken, decent beers and waffles. What more can a Brighton crowd want in 2015? And with some tweaks to the menu and other refinements, it could easily become another popular Brighton hangout for the hipster generation and beyond.
H.en, 87-88 Trafalgar St, Brighton, BN1 4ER
Originally printed in the Brighton & Hove Independent Friday 9th January 2014