Restauranteurs around the world have decided that less really can be more when it comes to what they serve.
It’s happened in air travel, and in hotels. So why not restaurants? The food scene in London, like that in many cities around the world, appears to be on a simplicity kick. No-frills pop-ups, street food and now restaurants are increasingly dedicated to, and indeed built on, a very narrow range of dishes and a deliberately low-key service standard. This would have been commercial suicide a few years ago – but just as consumer behaviour has moved on in other sectors, so the wheel of fashion has turned in restaurants.
Years ago I dreamed of having my own rotisserie chicken restaurant, and last Saturday I felt compelled as well as fascinated to take the family to The Chicken Shop, featuring exactly this style of cuisine, a few minutes from my front door. Where it is, and who is behind it, more or less sums up the trend: situated on a modest corner at the quieter end of a slightly scruffy neighbourhood high street in South London, but developed by the people behind Soho House, and already an international chain (it has an outlet in the Soho House in Chicago).
If you listed out all that is on trend right now, Chicken Shop would tick every box. Its ethos, menu, service and décor are obsessively simple. One dish only, split-roast free-range chicken from Banham’s Farm in Norfolk. The birds are marinated overnight, steamed and then cooked over charcoal. The only choice you have is whether it is to have ¼, ½ or whole bird and which of the 4 sides (all identically priced) and 2 sauces you’d like (free and on the table). The notion of simplicity stretches to every part of the offer. All of the serving dishes and tableware are identical – white enamel plates and bowls which ooze retro chic. No menu, just a board on the wall; and you can’t book, just turn up and wait in line and take your chances. The text notification system does allow you to find a nearby pub and simply check your live web-feed or text and monitor the readiness of your table.
The interesting question comes, with the increase in the trend for simplicity, what impact will this that have on a category such as wine, which exudes and thrives on complexity?
The Chicken Shop’s answer should make the purists shudder. Wine is red, white or rosé and comes in three types: “house”, “decent” and “good”. The simplicity continues with 3 serve sizes. Countering the notion that is typical in restaurants to explain, describe and detail the wine, Chicken Shop take the polar opposite route. When ordering and being served wine, you don’t even know what wine you are drinking at any stage as it is all delivered in carafes.
Wine offer at Chicken Shop, Tooting (November 2014, priced in £)
Is this a good development? Wine can be made simple, but should be uplifting and thought-provoking at the same time A focus on origin, authenticity and craftsmanship seems like a good starting place – but not telling me what wine I’m drinking (even the beer is branded and you can figure out where it’s from) feels a bit extreme.