"Oh why would you live in England when you can live in Australia and have that lovely weather?"
"Have you ever been to Australia?"
"No, but I watch Home and Away"
I have had that conversation many, many times over the last seven years. Strangely, the people who talk about the lovely weather are aware of the floods, droughts, bushfires, heatwaves and occasional cyclones that also beset Australia. There are definitely things I miss about Australia, but the weather isn't counted amongst them. I miss people, mostly. Some specific experiences like eating fish & chips at Balmoral Beach or having brunch in Manly on weekends or seeing movies at the Cremorne Orpheum with the organist coming out of the floor beforehand. And food. There are definitely foods I miss, that are either difficult to obtain here or just weirdly different.
Chicken shops. In Australia there are loads of shops dedicated to takeaway rotisserie chickens. They have really high turnover so the chickens are usually hot, fresh and juicy. You get a choice of "seasoned" (stuffed with sage & onion) or unseasoned. They sell trays of roast potato, pumpkin and sweet potato, or eggplant, zucchini and peppers. They have vats of potato salad, chicken and avocado salad, fruit salad and horrible gloopy pasta salad that I am sure someone likes. About five times a year since we moved, we have lamented that chicken shops here sell manky deep-fried chicken with no obvious signs of vegetables.
This is why I got really excited when I heard about Clockjack Oven. They are a rotisserie chicken restaurant, seemingly the prototype for a chain. They serve chicken and a few side dishes. What more could I ask for?
|3 pieces of chicken for £6.95|
One of my companions at this meal was one of those - far from unusual - people who don't like to eat meat on the bone. So while she is happy to eat chicken, the boneless options were salads or sandwiches. She ordered the CLT torpedo - chicken, lettuce and tomato on a bun. And she said it had no flavour whatsoever. The mayonnaise or whatever it was binding it was distinctly bland.
Sadly, there were no steaming trays of roast vegetables on offer. We ordered a house salad - lettuce and apple slices topped with crisp stuffing balls. The lettuce and apple were fresh and crisp but the stuffing balls weren't particularly tasty and had too dry a texture and generally seemed a bit misguided. There was a dressing on the salad but it seemed to be there to prevent oxidation rather than for lubrication or flavour.
The chips, on the other hand, were perfect. Crunchy outside, soft in the middle, not too fat, not too thin.
We requested a couple of sauces - chilli and ranch. I'm not a connoisseur of ranch dressing: I don't actually know what is in it or what it is supposed to taste of, but this one tasted good to me. It was creamy and a bit tangy and just the sort of thing I like to dunk chips in. The chilli sauce wasn't fiercely hot but had a nice warm burn and a slightly smoky flavour. Not one for your competitive chilli eaters, and not nearly as good as my home made, but still very pleasant.
The tableware was an unusual choice. Rustic-looking glazed china of a type I'd normally associate with Japanese restaurants. It was pretty, but the bowl-shaped dishes were a bit awkward to cut up chicken on. Fine if you are planning to eat with your fingers but we were of course far too refined for that. I would also bet that a lot is going to get pinched.
The staff seemed really stretched, so service was patchy. One waitress was absolutely brilliant, had eyes in the back of her head and managed to dart around the room like a dragonfly. The other waiter was, shall we say, in need of more training. So while two of us were presented with water and a little dish of vegetable crisps as soon as we sat down, our later-arriving friend was asked for her order before she'd taken her coat off and didn't get water until the food arrived. The people sharing our table were asked to order before they'd been given a menu. He just didn't seem to be entirely on the ball.
We didn't try the desserts, and I just had a glass of the (perfectly acceptable) house red wine while the others were on soft-drinks. So we really didn't give the full menu a working over. But I think when I go back I will just stick to chicken and chips. They do them well and that is a beautiful thing.