St Paul’s Road is an odd part of town. It’s feels far away from chichi Upper Street and the tended-precision of Canonbury Square. Once a Blairite hot-bed, paint now peels off the dirty-magnolia townhouses. The east end of St Paul’s merges into Dalston, and the west end is marked by a roundabout pouring cars into the busy thoroughfare.
Next to Highbury Islington tube is a fairly hostile pub, The Famous Cock Tavern. Arsenal supporters pile through the doors on match days, and signs in the windows warn passers-by against using the toilets: ‘patrons only’. Boris Johnson was once allegedly set up for an interview at The Famous Cock, before his team swooped in to prevent yet another gaffe. Down St Paul’s road, takeaway pizza joints, mini cab offices, dry cleaners and dusty health food shops line the street. The tarmacked Alwyne pub car park is filled in a haze of Marlboro Red smoke on warm summer evenings, and piled high with bundled-up Christmas trees in winter.
Something happened on St Paul’s Road in the summer of 2010 though. The team behind Trullo slathered dark teal paint on their new restaurant facade, strung up a canopy and flung open their doors to great critical acclaim. Tables were booked up months in advance. The Evening Standard described its location as a “slightly challenging micro-climate” The Metro called it a “far-from-chic corner of Islington” and Time Out commended the team for making “a success of a difficult site”.
People were optimistic about St Paul’s future. One restaurant had overcome adversity there. Surely more would follow. But then nothing. Almost exactly three years after Trullo’s launch though, and another restaurateur has finally summoned the courage to open up in this Islington outpost. And so last night saw the first night of neighbourhood chicken rotisserie joint, Le Coq.
I first heard about Le Coq a few months ago, when I was cooking alongside its founder, Ana Morris. She is the kind of accomplished chef who effortlessly whisks up eight meringues, while you torturously pick through a single box of radishes. All the time, chatting away, about how she started cooking at her elder sister’s first restaurant, Salt Yard. She then went on to work at renowned Italian, Boca di Lupo, and did a couple of years as the sous chef at Rochelle Canteen. Ana explained how she then took a punt, and moved to New York to work as the chef for young events company Silkstone Events - which grew pretty darned quickly. Her last job there was to oversee the catering for the Veuve Cliquot Polo in Liberty State Park.
On return to London, Ana decided to form a partnership with her sister Sanja (behind Opera Tavern and Salt Yard). And together they set up Le Coq. The menu is concise and confident. Two choices of starter, and two choices of pudding, which change on a weekly basis. And then the single main course option of rotisserie chicken.
I went there with Tom - so we each ordered a starter and tried both the squid and the vegetable crudités with lovage dip. For me, the crudités were the winner, with the simple lovage dip enhancing the vegetables’ beautifully crisp green flavours. A really clever and light starter. Flavoursome, but fuss-free.
Lovely as the starters were, it’s the main course which will me be main draw at Le Coq, with the single option of rotisserie chicken being the restaurant’s signature dish. Now, I should mention that Tom was somewhat sceptical of the whole chicken concept. “It’s the one meat I never order when I eat out, because it’s the one meat I know I can cook at home” he said. Cook it, he can, but this chicken was no Sunday roast. Each portion consisted of half a (Sutton Hoo) chicken - the meat at the centre of the thick breast just as juicy and succulent as the plump thigh meat.
The chicken was served with a generous handful of bitter salad leaves: grilled and fresh radicchio, dandelion, tarragon and flat leaf parsley, with a chicken jus and muscatel vinegar dressing, and torn-up hunks of croutons. By itself, the salad would be nearing to the ‘too bitter’ end of the scale, but with the sticky-rich, salty-skinned chicken portion, it was a bold and absolutely perfect accompaniment. We rounded-off the meal with a delicious portion of summer pudding ice cream which precisely captured the bready-fruity flavours of the classic British pudding. A lovely, light end to the meal.
The menu works out at £16 for two courses, and £20 for three courses. Bottles of wine start at £21, and there is prosecco ‘on tap’, with a 500ml carafe coming in at £17. I think that Le Coq is going to be a storming success. And I really hope so, because the clever and courageous restaurant truly deserves it.
Nb. Soft Launch: Tuesday 20 August -Saturday 24 August. Dinner only (6pm-11pm). Sunday lunch (12pm-9pm). 50% off food, no bookings.
292-294 St Paul’s Rd,
Launch Week Menu at Le Coq