Restaurants in and around theatre-land (that buzzing area of the West End covering Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden) are notoriously busy, especially at the weekend. Many of the hottest foodie hotspots have no-booking policies, and the consequent waiting times for tables (often in excess of an hour) are enough to drive anyone crazy. Imagine our surprise, then, when one Saturday evening we were able to walk straight in to Clockjack Oven, a funky limited-menu restaurant specialising in rotisserie chicken, situated just off Piccadilly Circus. Given the quality of the food on offer (see below), we couldn’t work out why the restaurant was so empty, but thought it might be because it is so tucked away on dingy Denman Street, which plays home to just one other restaurant, a slightly dodgy looking massage parlour and a relatively unknown shoe store. With its minimalist décor, exposed brick walls, and a mixture of traditional tables with low chairs and high tables with benches and bar stools, Clockjack Oven oozes cool, but remains relaxed and inviting. From our table, we had a great view of the chickens turning in the rotisserie ovens – sitting on their perches, they almost looked like they wanted to wave “hello”, and with the flames licking at them from all sides they made quite an impressive sight.
To begin, my dining partner and I opted to share a portion of Chicken Bites with a pot of Ranch sauce to dip. Marinated in buttermilk and coated in seasoned gram flour, the bites were little mouthfuls of deliciousness – the chicken was tender and the batter delicately seasoned and perfectly crispy. The Ranch dressing was a brilliant accompaniment – rich and creamy, and powerfully garlicky without being overwhelming and with just a hint of dill to tantalise the taste-buds.
Moving on to main course, while Clockjack Oven offers a couple of salads and sandwiches (made with chicken, of course), neither my dining partner nor I could resist the real speciality – rotisserie chicken. Diners can pick how many pieces they want – the menu suggests 3 if you’re peckish or 4 if you’re hungry. One pot of dipping sauce is included, and extras can be ordered if you fancy a bit of dipping variety. My dining partner chose 4 pieces with a pot of chilli sauce, while I went for 3 pieces with a pot of BBQ sauce. The chicken was fantastically succulent and full of flavour; the skin, dusted with a satisfying blend of herbs and spices, had been beautifully crisped by the rotisserie flames. As for our dipping sauces, my dining partner’s chilli sauce was enticingly spicy at first bite but diners be warned – it had a lasting kick which was not for the faint-hearted. My BBQ sauce was enjoyable to begin with as it had a pleasing tanginess, but it was a touch over-sweet and about half way through my main became a little too much to bear. Happily, my sauce situation was easily sorted, with an extra pot of that delectable Ranch sauce for just 50p. To accompany our chickeny feast, my dining partner and I shared sides of double-cooked chips and house coleslaw. The chips were fabulous – well seasoned with crispy outsides and fluffy middles. We were equally impressed by the coleslaw, which was crunchy and refreshing – and unlike many restaurant slaws which feel more like mayonnaise soup than a type of salad, Clockjack Oven’s offering had the perfect slaw to dressing ratio, with the result that it actually tasted healthy.
To describe the dessert menu at Clockjack Oven as brief would be somewhat of an understatement – there are just three choices: ice cream, chocolate Baileys truffles, or lemon tart. Having spotted the last of these on display on the bar, neither my dining partner nor I could resist its yellow allure. Sadly, it wasn’t a perfect example of the genre: the lemon curd filling was excellent, the perfect balance between sweet and tart with a rich, creamy texture; the accompanying dollop of crème fraiche was a pleasant contrast, its slight sourness tempering the intensity of the lemony filling; but as Paul Hollywood would say, the pastry did suffer from a bit of “soggy bottom” syndrome, perhaps the result of under-baking.
Clockjack Oven’s wine list is short but sweet, offering six reds and six whites, with all but the most expensive available by the glass as well as the bottle. My dining partner and I opted to share a bottle of Saam Mountain Paarl Cabernet Sauvignon (£18.95), a rich, fruity red with soft tannins that was easy to drink but had a slight hint of pepper on the finish. Service was prompt and friendly, though this was no more than we would expect since the staff had just four tables to look after over the course of our meal. With three courses, wine and service coming in at just shy of £33 per head, one might say that Clockjack Oven is a bit on the pricey side given that all it’s just a bit of rotisserie chicken. To such a suggestion, we would respond that it is quite possibly the best rotisserie chicken you’ll find in London and is a hidden gem in an area where good food at a readily available table is nigh on impossible to find. Overall score? A thoroughly impressive four and a half Forks-Up.Clockjack Oven 14 Denman Street London W1D 7HJ T: 0207 287 5111