Wednesday 26 April 2017

Refuel: Crackbird **


Aingeala Flannery

Crackbird is Dublin's first pop-up restaurant. We're behind the times, Britain's awash with restaurants that appear, do the deed, and retreat before the cavalry of regulators, dull suburbanites and curmudgeonly reviewers catch up with them.

Some pop-ups serve for one night only, some hang around for a week or a month, others appear, vanish, and then re-appear. Crackbird plans to nest in Crane Lane until May 22. Although, I have my doubts about its intention to fly the coop.

The folks behind Crackbird are the same ones who brought us Jo'Burger in Rathmines -- a deservedly successful enterprise. Once again, the focus is on fast food -- this time it's chicken that's given the funky makeover.

While most pop-ups have an ideological agenda -- usually to do with sustainability -- Crackbird's pop-uppery seems to rely on a Twitter presence and an intention of sticking it to The Man (or, in my case, The Woman) by vanishing before "traditional reviews appear, so we're focused on real-time reviews, by real people".

That sounded like an invitation to me, so off I trotted into town, with my friend and neighbour Mutti, to see how the chicken revolution was hotting up.

Crackbird was surprisingly easy to track down: no secret handshakes or code words required -- the queue outside the door gave it away. The second surprise was how established the place looked: no tea chests to eat off, or apple boxes to sit on. And then there was the absence of agenda -- a chicken-only menu that failed to state where the birds came from, or crucially, whether they were organic, free-range or battery farmed.

Now there's no point in pretending Crackbird wasn't expecting me. There's a no-reservations policy. You can have a go at getting a free dinner by tweeting @crackBIRDdublin, stating when you'd like to go and the number of guests.

In keeping with the anti-establishment theme, there's no phone, but, because I'm a journalist, I received a press release with the owner's mobile on it, and I called to see if they operated a list system that I could put my name on. It transpired, I would have to show up and take my chances. Fair enough.

Anyhow, there we are, Mutti and me, in our best clobber. The place was heaving, rocking and practically screaming 'we are busy, we are fun, we are cool'. Mutti was perplexed as to which end of the meat counter she belonged: spring chicken or tough old bird.

I was more concerned by the dearth of wine on my menu-stroke-paper place-mat. "No fear," said a dashing, passing, waiter, "we do wine." "Whatcha got, handsome?" asked Mutti. "Red, or white," the waiter replied. We had a glass of each: the white was drinkable; the red, unthinkable.

There are more sauces than chickens on the menu, ranging from an incendiary sriracha chili sauce to a sweet and sticky-sounding honey, thyme and cider spritz. Side dishes are salads of one kind or another, and there are ... no chips!

Mutti disliked her red wine so much, she had to wash her mouth out with a mint and lime soda, which was gorgeous and refreshing. The minutes ticked by and nothing else arrived for us, while all around us chowed down like it was Puerto Rican Day.

Finally, two bowls of crunches arrived. Crackbird virgins, note that a crunch is a goujon -- to people who can't quite bring themselves to utter the word goujon. Roughly cut strips of breaded chicken breast.

The first crunch was made with semolina, which failed to make an impact. The second bowl of crunches, however, was pretty tasty; the chili coating delivered a punch that was nicely cooled by a dunk in the accompanying lemon and whipped feta sauce -- the best of the dips we tried.

The space in front of us was filled with small side dishes, but we were still due half a "super crisp soy garlic chicken". We munched on. The slaw was crunchy but bland. The potato salad was horrid -- cold halves of deep-fried baby potatoes with a splat of sour cream. Batons of parsnip, speckled with nigella seeds, provided more stodge and grease.

The only keeper was a salad of grated carrot and cranberries, which had a bitter and sweet appeal. By now the half a chicken had arrived -- in a pail, and didn't taste remotely of soy or garlic. It was buttermilk chicken. It tasted pasty, the only discernible flavours were flour and milk.

We were eager to move on, and others were eager to move in. So we ordered the bill. As we left Dublin's first pop-up anti-establishment, I was reminded of a killer line from Withnail and I: They're selling hippie wigs in Woolworths ... we have failed to paint it black.

TYPICAL DISH: Chicken wings

RECOMMENDED: Chili chicken crunches

THE DAMAGE: €48.35 for two crunches, one half chicken, sauces, four sides, two glasses of wine and one soda


AT THE TABLE: Guerrilla poptarts

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