Thursday 30 March 2017

Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at Crackbird, Dublin 2

I've been an avid collector of trivia all my life. Odd facts, curious events, funny epigrams all tickle my fancy and get added to my collection. So you won't be surprised to learn that I love watching Stephen Fry's 'QI' for a fix of more curiosities.

Here's one from 'QI': what is the commonest bird in the world? None of the contestants got it. The answer is the hen. There are billions of them in batteries all around the world, outnumbering any wild bird by a vast amount.

When I was a child, chicken, as we call young hens, was an occasional treat. It wasn't a cheap meat. Then came battery farming and the cost of chicken went down and down as the economies of scale kicked in.

Today, you can buy a chicken for roasting for less than the price of a pint of beer. It has become the cheapest protein available.

This hasn't happened at no cost to us. Battery birds have become very cheap, but the cost has been a drop in the quality of the meat and the birds themselves have been kept in appalling conditions.

As someone who keeps hens, I've found them to be surprisingly intelligent, social and naturally foraging animals. Every aspect of their natural lives is destroyed in batteries, and it's done to give us cheap meat. Battery birds are raised from egg to death in around 40 days.

Of course, we don't see this dark side, we just see the finished bird on a supermarket shelf or cooked on a plate in a restaurant. And we've come to really love chicken. It's probably the most frequently eaten meat in Ireland. So it's no surprise to find that there are restaurants now springing up that cater precisely to this, specialising in chicken.

You've probably heard of Crackbird. It was a pop-up restaurant that used social media to spread the word and was very successful.

The pop-up version closed, and it's now opened as a full-time restaurant in South William Street. I arranged to meet Caitriona McBride there, the producer of 'The Restaurant' TV show, early one evening. If you don't get there early, you'll queue; it's that popular.

The inside is simply furnished and the tables and chairs are designed to keep you moving. You won't get comfortably ensconced here.

Your place mat is your menu and, reading through it, you realise that Crackbird is truly specialised.

If you don't like chicken, you won't find anything to eat on the menu. There are two choices: chicken or no chicken. They're neither free-range nor organic, but described on the menu as 'farm fresh', whatever that means.

Before we chose our chicken dishes, we ordered drinks. There isn't a wine list, there are two wines that change every night. The night we were there, there was a Spanish white and red on offer, and Caitriona had a glass of white.

At first, I was told there was no sparkling water, but then small bottles of Perrier were found and I drank those.

Back to the menu, we made our choices. Caitriona decided on the chicken brochettes with lemon, garlic and bay leaves, and I chose the soy and garlic half-chicken.

These arrived with three dips -- a hot and spicy 'habanero', a Japanese mustard and a lemon and whipped feta. All three of these were tasty, but I particularly liked the whipped feta.

Along with our chicken dishes we also had a couple of side orders: 'hand-rolled' croquettes and a 'slaw', which turned out to be finely sliced cabbage dressed with mayonnaise and too much vinegar.

Crackbird certainly has the chicken bit cracked. Caitriona's brochettes were nicely done and she got three of them. The presentation of my half-bird was interesting. Four large pieces of chicken arrived on a dish that was sat in what looked like a glazed flower pot, the idea being that the pot is for the bones.

At first I thought I'd been mistakenly given a whole bird, since there seemed to be a lot of chicken for me eat, but closer investigation showed I had a thigh, a drumstick, a wing and a breast. They serve quite large birds, so large I couldn't finish all of mine. Certainly the soy and garlic dressing made the chicken very tasty indeed, which probably accounts for the queues.

The only real disappointment in this meal was the croquettes, which were virtually inedible. And it's not as though croquettes are the zenith of a chef's art. They're pretty basic, probably covered in year one of chef school.

With the chicken dishes eaten, we scanned the menu again for signs of a dessert, but found none.

As I remarked before, Crackbird specialises in chicken -- they do that and nothing else. We were able to have espressos, so we had one each and got our bill, which came in a cute little envelope and totalled €45, of which €10 was Perrier.

A lingering desire for a pudding made us cross the road and take an outdoor table at the Busyfeet and Coco Café. We found a half-bottle of Vina Sol white wine from Miguel Torres for €11, and ordered that and two mixed ice creams with chocolate sauce, which were a modest €4.50 each and came in what used to be called a parfait glass.

As we tucked in, we wondered why we couldn't have spent this ¤20 where we had been eating. It's an unusual menu that offers no dessert at all.

Crackbird exists because, as a nation, we have a love affair with eating chicken. It's a specialist restaurant and is very good at its specialisation. Clearly, they've tapped into something that was previously uncatered for.

I suspect that Crackbird, which describes itself as 'a Jo'burger love child', will be there for long time.

I suspect too, that before long there will be variations on this theme, using free-range and/or organic birds.

Crackbird

34 South William

Street, Dublin 2

Contact: twitter.com/

crackBIRDdublin

The verdict

FOOD 8/10

AMBIENCE 6/10

VALUE FOR MONEY 9/10

TOTAL 23/30

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