Words & Photography by Matthew Brown and Luiz Hara
Name: Le Coq
Where: 292-294 St Paul’s Road, Islington, London, N1 2LH
Cost: Le Coq offers a brief and affordable menu - 2 or 3 courses for £17 or £22 (Mon-Sat) with a choice of three starters and three desserts, and a single main course, using chicken from the rotisserie (a vegetarian alternative is available if requested). On Sundays, a greater choice of mains is available, and the meals are priced higher at £21 for 2-, and £26 for 3 courses.
Drinks are also very reasonably priced. All cocktails are £5, the draught beer, 1936, is £4, and wine begins at £13 for a ½ litre carafe.
About: Le Coq is a “neighbourhood rotisserie restaurant” on St Paul’s Road, close to Highbury & Islington Station. As its name suggests, chicken is at the heart of this restaurant’s offering. The flaming rotisserie is the first thing you see on entering, and the familiar smell of roasting chicken fills the small dining room.
Though the menu is short, Le Coq emphasises that its ingredients are carefully sourced. The free-range chicken is supplied by the highly acclaimed Sutton Hoo farm in Suffolk. Living up to the restaurant’s market atmosphere, many of the other ingredients are sourced from local businesses. The noticeably fresh bread comes from the Better Health Bakery in Haggerston, a social enterprise that helps to train people recovering from poor mental health. The charcuterie comes from Islington’s Cobble Lane Cured, and the cheese from the long-established La Fromagerie.
What We Ate: We started with two of the three starters on the menu: roast chicory with smoked ricotta and honey, and salmon gravlax with cucumber. The chicory salad brought the smokiness of the ricotta and the tartness of the chicory together with sweet walnuts and honey. This enjoyable combination could have been improved by a little more honey and ricotta, to avoid the lingering bitterness of the chicory, however.
The salmon gravlax was simpler and better executed. The salmon was soft, and the salad of cucumber and rocket brought out the sharpness of the simple lemon dressing, making it a great prelude to the rotisserie chicken.
That rotisserie chicken is the restaurant’s star attraction. It is served as part of a different main course each week, and on this occasion was served with hispi cabbage, bacon and hazelnuts. A small jug of roasting juices and a pot of tarragon mayonnaise were also served alongside it, and we ordered a further two sides of roast potatoes (£3.75), a simple side salad of dressed green leaves (£2.75) and a small serving of harissa yoghurt (£1.75).
The flavoursome Sutton Hoo chicken is undeniably well-sourced and tastes excellently of itself. Its flavour is also appreciated in the roast potatoes, which are roasted in the chicken fat, and seasoned with lemon, olive oil and thyme. The addition of the chicken fat gives them a thicker casing that resounds with the flavours of the rotisserie. No trip to Le Coq would be complete without a portion!
One of the downsides of serving rotisserie chicken is that it is difficult to achieve a really crispy chicken skin. Le Coq compensates for this, however, by supplying texture throughout the rest of the course. The sizeable chunk of hispi cabbage was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and never mushy. Extra crunch came from the hazelnuts and bacon, and of course the roast potatoes, which were so delicious they made it onto every forkful!
Texture was better catered to than seasoning. Whilst the roasting juices provided a flavoursome gravy that kept the dish from having the heaviness of a roast dinner, the tarragon mayonnaise was tangy rather than rich in flavour, and jarred with the rest of the course. The harissa yoghurt was a better accompaniment, but the absence of salt and pepper on the table meant that it was difficult to make smaller adjustments to the taste.
For dessert, we shared the Le Coq Mince Pie and an ice cream made with dark chocolate, PX and raisin. The eponymous mince pie was served with clotted cream and a squirrel-shaped biscuit, and the mincemeat itself tasted strongly of cloves, giving a festive aroma and warm flavour that reflected the homeliness of Le Coq’s cooking.
The dark chocolate gave a similarly strong flavour to the ice cream. With Moro’s famous Malaga raisin ice cream with PX available down the road at Exmouth Market, Le Coq’s faces strict competition. The dark chocolate makes this a very different dessert, and though it smothers the raisins, it stands up to the PX to make a very rich ice cream.
What We Drank: Le Coq’s dedication to careful sourcing extends to the beer, the Swiss 1936. At a reasonable £4 for a Pilsner glass, it is a great opportunity to try this uncommon beer from draught. Made with Swiss mountain water and organic hops, and with notes of lemon and grass, it is both a refreshing aperitif, and a good accompaniment to the restaurant’s chicken.
Cocktails are only £5, and the negroni we tried was strong and well made, making it fantastic value and almost certainly the cheapest negroni around Upper Street.
Wine is similarly good value, and the decision to offer house wines in carafes of 500ml and 1 litre will undoubtedly help to maintain the neighbourhood atmosphere. We went for a bottle of the Wiengut Von Winning 2012 Riesling from Pfalz in Germany. That year, this wine was awarded ‘Best New Comer’ by the Gault&Millau Wine Guide, and with its refreshingly acidity and dryness, it tasted like a worthy winner.
Likes: The quality of the chicken and the brilliance of the roast potatoes mean that Le Coq definitely excels in what they offer. In addition, the choice of £5 cocktails and litre carafes are an added bonus.
Dislikes: Whilst the more permanent fixtures of the menu are strong, some of the dishes we had lacked consistency - the imbalance of the chicory salad, and the lack of salt in the main course, were a little disappointing.
Verdict: “Neighbourhood rotisserie” Le Coq truly is an asset to the local community. With well-sourced ingredients and a reliable roasting technique alongside a constantly changing menu, it could make a regular haunt or a friendly haven from nearby Upper Street.