Absurd Bird (American) – Spitalfields, London
THIS PLACE HAS SINCE CLOSED DOWN!HALAL STATUS 24-hours pre-notice; but 48- for the Smoked Chicken Wings (inc. quantity).
Inspired by the American “Deep South and all its culinary traditions”, Absurd Bird is a restaurant that offers “deliciously tender” chicken that’s been “brined for a minimum of 12 hours” before being “marinated in our secret recipe sauces, teamed with irresistible sides, and topped off with insanely good desserts”.
Since it claims to draw its “inspiration from the colours and flavours of the street food movement”, it offers a menu that’s been “purposefully crafted to offer State-sized portions [that] positively encourage sharing dishes with friends and family”.
With four such restaurants spreading their love of the bird, including two in London, the one we visited, which’s been going for a year, was in East London’s Spitalfields. With 140 covers spaciously and equally spread across two floors – the basement and the ground, the place itself is innovatively decorated enough to capture and hold the attention for far longer than many others we’ve recently visited.
Having said that though, you’ll be forgiven for driving past and failing to notice, as we did, Absurd Bird’s logo, conspicuously written in a fairly narrow font face across the shop front’s retractable awnings, and thus inconveniently visible at an acute angle.
In any case, whilst a number of intimate wall boothes are available on the ground floor, there is a more comfortable setting, with upholstered seating, available downstairs (though a large alcohol bar is situated at the back).
Ultimately, however, it all boils down to a bold claim made on their website, which asserts:
[O]ur food is mighty tasty, so if you’re sharing, be quick else you’ll blink and it’ll be gone!
NOTE: Absurd Bird requires 24 hours notice to source its Halal chicken (the same being true of the Soho branch), and an additional 48- for its Smoked Chicken Wings (including the quantity desired).
Despite being presented in a tall, elegant glass, the Raspberry & Apple Juice had a mild, slightly sour undertone, with the former dominating over the latter. Perhaps what’s needed though is a third fruit to reduce the sweetness and help balance things out.
The pricey Hilly Billy Ice Tea was a sweet, orange-based drink that would have been far more refreshing had it been served properly chilled. But, why it’s £7.50 is a question that remains unanswered.
With a hint of chilli, the buttery cheesy base, with the earthy taste of the spinach standing true, could have been, in our considered opinion, more intense (a maturer cheese, perhaps?).
As for the fried tortilla chips, then these should have been crispier. Instead, they turned out to be oily thereby giving the impression, at least to one Lion, of being slightly stale.
Sadly, however, this, in our collective opinion, was perhaps a minute over from being perfectly cooked.
Although its charred border had a good chewy bite to it, the inside was positively dry resulting in a loose, fairly crumbly texture.
Taste-wise, this was relatively sweet, which, we guessed, might go well with some lemon- or spice-based chicken.
In the end, it’s important to bear in mind that since this is, as the menu suggests, “An absolute Deep South classic,” then it may be an acquired taste that’ll, consequently, attract mixed reviews.
As one Lion bluntly put it, “This is a dessert!” When you have a soft, sweet gloopy, almost pureed sweet potato paste, topped with equally soft, sweet marshmellows, then what else could it be?
Neither was there any remote possibility of bifurcation here given the combination of soft with soft and sweet with sweet.
It was confused and a dish which we simply couldn’t work out vis-a-vis its present categorisation.
Having said all that though, kids would love this, Side or otherwise.
- Mango Habanero
- Blue Cheese
- Harissa Hot
The Ranch was subtley flavoured, almost herby in taste, but good, with a viscous consistency.
The Mango Habanero had a bit of texture to it – almost jam like in fact – with the heat coming through well.
And while the Blue Cheese was decent enough, delivering in its cheesiness, the spicy Harissa Hot packed one hell of a ferocious punch, with the heat catching up in a hurry.
Indeed, these were “monster wings”; so “roll up your sleeves and prepare to get messy”.
- Crispy Fried Buttermilk
- BBQ Chicken
- Buffalo Chicken
- Smoked Chicken
- Smoked Garlic Parmesan & Lemon
NOTE: While FtL can confirm that the Parmesan is Parmigiano Reggiano, which contains non-Halal animal rennet, the Smoked Chicken wings require a 48-hour pre-order notice, which we, alas, failed to do.
The portions offered include: Four £6.50, Eight £12.00, Twelve £16.50, and Twenty Four £26.00.
As crispy as these were, and in spite of the flaky flecks of crunchiness on the outside, the interior was fairly saturated by the oil in which these were fried.
Additionally, that familiar sweetness of buttermilk didn’t quite materialise as it should have. As such, we compensated with the use of one of the more stronger flavoured dips. In this case, we thought the Harissa Hot, despite its intensity, made for a good combination. A word of caution, however, since this packs one hell of a wallop, be tentative with your dipping!
These were probably the best of the wings. Large and generously coated in a satisfyingly strong, sticky BBQ glaze that was sufficiently smoky, with just a hint of spice lingering in the background.
You really won’t need any dip with these (unless you’re a BBQ sauce addict). “Winner winner, chicken dinner!”
After tentatively trying this dish, we figured out pretty quickly why it’s so absurd.
The absurdity lies in how utterly hot this really is. It is hot! Hot to the Nth degree! So hot, in fact, that a single bite of the chicken along with the chilli-soaked bread will succeed in paralysing your taste buds. The question which then begs to be asked is: what’s the point of it if you can’t get past the first morsal?
Although the idea of diners being given the choice of how much Harissa Hot sauce to add was floated, such an approach could conceivably defeat its original purpose and introduction to the menu, bringing us, of course, back to the original question: what’s the point?
In the end, the entire concept seemed pretentious and somewhat gimmicky.
In actual fact, one Lion candidly concluded that he “hated it”!
And there are two reasons why this was necessary.
The first was to help mask the acridity of the burned waffles; and the second, to lend some much needed moistness to what were, sadly, dry, over cooked pieces of chicken breast that were more crunchy than crispy.
As a matter of fact, this last point, re crunchiness, seems to be Absurd Bird’s default cooking method of their bird, in that they prefer to present their chicken more crunchy than crispy. More on this point below.
Meanwhile, as for the sauces, then while both were watery in consistency, the gravy was fairly insipid, and the standard maple syrup… sweet!
DIRTY BUNS & SLIDERS
Couldn’t quite work out why these were dirty?
In any case, the bao buns were stodgy, the sauce more plain mayo than spicy, the cucumber not very well pickled, and the dainty chicken pieces, as you might guess, extremely crunchy.
On the whole, nothing memorable here.
In this case, the protruding piece of fillet sitting atop a bed of plentiful lettuce was, thankfully, moist.
Not only that, but the hearty dollop of the smoky BBQ sauce went well with the gooey pimento cheese and the gentle heat it brought to these mini-sliders.
And with a crispy bun, these turned out, at least in taste, to be decent.
But, in this case, appearances are deceiving, for as good as these warm Choc Chip Cookies look, they turned out to be quite uniform in texture being fairly dense with an almost cake-like consistency.
Nevertheless, it had that comforting choc chip cookie taste to it, with the soft and sweet chocolate on the inside nicely melted.
A pleasant trip down memory lane!
In terms of the flavours, then the two sauces of caramel and chocolate, which weren’t overly sweet, worked well, both together in terms of the sweet and bitter interplay, and, more importantly, against the peanut butter, which came through strongly.
What essentially let this cheesecake down, however, was its makeup. It turned out to be relatively dry, and so didn’t have that smooth texture of a well made cheesecake.
We also enjoyed the crunch brought about by the garnish of the nuts.
Not a bad attempt at all.
- YES/ YES
- CHILD SEATING
- UBER EATS
What's worse is that while a few turned out to be poor, namely the Absurdly Hot Fried Chicken and the Dirty Bun, others just seemed to us to be conceptually bizarre. Now, although this could, quite admittedly, be down to an issue of acquired taste, we'll stand our ground and say that a dish as sweet as the Sweet Potato Bake, for example, would be better presented as a dessert offering rather than a side.
Absurd Bird's apparent default cooking method of chicken, i.e. with an ultra-crunchy exterior, was also something that quickly lost its charm with us. We'd much rather prefer our chicken more crispy than crunchy.
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