Now I'm no Chicken Connoisseur, but when I received an invitation to review Absurd Bird in Spitalfields, I pulled up my crep, jumped in my whip (242 from Kingsland Road) and headed towards Commercial Street. You don't have to be an expert to know that this famous name charms everyone that walks through the door with moreish chicken-based dishes and brilliant cocktails. Visiting on a Friday night and having already drunk a few beers, I walked in with high spirits; thankfully, that feeling lasted all night.
Things are purposely kept pretty chilled at Absurd Bird. The team behind the venue understand that they aren't offering a fine-dining experience. Instead, they get that all their diners are simply looking for a relaxed spot to sink a few boozy cocktails and revel in the glory of all things Crisco. To match the Southern menu, the venue's purposely been decorated with a rustic, almost country-tavern image in mind. The walls are scarred with cracks and blemishes, the tabletops and panelled floors are made of dark mahogany, and the low-hanging lightbulbs are all caged in what looks like makeshift bird cages. But making sure it doesn't look too much like a carpenter's workshop, there are splashes of colour everywhere; the chairs and the many cubby seating areas have all been painted bright red and yellow to contrast sharply with the rest of the venue's overall aesthetic. It's fun, it's full of life and it fits with the mood that you expect people to be in when they sign up for a chicken-and-cocktails dinner.
Knowing that we'd be swimming in chicken for our main courses, we dove into poultry-free starters to get the ball rolling. The fried pickles (£4.60) were really moreish and still held onto a bit of a crunch despite being deep fried and covered in a thick, spicy batter. To combat the spicy kick, it came with a small serving of tangy ranch sauce that, despite having a sharp taste itself, helped to counter the mouth-numbing sensation caused by the chilli. Next up was the spinach and artichoke dip (£6.80). Served alongside a pile of crunchy tortilla crisps, the dip had a teeth-tingling rich cream base and a heavy salt taste thanks to the chunks of diced artichoke that are scattered throughout. Be warned, this dish is best ate when it's piping hot, otherwise you risk having to scrape off a plastic, rock-hard skin that forms on the surface when it cools.
Onto the mains, and the inevitable mountain of chicken. With a not-so-subtle guiding hand from our waitress, we ordered the Big Mama's Favourite (£16), an American style smoked half chicken that's first soaked in brine for 12 hours before being cooked and slathered in a sweet gravy; you can see why we were so easily convinced. Both the thigh and wing were perfectly cooked, and when eaten with a side of coleslaw and chips (£3.50 each), offered perfectly balanced mouthfuls of food. Sadly, the size and sweet gravy glaze made it quite a different dish to devour in its entirety. It's usually a good sign that you need to stop when the toothaches start to kick in; that and the meat sweats, of course.
On the other side of the meal, we couldn't resist the 5 chicken sliders option (£16). After all, the waitress was again whispering sweet nothings in our ears about how it's the "perfect way to sample a number of different flavour combinations". Each slider is made of light bao buns, crisp vegetables and slices of chicken breast that have been cooked in different ways. Though all tasted fantastic, it was the fried chicken dirty bun and BBQ pulled chicken options that stood out. Stringy and light, the pulled pork was drenched in this dark, almost charcoal-tasting barbecue sauce. The dirty bun likewise revolved around tender cuts of chicken, but it was the saltiness of the pickled cucumber and spice of the sriracha mayo that made my hairs stand on end. Both cancelling each other out before the flavours became overbearing, it's a must try in my eyes.
Keeping with the Southern theme, I only had eyes for the hard cocktails on the menu. Though I was flirting with the idea of a moonshine-laced drink, saner thoughts prevailed and I went for the old fail-safe bourbon cocktails. First up was "The Devil Made Me Do It" (£8), made up of Woodford Reserve whisky, bitters, ginger, sharp lemon juice and a handful of crushed ice. Although the smooth taste of the drink is probably appropriate when the food is so hard-hitting, I felt the citrus and ginger overpowered the entire drink and took a tad too much from the dark whisky. Mercifully, the Appalachian Trail (£6) was there to save the day, infusing pale ale with Woodford reserve, fresh ginger and lemon. Where the first cocktail had missed the mark, this tipple hit the nail on the head and managed to enhance the spirit in a way that left you both refreshed and with a whisky mist lingering at the back of your tongue.
Make no mistake, Absurd Bird is not an opulent restaurant. But in truth, I kind of like that about it. Instead, it's the sort of restaurant where each table erupts in laughter every five minutes and you constantly hear the question 'one more round?'. It's the sort of restaurant that you'd go to for a boozy catch-up meal with your mates or a flirty, let-your-hair-down second date. It's the sort of restaurant where fresh Superstars are preferred to shiny Italian slip-ons or tanned brogues. Crep-checks aside, it's unimposing and could charm even the most cynical bird in the coop. I give it 4.5 nug out of 5.