A roasting jack was a machine popular in Tudor times. It was a mechanism for rotating meat on a skewer or spit. Often it was a kitchen menial who had the sweaty job of slowly turning the meat in front of a roaring fire, and sometimes it was even a dog on a treadmill that kept the joints turning. A Clockjack was a rotisserie powered by falling weights or springs just as one would find in a Grandfather clock. They were commonly called Spit Engines in Europe but Clock Jack was the name in North America.
We have all seen rotisseries in markets in France. We buy those succulent and well-flavoured chickens that have enticed with their savoury aroma all the way from the car park. We pronounce that ‘we can’t do it like that in London’ and on our return we wax lyrical to a drooling audience about the flavour and the texture of ‘chicken like it used to be’.
But here is that same old-fashioned quality in a thoroughly contemporary setting. There is no need for that trip across La Manche, as free-range chickens from Brittany are bronzing in the heart of the capital. You won’t be negotiating a path through flocks of French ladies with baskets of artichokes (no, I don’t know what they do with them, either), nor mapping a route past stalls selling big knickers and ‘designer’ watches for 3 Euros. Clockjack Oven is conveniently situated much nearer home for easy access by red bus, black cab or Underground.
It’s only been open a few months but it’s celebrated by critic and regular diner alike and it’s easy to see why. Clockjack Oven is tasteful in every regard. Plenty of light wood (the colour of one of their splendid birds about ¾ of the way to being cooked), attentive and vivacious staff, and then there is the food – and that’s the element that will assure the restaurant’s continued success.
One can sit at the ‘bar’ which in reality can be considered as ‘chef’s table’ as it’s right in front of the vertical rotisseries, or one can sit at conventional benches or raised banquettes and stools. It’s an attractive and light space and thankfully the management have not been tempted to go with the rustic look with faux chimney, copper pots and a taxidermised rooster. The only stuffing will be on the plate.
The menu isn’t extensive as Clockjack Oven is remaining faithful to its signature ingredient, with a few other items for vegetarians. Chicken is simply showcased here. The main dishes offer well-seasoned flavour from the skin, and both white and dark meats are moist with equally delicious juices.
We ordered Crispy Chicken Bites to nibble while considering the rest of the menu. These morsels are marinated in buttermilk, coated in seasoned gram flour (chickpea flour) and they are as far from a ‘nugget’ as you would want them to be. This is food worth fighting for. Yes, OK, so it’s fried but one isn’t eating Bites every day, the chicken is free-range and, cooked at the right temperature, isn’t oily. We enjoyed these with the house sauces and in particular Chilli for some spice and tangy Caesar.
The birds are marinated in a ‘secret recipe’. They are then cooked and jointed and offered in various sized servings – 3 Pieces (peckish), 4 Pieces (hungry), Whole (10 pieces to share). My guest ordered the hungry portion along with some double-cooked chips and house coleslaw, and that constituted a delightful lunch.
Perhaps ridden by misplaced guilt over those Crispy Chicken Bites I ordered the Chicken House Salad. This was a substantial bowlful of crunchy romaine lettuce with slices of green apples and much more chicken than I had expected. The crispy sage and onion balls added an almost festive note on this wintery day. This wasn’t the ‘I’m not a big eater so I’ll just have the salad’ class of dish. The Clockjack Oven Chicken Salad is a meal!
You will pace yourself if you want to make it through to dessert here. Granted it’s not a huge sweet selection but Lemon Tart with clotted cream ice cream will make a perfect end to your substantial repast. The ice cream is outstanding, rich with the flavour of childhood holidays in Devon. It’s déjà vu all over again at Clockjack Oven.
14 Denman Street
London W1D 7HJ
Phone: 020 7287 5111
Visit Clockjack Oven here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018