Grace Dent of the Evening Standard reviewed Fire and Feathers in July, opining that the mere thought of ‘posh’ peri peri chicken was a source of bewilderment to her, a contradiction enough to make her jowls sink into a sort of “flat-line emoji” of indignation.
I resent this chicken snobbery. Admittedly, I resent it as someone firmly in the demographic to which this restaurant best caters. I regularly like to round off a night out by devouring a whole bird caked in the incandescent heat of a thousand dying suns. At one point, I’m fairly sure I was mayor of Nando’s Brixton on Foursquare.
Part of me’s just glad I’ve finally found the upmarket chicken vendor I can coax my girlfriend into before 2am. But also, why wouldn’t you get excited at the thought of seeing such a simple dish taken to its enlightened, mouth-watering pinnacle?
A recent study analysed the phrasing of thousands of online restaurant reviews. It found that fancy restaurants tend to be described with sexual imagery – ‘sensuous’ this, ‘seductive’ that – while cheaper food prompted references to drugs and cravings.
A growing number of restaurants in London aim to straddle the two. A loving embrace followed by a tug on a crack pipe. Comfort food skilfully combined with top ingredients to make something gloriously heartwarming. Unsurprisingly, it’s a popular approach: life is tough out there.
My girlfriend is late, so instead I’m gazing into the eyes of Harry Deighton, the restaurant’s owner, sipping one of his finely balanced cocktails. A Raspberry-Lychee Martini, refreshing and acidic. Then a Margarita – more of a slap in the face than a drink, but that’s no criticism.
Perched across from me, Harry seems a man who puts flavour above all pomp and pretense. Fed up with his previous career, he embarked on something closer to his heart: recreating the experience, as authentically as possible, of a restaurant in the Algarve he loved as a child.
It was a feat accomplished over many trips back and forth and much experimentation. The end result surprises me. Where Nando’s panders greasily to the common palette, Fire and Feathers offers something of a cultural education: the nibbles come with a tub of tuna pate, an imported regional favourite with an interesting flavour that takes a bit of getting used to.
My girlfriend arrives and we order starters: chewy thick-cut chorizo slices in chilli oil are definitely a highlight. The garlic prawns are Harry’s pride and joy, and they’re bursting with delicious fiery marinade, but – and this is my only significant gripe of the evening – they lack the firmness to which most of us are accustomed.
And then the chicken. The art’s in the tiny choice of bird: 550g free range Gressingham, cornfed, spatchcocked, grilled, then cut up on the bone: a half won’t do it justice. I order mine dynamite to prove a point, and go through a stack of napkins, but it could be a lot worse: I’m secretly relieved to find my mouth in one piece. There are some bones to contend with, but the fact you can eat with your hands is advertised helpfully in the menu to put any snobs in their place.
It’s an ocean away from the common take-out: an earthier, more complex mix of spices stuns you even before it enters your mouth. The contrast between the crispy skin and the succulent meat is incredibly satisfying, augmented further by the intense and fruity Portuguese red called Tavedo.
It may be ‘just chicken and chips’, as Harry himself reminds me – but in this shrine to his boyhood he’s taken chicken to a place I’ve never been before. And as I exit into the cold night of London’s most elite, stuffy districts, I hope a restaurant with such honesty and warmth can survive here. I think it can.
Fire and Feathers
343 Fulham Road
Tel: 020 3011 0081