Restaurant review: Le Coq, Highbury & Islington, N1

Le Coq: Neighbourhood restaurant feel a stone's throw from Highbury Corner.

Le Coq: Neighbourhood restaurant feel a stone's throw from Highbury Corner. - Credit: Archant

An insistence on quality and simplicity puts this chicken-focused restaurant ahead of the brood.

Le Coq's rotisserie, where the magic happens.

Le Coq's rotisserie, where the magic happens. - Credit: Archant

‘Keep it simple’ is an underappreciated maxim when it comes to London restaurants, whose owners always seem desperate to try and outfox the competition or, more often, pull the wool over customers’ eyes with fancy frippery, faddy food or themed decor.

Le Coq’s owners - sisters Sanja and Ana Morris - could, on first impression, be flung into the ‘fad’ pen with the dozens of other cheecky cluckers who’ve scrabbled to open up posh chicken places in every postcode while crowing about taking the fight to the Nando’s corporate machine.

But the whiff of cynicism is replaced by a blatant love of food in this pared-back, friendly and bustling neighbourhood rotisserie restaurant a stone’s throw from Highbury Corner.

Instead, it ticks the box of fashionably minimalist design beloved of Islington’s nu-bourgeois (exposed brickwork and white walls, designer wooden chairs, dozens of glass pendant lights and an open kitchen). And yes, there’s a beautiful, sparingly-appointed 14-seat private dining room in the basement for Lottie’s graduation party.

It's all about the chicken at Le Coq.

It's all about the chicken at Le Coq. - Credit: Archant

But you’d be hard pressed to cock a snook at the food or the friendly, knowledgeable staff. Sticking to the less-is-more mentality, there was a choice of three starters on our visit, one type of chicken for mains, three optional sides and four desserts. Two courses sets you back £17, three courses £22. Simple, but luxurious.

The silky, gossamer-thin slices of panchetta, sourced from the Cobble Lane Cured charcuterie about 200m away, set the evening’s tone for considered sourcing and lofty quality control; around four-fifths was beautifully buttery fat, rounded off with a mid-weight tang.

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And it’s worth the £2.50 extra for an earthy truffle addition to the wild mushrooms and light, homemade gnocchi starter, too.

Our free-range Sutton Hoo birds couldn’t have wished for a finer destination when checking out from Suffolk than Le Coq’s rotisserie; plenty of tender, juicy and subtleyflavoured flesh under the skin, teamed with thick kale curls, tahini and smoked garlic on the side - make sure you try it with the harissa yoghurt, whose heat brings the garlic alive. A tumbler’s worth of satisfying rotisserie potatoes (£3.75) help mop up the sauce.

The same attention to detail extends to the drinks selection, too. The refreshing grapefruit acidity of an Italian Passerina (£32/bottle) cut to the chase, and I am officially in love with Gwatkins’ Herefordshire cider (dark, still, pokey - but peachy, honeyed, easy going and served in an unlabelled bottle to add to the mystique, £3.50).

Thankfully there was just enough room to sample the stem ginger treacle tart with custard, which seduced like a warm, soft flapjack.

All of which left me certain of one thing: In the battle of the chicken restaurants, Le Coq is no featherweight.