Restaurant review: Chicken flies high again

Orange and Lemon Cake. Picture by Simon Hulme
Orange and Lemon Cake. Picture by Simon Hulme
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Can a restaurant which specialises in just one dish work? Jill Turton finds out at La Feria in Harrogate.

Remember when chicken in a basket was the meal of choice in every English pub? And all those paper napkins you needed to wipe the juices off your face? Where did that go and why did chicken become such a comparative rarity on a restaurant menu?

Yes, I know there’s still deep fried chicken in a bucket from a fast food chain I could mention. And peri-peri chicken from another outlet I won’t bother to name-check but I rarely find, let alone order chicken in a serious independent restaurant.

I suppose it’s not much of a treat for most people when you can buy one – origin unknown but probably battery farmed – for next to nothing in a supermarket and feed a family of four.

So who in their right mind would think a chicken restaurant a good idea? Jez Verity actually. An amiable guy who was so taken with the simple little bars with a limited menu and a takeaway service that he encountered on his travels around Andalucía, that he decided to import the idea to Harrogate. And when Elaine Phillips Antiques on Royal Parade came up, he packed in his job as a fundraiser for Marie Curie Cancer Care, and opened this sharp little neighbourhood restaurant.

It’s been roughed-up some since its days as an antique shop. In came distressed doors, industrial lighting, Spanish tiles, half a dozen zinc-topped tables and vintage metal café chairs. And two fit guys to serve the 25 covers with La Feria blazoned on their tight black T-shirts.

To say La Feria serves just one dish is not entirely true. There are a few simple Andalucian starters on the blackboard: almonds in smoked paprika, chorizo cooked in sherry, green olives, acorn-fed Iberico ham (more expensively) sliced from the leg, a meat and a fish sharing board. We go for the meat board: two kinds of Spanish sausage, thin slices of Manchego cheese, smoked almonds, some mild green olives and a dish of those dry, little bread sticks I fail to see the point of. Fair value at a tenner for two.

But it’s the chicken that’s been marinating in oil and lemon juice, rubbed with cumin and smoked paprika and then turned for 90 minutes on the rotisserie, that is the stand-out dish. Verity tells us his chicken is free range, he’s visited the supplier, he’s confident the hens are happy and, for good measure, he tells us that the farm also supplies Bettys.

Order a whole, half or quarter chicken and what arrives on a pretty Spanish plate are jointed chicken pieces, very moist and luscious in their lemony, chicken juices. With it we have fries, aioli and a date and lettuce salad. The chicken is good, as it should be if you are only offering one main dish; it has to be the best and this is as good as roast chicken gets. And who doesn’t like fries and mayo alongside? Although I could do with a bit more Andalucian zing to the mayo.

There are a few desserts: vanilla ice cream with raisins soaked in Pedro Ximinez sherry, sherry trifle and a Seville orange and chocolate torte with mascarpone.

The latter is fine, but it is the moist and citrusy Moroccan orange and lemon cake with a trace of cardamom that is worth celebrating with its lovely, moist orange and lemon-soaked crumb.

The wine list is as straightforward as everything else. Three reliable Spanish whites and three reds, a rosé and a Cava and an excellent Alhambra 1925 Reserva bottled beer.

So can this one trick pony really work? The trend for single ingredient restaurants started a couple of years ago in New York. You can find meatball, peanut butter, macaroni cheese – even a rice pudding restaurant – over there. The idea spread to Paris and London with the likes of Le Relais de Venise serving steak frites and Bubbledogs doing hot dogs and champagne.

Where New York and London lead, Harrogate follows. And so does Leeds where Bird & Beast has just opened in Central Arcade.

So Jez Verity might just be on to something. Our meal for two came to a reasonable £55. Perhaps that’s why La Feria, six months after arriving on Royal Parade, is consistently fully booked.

Despite three sittings we could only secure a table at five o’clock, the time when one mum was enjoying an after school chicken supper with her son. Not a bad mid-week option. At £20 for half a chicken and two portions of chips, the take-out looks decent value too. We overheard them taking an order for 20 take-out portions for a child’s birthday picnic. Clearly kids like this place as much as adults.

No one is pretending La Feria is a special night out or a gourmet anything. Even Verity modestly says: “It’s just posh chicken and chips.” But as someone suffering from a surfeit of tasting menus and wine flights from a current wave of Yorkshire chefs with misguided pretensions, I liked it.

• La Feria, 1 Royal Parade, Harrogate HG1 2SZ. 01423 538181, www.laferiarestaurants.co.uk

Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 9am-11pm; Sunday 12-6pm. Price: £22 per person approx. plus wine and coffee.