REVIEW: Hen, ethical chicken restaurant, Brighton

by - February 18, 2015

After enduring years of seeing Brighton laden with gaggles of women descending on the city with veils, L-plates, cringe-worthy blow ups and bottles of Lambrini, it’s good to see a new Hen in town. This one however, is a touch more stylish and inviting as the UK’s first ethical chicken shop.

Although I’m personally fatigued by 2014’s food obsession with upmarket fast food, I do appreciate that it has made a wider audience aware of what they are eating and heck, even McDonalds are suffering falling sales now people aren’t Lovin’ It quite so much.

At the time of writing, the exact definition of the chickens at H.en (meaning Happy. Eat Natural), wasn’t exactly black and white, complicated further with the very blurred lines as to what exactly defines “free range” “higher welfare” and “Freedom foods”. The chickens here are currently supplied by a small farm called Brooklands in Surrey that is not certified with any label but their hens are described as free roaming, higher welfare with no horrid additives or Frankenstein feed. I would hope H.en define this asap as it’s their main USP.

But what they do have is a limited menu and I love that. Simplicity and confidence is what I want to see when I order, nothing puts a downer on a meal than having to interrupt conversation for 15 minutes reading a restaurant’s version of War & Peace.

Here at H.en you choose from a quarter or half a grilled or fried chicken, wings or a chicken or vegetarian burger. Add a sauce and a choice of two sides (sweet potato fries, corn on the cob, a selection from their salad bar or grilled halloumi). Done. They also do brunch options, waffles and a chicken broth.

My fried quarter chicken was, for want of a better phrase, finger licking good (apologies Colonel Sanders). The batter was thick and crunchy, seasoned well and lightly herbed. I rarely eat batter on things but this wasn’t greasy and too tempting to miss out on and the chicken inside was succulent.

My salad was health-tastic kale, cucumber and raisin and along with grilled corn on the cob made an ideal, balanced meal. I would have liked a more interesting dressing on the kale other than lemon juice and dried raisins are a pet hate salad garnish, but I appreciate this is my pickiness.

The grilled version (I do appreciate the fact there is a healthier option here) that my dining mate ordered also looked pretty darn good too. Again simply seasoned and treated.

One possible contentious thing about this place is the fries are only available as sweet potato fries. They were thinner and crisper than I imagined they would be, coated in the house salt, but I think that the customer may demand the humble potato back on the menu before long.

Sauces were made in-house and the choice of three gave a good range depending on your taste. Personally, with chicken, the only way to go is spicy so it was The Duke for me, sweetened with dates and heat from ginger.

The drinks menu was good, with well selected bottled brands of soft drinks and beer, homemade lemonade or juices.

I have to mention the interior which is fresh and modern, on the right side of hipster with pegboard walls, industrial lights and planted succulents. HUGE plus point for the little kids table with chalkboard tabletop to keep the littlies quiet for five minutes while you, the parent, shove as much food as you can into your mouth while the kids are occupied (sigh, I know, I know…). The location is spot on and looks great from the outside, finally good to see the space used well after a couple of flops following the closure of the popular Nia Cafe.

Staff are young and friendly and the vibe exactly right for a modern chicken shop.

H.en is just in its first few weeks so obviously there are a few small points to iron out but once running smoothly, I imagine it will be very much welcomed as a casual dining spot with a conscious.
87-88 Trafalgar Street

I was invited to review Hen.

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