Best bird: Cocotte in Sea Point. Picture: SUPPLIED
Best bird: Cocotte in Sea Point. Picture: SUPPLIED

Cape Town is embracing the paradox of the no-choice "menu" with a flurry of new chicken shops in and around Sea Point and the central business district. And while the food options are limited to poultry from the free-range Elgin chicken farms, each joint has a slightly different take.

Zeitgeist, it seems, smells like roast chicken.

In Sea Point, Cocotte (a children’s term for "hen" or "chick") on Regent Road is a French-fashioned takeaway rotisserie — the first of its kind in SA.

It is a classic butcher-style shop, replete with subway tiles and a large print of Brigitte Bardot gnawing on a chicken leg.

Co-owner Delphine de Beer explains that traditional French "rôtissoire" cooking is the traditional art of roasting chickens on a very slow rotation, which intensifies the flavour, resulting in tender, delicious meat.

De Beer would know. Hailing from Paris, she is used to streets lined with portable rotisserie machines, their scents promising a casually indulgent dinner.

The Chicken Shop in Sea Point. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Chicken Shop in Sea Point. Picture: SUPPLIED

When an opportunity arose to collaborate with long-time friend Catherine Lauria, who worked for Michelin chef etoile Guy Martin, the pair put their combined skills to use.

Cocotte’s machine, imported from France, is kept indoors, but the effect remains mouth-watering. Roasted in full view of customers, each hen is carefully spiced with a secret blend of local and imported herbs and served in a heat-retaining bag also imported from France.

The menu includes seasonal side salads such as lemony fresh broccoli and French-style slaw, and a chicken mayo sandwich — on a baguette, of course.

Summer options will include chicken salad and wraps – perfect for taking down onto the Sea Point promenade for a quick bite à la française.

Where Cocotte is the epitome of French simplicity, The Chicken Shop on Sea Point Main Road is all about variety. There is chicken — spatchcocked, marinated and braaied on Namibian hardwood charcoal before being basted with a choice of homemade marinade — and more.

The southern fried chicken is more indulgent — buttermilk-battered and best eaten with lashings of mayonnaise and red onion. There are also vegetarian burgers on bread rolls made in the eatery’s bakery, slow-roasted lamb and sides galore displayed in an array of colours.

The team behind the successful Jarryd’s franchise has clearly got a knack for cultivating cool. After a stint in Australia, where the founders became accustomed to the idea of the neighbourhood "chook shop", they brought the concept back home, intent on providing fare made with top-notch ingredients in a playful setting.

But why chicken, and why now? Roast & Co operations partner Matt Mulholland believes it might have something to do with the fact that '2017 is the year of the rooster'.

Meat orders are placed up front, and then the hard task of choosing sides begins. They may include green beans with flaked almonds and chevin, or broccoli, quinoa and kale with jewels of pomegranate and thick cubes of feta and avocado. True to the promise of "home-cooked, but better", there is also buttery mash, a decadently cheesy cauliflower bake, creamed spinach and fries or wedges.

Designed as a healthy fast-food joint, The Chicken Shop is geared towards takeaway. There are communal tables and customers who decide to eat there are made to feel welcome by the staff.

And with head chef Scott Walker, whose kitchen is working in the waste-conscious and eco-friendly kitchen, ensures that brownies and other desserts are always in supply.

But why chicken, and why now? Roast & Co operations partner Matt Mulholland believes it might have something to do with the fact that "2017 is the year of the rooster".

This new restaurant on Shortmarket Street, in the city centre, follows a similar mono-menu formula in a chic space.

"It made perfect sense to make this year all about SA’s favourite meal, providing a place where wholesome, free-range chicken can be enjoyed away from home," says Mulholland.

The focus is on roast chicken, served whole, halved or quartered after being cooked using a combination of oven and open flame, with a legendary gravy as a welcome accompaniment.

Roast & Co’s chicken croquettes and other tapas-style starters steal the spotlight. The charred umbona (corn) is a glorious triumph of zesty flavours.

Customers can sit in the shared courtyard in summer or recline in a leather booth in the moodily lit interior.

Beers, wine, cocktails and a dessert list that includes churros complete the experience, which for a restaurant purportedly devoid of fluff certainly does well with limited frills.

More affordable than steak and universally appealing, the humble hen has crossed the realm of the home hearth and made its mark in Cape Town’s culinary scene.

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