This is a slightly tricky one to write up. In an alternate universe, not all that far different from the one you and I both call home, I'd be raving about COOP and telling you that you have to get down there post haste. The chicken is amazing, I'd say. Praise the lord for independent restaurants, just what Newcastle - currently besieged by more mid-brow chain places than you can shake a wearied shrug at - needs, I'd proclaim. Back on this galactic plane however, based on the visit we paid them after their having been opened a week, any such effusions have to be significantly qualified.
The menu is very limited but that's fine because they do chicken and that's why we were here. The birds are spit roasted over coals (stop it) using some very shiny, massive and fancy-looking rotisserie grill piece of kit. I was hoping for the flavours of a sort of super-intense indoor barbecue, evidence of man's continuingly successful quest to harness the elemental power of fire. We ordered some spicy nuts and, encouraged by the smells of chicken fat hitting hot coal and steel, looked forward to dinner.
The chicken arrived having been hacked up in such as way that pieces included more than one type of meat which I appreciated. The flavour of the thing - and here's the crux of the matter - was... not bad. It was liberally seasoned and the flesh nice and moist, but far too well-mannered. I was expecting skin, just this side of burnt, to be wonderfully crisp where in fact it was a bit flaccid. I was hoping for an intense chicken flavour, whereas the flesh was a bit bland. Also, and I prepare myself to be corrected, I suspect they're not using free range chickens as the breast meat had the slightly pappy texture you get from chicken that hasn't frolicked as freely as it might. All this would be ok if it wasn't for the fact the menu had expressly promised the best chicken we'd ever had. This was not that.
Sides were a mixed bag. In the credit column, skinny fries were crisp, greaseless and well seasoned so top marks there. On the debit side, coleslaw was seriously uninspiring, crying out for some seasoning, lemon juice, herbs or spices or anything really to distract from the fact that we'd paid three quid for a small quantity of plain chopped veg bound in a bit of dairy.
At the risk of damning with faint praise, the best bit of the meal was the one prepared off-site. The sauces that COOP are offering to accompany this lot are the business. Chilli sauces (£1 for a "shot") are provided by the excellent Mr Vikkis. We plumped for a fruity number which was bloody delicious, as was the BBQ sauce on the table, full of smoke and tang.
We skipped pud so I can't comment on that. We're still on this dry January thing, so it was cokes all round. They've got a limited selection of decent beer and wine.
Here's the thing. I wanted to really like COOP and I'm conscious they'd only been open a week when we visited, but: if you only really serve one main course (a "Grilled Polenta Slice" is available for the non-carnivorous although I doubt they'll shift a lot of those) it better be seriously good. I wrote a little while ago that I was looking forward to eating at a chicken place in Newcastle that wasn't Nandos, but this was in fact the kind of food I'd expect to eat there. If they're not already, they need to be using free range fowl, and talking up the fact they do. The chicken needs to be burnished and gnarled. The few side dishes they offer need to be bang-on and full of flavour. If all of this were so then they'd be on to a good thing.
I haven't spent any time in previous restaurant posts commenting on toilets. However, I couldn't let this, painted on the walls above the gents urinals, pass un-noted.
I filled in a feedback card that was on the table and the next day got a very nice email recognising that our meal wasn't quite up to snuff and offering further chicken on the house should we return, making me feel like a rotten shit for not being entirely complimentary on here. I don't know how I live with myself. If we do go back and things are improved I'll be sure to update this. In the meantime, I'd still recommend you go and make your own mind up. With just a few tweaks this could be a winner.
COOP Chicken House, 25 Collingwood Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 1JE
0191 261 1542