Helicon eats:backyard chicken
Student food: what are you looking for? You want it cheap, you want flavour, and you want to make sure everyone is catered for. Now, while the foremost of these criteria might not quite be fulfilled by Backyard Chicken, flavour and diversity are certainly top of their agenda.
This giant eatery can easily seat 100 people and, nestled right next to crowd favourite, Gravity, occupies a prime position on The Triangle.
The set-up of the restaurant is slick and stylish, the waiting staff are charming and they even have this interactive, touch screen ordering system upstairs which, despite the author’s ingrained phobia of all things touch screen (1. Germs, 2. He always clicks on the wrong thing then panics because he doesn’t know how to go back), proves remarkably user friendly. It provides you with detailed info on the food for the dietary conscious among you, as well as granting you access to the menu without drowning in what can seem like an overwhelming number of options to choose from.
And the options are extensive. When I am told they do ‘world cuisine’ they really mean it; just a brief scan of the menu flags up dishes inspired by Thai, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Southern cuisine, and that’s not even all of them! But what do all these cuisines have in common? That’s right, fried chicken, that much revered poultry bird around whom so much controversy swirls regarding food culture and its racialised portrayal.
(For a brief rundown of the polemical history associated with fried chicken in America see https://www.eater.com/2018/10/3/17926424/fried-chicken-is-common-ground. If you are interested in finding out more about its manifestation in a modern-day UK context see this guardian article on anti-knife branding in chicken shops: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/aug/14/anti-knife-branding-in-chicken-shops-called-stupid-by-mps)
It turns out just about every country culture pays homage to the chicken in some way, and Backyard Chicken have attempted to reflect that in their menu - but to what effect?
Vegetarians not-withstanding, everyone loves fried chicken. But the menu doesn’t stop there; it offers grilled chicken, an unexpected side-line in chicken ramen, along with a whole range of vegan options. Let it be stated for the record that the author holds no prejudice against non-meat-eaters and is in fact entirely open to the idea of one day turning vegetarian himself, he is just yet to be convinced that he could happily give up meat for a lifetime of beancurd and lentils. The seitan fried chicken at Backyard has however made me rethink my hypothesis. This, along with the Vegan Beetroot Nuggets sharing plate are both flavoursome, well-balanced dishes that frankly stole the show in my mind.
What troubles me is a question of provenance; in attempting to cater to everyone, are Backyard trying to do too much, and by serving every cuisine at once do they in fact lose that essential connection to the food’s cultural origin? Now I get that most students probably aren’t particularly fussed about whether their Chicken Cheese Royal is paying homage to its cultural heritage; what I’m questioning is whether in trying to cater for every taste, one not only takes away from the food’s heritage, but also dilutes the identity of the restaurant from a commercial aspect?
Think about it, what do people decide upon when they order food? You go for a meal or a cuisine, no? The classic, “I fancy a burger/pizza/chinese/indian…”, you get the gist. I personally have never heard anyone say they fancy ordering beef (of a non-specific variety) - cuff me if I’m wrong. So, is chicken really any different? Now, this may be a new approach to dining and if it works, bearing in mind I have no evidence to suggest it doesn’t, then Backyard Chicken has my blessing. The food is good, not mind-blowingly good, but certainly tasty. Other than one dry chicken wing (that I suspect had been sitting, ready to be served for a while), every dish was flavoursome, beautifully presented, and most noticeably innovative.
The only question is whether the restaurant has a strong enough sense of identity to cement itself as a Bristol staple? Are students really prepared to sit down to eat fried chicken? Situated in a student dominated area and surrounded by University buildings, the majority of Queen’s Road’s eateries are very much lunchtime stop offs. In this sense I worry that Backyard marginalises itself into a bracket which is too expensive for a quick bite but not quite fancy enough for date night.
Overall Backyard Chicken scores a solid 2:1 as student eatery.
Price: 4/10 - A main, side and a drink will set you back between £10-15. They do however offer a s 20% student discount Sunday-Thursday and 10% Friday-Saturday which would make it a more reasonable option.
Taste: 7/10 - Big on flavour, the sharing plates were my favourite part and also seemed to offer the best value for money
Diversity: 10/10 - Everyone is catered for here, whether you’re a vegan or meat-eater, prefer asian or American style, like it spicy or mild. The choice is literally endless!
Cameron ate at Backyard Chicken
72-74 Queens Road
Bristol BS8 1QU