Humble Chicken 2.0: Come for the poultry, but stay for the butter
Renovations, reopenings and reinventions are ten a penny on the restaurant scene, but I haven’t seen quite so expert an execution as at Angelo Sato’s Humble Chicken 2.0 in a while.
Having originally won over London with his yakitori and “comb-to-tail” chicken wizardry with the first iteration (and his debut) in 2021, Sato returned to Frith Street at the start of the year with its reincarnation. The shiny new Japanese eight-course tasting menu “with a European accent” reflects his heritage and time spent in prominent kitchens (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and Tom Sellers’ Restaurant Story, to name a couple this side of the pond). Some might mourn the loss of another a la carte in Soho but with a chef like Sato behind the counter – known as much for his ambition as his credentials – you won’t miss it.
Anyone who dined at 1.0, critic or otherwise, will tell you that the cooking has always been excellent. At 2.0, it’s sublime, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
A quick glance at the menu might make you think otherwise; all inventive and sparingly described small-ish plates, with only a brief nod to its predecessor in the form of the chicken achilles skewer with charcoal fat (glossy, gooey, I want 10 more of them). But there’s also a tiny ceramic chicken-shaped chopstick holder, cute piggy-faced bao buns, build your own lettuce wraps and the option to choose your sake cup. Small but considered touches turn this deservedly fine dining restaurant into as much a relaxed date spot – canoodle over small plates and sake before heading into Soho for more debauchery – as somewhere cool to catch up with a mate. Counter-style dining is always a vibe in this part of town.
The top half of the menu really does shine. “The Shot”, of course, is the tantalisingly plump mussel stuffed with avocado, enlivened by citrus kosho ponzu, a trifecta of chilli, citrus and salt. Those years grafting in Michelin restaurants make an appearance in the miso-cured foie gras tart, but it’s in the oyster where you can see flavour fusion begin to take hold; served grilled in beurre blanc spiced with citrus and Japanese chilli pepper. It seriously works. The staff were kind enough to substitute the pig trotter bao with duck for my guest, a gesture that cannot be overstated given how inflexible most tasting menus can be. Both were devoured.
Bigger plates meander between sashimi – of the cured mackerel variety with fermented Japanese plums that make us pause in wonder – and grilled delights like the yakinuku (generous slabs of slow-cooked short rib and a variety of spicy miso relishes and raw veg to stuff into a lettuce leaf and then into your face). The requirement to be more interactive with your food takes the pressure off in a way most other £115 tasting menus simply don’t.
I usually despise a bread course – no one needs a restaurant to prove halfway through dozens of plates of food that they can bake sourdough and churn butter – but I will eat my hat on this occasion. Or rather I will eat shokupan, that joyous fluffy milk bread, and layers of miso sesame butter, chicken liver parfait and fermented red cabbage. This isn’t just any butter; this is Humble Chicken 2.0 butter. A cheap joke (not a cheap butter) but if you’re not licking it off the plate by the end, then you really are a lost cause.
Dessert is also worth mentioning; a choice of three, but the coffee purin gets my vote, my partner was taken by the citrus cheesecake. The drinks menu is just as perfectly formed as the food, with a small selection of cocktails and wine but, when in Tokyo, it really must be sake – or possibly a large whisky. We go for a 2018 Yamahai Aiyama from “master brewer” Noguchi Naohiko, which is silky smooth, subtly umami and feels just right.
Where so often “fusion”, if Sato will permit me that word here, goes wrong – a chef combines two cuisines they like but aren’t necessarily associated with and it either works or more frequently doesn’t – Humble Chicken 2.0 demonstrates how it works best if it’s done through storytelling. His is a reflection of growing up in Japan, moving to London aged 17, working in professional kitchens of all levels and under varying chefs and ethos in Europe and the US, opening first a Tokyo-style yakitori with a whole bird approach, gizzards and all, at the tail end of lockdown and then elevating the concept for a much changed London in 2023. To me and other professional people of food, that’s exactly how the menu reads and it’s fascinating, but it will also captivate diners of all creeds. Hence why, midweek and mid-various food-related crises, all 18 covers are packed and the air is filled with the conviviality of Londoners fully engaging with the experience and on their way to a good night out.
It’s sexy, slick, mischievous and delicious. I wonder what 3.0 has in store.
Humble Chicken 2.0, 54 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SL | 020 7434 2782 | humblechickenuk.com