The bird is the word at Henrietta in Surry Hills

Charcoal chicken half with Lebanese bread, toum and pickles.
Charcoal chicken half with Lebanese bread, toum and pickles. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

The lines are blurring between eat-in and takeaway, as they both lean in, determined to meet in the middle. It's happening because take-home is creeping closer to restaurant quality, and because restaurants need to be more accessible and inclusive.

So please welcome the take-in. Or is it an eat-away? Pedantics aside (though not for long), it's enough to say that here I am, eating the sort of great, juicy, charry, charcoal chicken you would normally cross town for, while sitting in a full-service restaurant. With a bar and everything.

Henrietta, the brainchild of Ibby Moubadder of the nearby Nour and Cuckoo Callay, is probably the first we'll see of many such restaurant/takeaway mash-ups. Designers DS17 have used concrete and terrazzo to give the former Pizza e Birra space a playful, modern makeover, with a bright pink neon sign of a cartoon character (Henrietta, presumably) colouring everyone slightly rosé.

Full-service restaurant/takeaway hybrid Henrietta features a terrazzo bar.
Full-service restaurant/takeaway hybrid Henrietta features a terrazzo bar. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Former Nour head chef Riyad Seewan and his team work in an open kitchen, the 10-bird grill to the rear, and a dedicated takeaway window at the front, open to the street.

As for the menu, you could probably write it yourself. You know there will be charcoal chicken either whole, half or quarter. You know there will be toum, that glossy, fluffy, snow-white emulsion of garlic, salt, oil and lemon that makes everything taste better. You know there'll be pickles, and Lebanese flatbread, and dips and salads, and that you will be able to put them all together in various fast food-style plates and banquets.

But you probably didn't know it would be this good. For a "half chicken meal" ($18), two meaty, brined quarters of free-range chicken are nicely charry from the charcoal, the meat pulling away easily from the bone. They come with folded flatbread, chicken-salt chips, beetroot-pink Lebanese pickles (more salty than sharp), and a good serving of toum.

Kafta meatballs, tomato sauce and labneh.
Kafta meatballs, tomato sauce and labneh. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

I love how the menu gets all bossy with it, a comic strip showing you exactly how to tear off a quarter of bread, slather it with toum, top it with a hand-torn chunk of chicken and skin, then add pickles and a couple of potato chips, then roll.

This is hands-on eating in the best possible way, and the toum is not so garlicky that you'll asphyxiate yourself when you put your mask back on.

Bar service is strong, the packaged frozen slushie cocktails are fun, and the competent wine list offers a good-enough, easy-drinking, 2018 Perlage sangiovese ($14/$28/$56).

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Four falafel ($12) come with tahini and pickles, and are crunchy enough to make you worry about your teeth. Tabbouleh salad ($12) is bright and juicy, done on a large scale.

For the easily bored, there are twisty updates such as fried chicken burgers, beef brisket shawarma tacos, lamb kibbe sang choy bao, falafel bao, and chicken tawook spring rolls. I tried a couple, but don't really understand where they're coming from.

Stick to the chick, I say. This is a genuine attempt to keep all the things we love about charcoal chicken, and nudge them gently into a more comfortable setting, complete with friendly table service and a breezy atmosphere.

Falafel, tahini and pickles.
Falafel, tahini and pickles. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

If you're a fan of El Jannah in Granville but you'd like to eat your charcoal chicken sitting down with a beer or a glass of wine, you'll dig it. If you're a non-drinking non-hipster who wouldn't normally feel comfortable in an inner-city diner filled with young urban professionals, you'll dig it too.

Only charcoal chicken can keep both easties and westies this happy. The bird is the word.

The low-down

Henrietta

Address: Shop 1, 500 Crown Street, Surry Hills, 02 9380 7247 (no reservations), henriettachicken.com

Open: Daily 11.30am-late

Dining window: 90 minutes

Takeaway: Separate takeaway window

Vegetarian: Falafel, hummus, haloumi, baba ghanoush, corn, multiple salads.

Protocols: Diners register on entry; tables well-spaced and sanitised.

Drinks: Pre-packaged cocktails (lychee cosmo, house negroni), craft beers and a dozen-strong basic wine list with most available by the glass, carafe and bottle.

Cost: About $55 for two, plus drinks.

Score: Scoring is paused while the industry gets back on its feet.

More charcoal chicken, please

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156 King Street, Newtown, eljannah.com.au

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