When I was about 11, my dad was one of the lucky few who actually managed to get some free flights to America from that famously ill-fated promotion by Hoover. He used them to take the family to New York.
In hindsight, it was probably a bit of a waste taking me and my brother to the Big Apple when we were still so young. I don’t really remember anything that we did while we were there. I have no idea if we went up the Empire State Building. Or went to Central Park. Or the Statue of Liberty. Or any of the other touristy things that I imagine we probably did do. In fact, I have only two clear memories from that whole trip. The first memory involved forcing (like crying tantrum in the street forcing) my parents to waste one of our precious evenings in New York going to the cinema to see D2 The Mighty Ducks Are Back because it wasn’t out in the UK yet. It’s a great movie (still in my top-ten all-time list probably), but that memory doesn’t really have anything to do with Bones – a new restaurant at the bottom of Kingsland Road owned by the same people behind that slightly pretentious supermarket The Grocery.
It was the only other memory of New York that popped into my head when we visited Bones about a month after it had opened. My parents took us to a restaurant somewhere in Mid-Town (I think). It wasn’t that the food was particularly good; in fact I don’t remember enjoying it that much. What I do vividly remember was the restaurant’s gimmick; they served the sort of food busy New Yorkers wished the cooked at home but presumably couldn’t because they didn’t have the ovens, time or inclination. We had a cottage pie and macaroni cheese if memory serves me correctly. Both arrived in huge dishes with big serving spoons and they were plonked down in the middle of the table so we could serve ourselves.
At Bones, they also serve the food that you would love to have at home but mostly don’t have the opportunity to make. Being 2014 and not 1994, what people want to be cooking at home has moved on a bit from pies and cheesy stodge (although there is actually macaroni cheese on the menu) Instead, we get perfectly pink and delightfully tender chicken livers with oloroso sherry and smoked paprika, a lovely assembly of charcuterie and a beautiful burrata to start our meal.
At £6 each, you’d be hard pressed to make any of them in your own kitchen and, on a wet weeknight after a tough day at work, you wouldn’t bother trying even if you could find the required ingredients in your local Tesco Metro.
Bones makes a big deal of its rotisserie chicken, specifically noting on the menu that only the “best free range ‘Label Anglais’ Special Reserve” birds are slowly turning on the spit to one side of the bar. We ordered a half because we felt like we had to but weren’t that hopeful. The spit looked exactly like the ones you see in every French market and it was hard to believe we were going to be getting something to rival a Poulet de Bresse here. What arrived in the obligatory enamel bowl wasn’t as good as those beautiful black-footed birds but it was certainly an excellent piece of roast chicken – both moist and tasty. Sure, it’s not a massive effort to roast your own bird at home, but who has a spare hour-and-a-half on a Monday? They even let us take home the bones, so we got the stock that’s such a bonus when you make your own roast.
Other mains were also good, albeit in a “that recipe looked nice in the Observer, I must try to remember to make it this week” kinda way. A warm lentil salad with pan fried halloumi was well seasoned and satisfying, if a little dull, and the salad of squid, chorizo and sourdough similarly workman like but toothsome.
Wine came in well-priced carafes and the staff were attentive and seemed genuinely eager to know what we thought of the place. They looked slightly upset when we said it was lovely home cooking. We had to explain that wasn’t a criticism at all; far from it, Bones should thrive precisely because it serves the food we all wished we could eat every night but usually don’t.