Pop goes the birdie

Dublin’s newest pop-up restaurant serves several varieties of fried chicken, with some tasty sides and dips

Dublin’s newest pop-up restaurant serves several varieties of fried chicken, with some tasty sides and dips

THE CANOPY OF fairy lights strung across the alleyway is a cheery sight, which is good because this lane looks like it’s been designed by a committee of muggers and public urinators. The lights on Crane Lane in Dublin’s Temple Bar mark the location of Crackbird, a pop-up restaurant, opened by Joe Macken (of Jo’burger in Rathmines) last month.

He has promised it will trade for 12 weeks, then fold up its menus and gingham napkins and be gone with the wind. Twelve weeks seems more of a lean-to than a pop-up. But the point is this is zeitgeisty and has garnered its owner more publicity than a celebrity streak down Grafton Street, especially among Twitter users.

But as Dylan Haskins learned during the election clicking on “friend” or “follow” is not always translated into action in the real world. Without the time needed to build up a loyal following Macken decided to give free food to Twitter followers who use the word tweetseats in their booking message. Up to 36 diners a day were promised chicken on the house in return for spreading the word and paying for their drinks. It’s a class of soup kitchen for hipsters.


At first glance the place looks more permanent than you would expect. There’s a clever laser-cut plywood sign with the name and the pecking hen logo. Potted plants sit outside with two smokers’ benches and hang off the pillars, too. Inside it’s painted almost black. Light bulbs hang down over the tables and bench-like stools can be switched around. It looks no more thrown together than many places.

A picnic table painted dark blue, positioned by the window, houses the cheap seats. This table is clearly marked Tweetseats, so the paying customers can see their luckier counterparts tuck in.

Macken is the peacock in all of this. He greets people with handshakes and is floppy-haired and flamboyant. Tonight he’s wearing silver shoes, denim cut-offs and a black T-shirt with a red satin heart sewn onto it.

Crackbird doesn’t do reservations, apart from tweatseats, so we walk in and get a shared table with a couple who have been food shopping in the ethnic stores around Henry Street. The menu is brief and printed on the paper place settings. A few of the dishes promised in a press release, such as arancini (deep fried rice balls), don’t seem to have made the final cut. And we could do with one or two more options. But the idea is simple, fried chicken (which has been basted in buttermilk) served with a selection of sides (€3.75 each) and dips (€1 each). The dips are numbered in order of heat. One is the habanero, which is like lighting a bonfire in your mouth, down to a soothing whipped feta and burnt lemon one.

The food is prepared in an unseen kitchen (unusual in restaurants these days) and served through a large hatch to the wait staff. “You have to have a 28-inch waist to work here,” my husband remarks somewhat bitterly. They may be skinny, but they’re not the fastest waiters in town and the couple next to us remark that you have to jump up and down a bit to get attention. An iPad is wall-mounted above the cash register and it’s playing loud music, which is fine because it makes sharing a table easier.

And the food? Well it does that thing that good fast food does. The first mouthful of the skillet-fried chicken is great but there’s a high grease element and halfway through his skillet-fried buttermilk chicken the husband has a fur on the roof of his mouth and a plate of bones that look messy as hell.

I like my crunchy semolina coated chicken. It’s drier and moreishly tasty, less of a grease bath. The real star is a dish I wouldn’t normally allow on the table, much less rave about. Crackbird may well have converted me to coleslaw. A portion of slaw is delicious, made simply with cabbage, a mustardy mayo and a muted herb which turns out to be dried thyme. It’s crisp and clean and not the horrible crime-against-food that coleslaw can be.

The roast parsnip and nigella seed salad is slightly less successful. Yes, the name should have given me a clue, but I didn’t expect this cold and would have preferred it hot. Once I get over the idea of eating cold roast parsnip, (a bit like picking over the roasting tin on a Sunday evening), it is fine, made better with a few dips. As promised the habanero has flavour as well as heat, but predominantly heat of the kind that leaves us gasping for a jug of water and slugging our beers. A jalapeno dip is great and the whipped feta and lemon is delicious.

Macken is doing on a smaller scale what he does at Jo’burger, making fast food tasty and interesting. Desserts seem to be daily specials. A slice of red velvet cake made with beetroot and frosted with a tangy cream cheese icing is very good, a slice of pecan pie is a bit dry. We have these with two excellent coffees (€2.50 apiece) served in glasses with silver holders. “Open for 79 more days,” the receipt says at the end. (And it’s cash only here, no cards). Crackbird is due to close on May 22nd, which is Morrissey’s birthday. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pop up elsewhere or become a permanent fixture, or as permanent as anything is these days.

Dinner for two with four Pilsner beers, desserts and coffee came to €56.30. You can try for a tweetseat through twitter.com/crackBIRDdublin, or walk in to Crane Lane, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

CRACKBIRD Crane Lane, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

Music:Loudish but good Ambience: Lively and a little self-conscious

Facilities:Mirrorless so bring a compact if you want to check your lippie

Food provenance: It has been promised but none the night we were there

Nice touches:Those softly-conditioned gingham napkins (being roundly pocketed by some punters, apparently), tealights in painted jam jars

Wheelchair access:Yes, but restricted room and bathroom access.

And the hound came too . . .

Kudos to the Taste Café on Dublin’s South William Street which provided a much needed pitstop for me, three boys and the dog recently.

Having a dog in tow can limit your options for a coffee and cookie fix, but not here. Their footpath seats come with a bowl of water for herself, comfy seats and a great view of the passing crowds. Dog owners and smokers are shielded behind a glass and steel screen and the lovel y Scottish waiter couldn’t have been more welcoming. His only regret? He was fresh out of Bonios for the hound.


Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests