In a nutshell
A witty reference to ‘renard/reynard’ (French and old English for ‘fox’), Reys is a well-conceived, quality chicken restaurant that has the all-important basics of how to cook chicken down to an art. Its less-is-more menu offers two ways to tailor your bird: classic French with Parisian-style gravy, or dressed with a sweet, gingery barbecue sauce.
A half (£11.50) or quarter (£6.50) comes with a choice of sauces (as above, as well as a creamy mushroom gravy and another hot barbecue glaze). Sides are extra (all at £3.50).
Neil Nugent, who used to be executive chef for both Morrisons and Waitrose, was approached by Pizza Express to develop the Reys concept. He researched chicken breeds and cooking methods for six months with them before opening the restaurant as founder, under Pizza Express’s ownership.
Reys starts with high-welfare chickens grown in the West Country from a breed originating in France. The chooks are then seasoned and marinated for 12-24 hours before they make it to the rotisserie at the centre of the restaurant, where rotations of whole chickens on long spits slow-cook over open flame, browning and dripping with juices. The birds are rested before being halved or quartered to order and dressed. Ours had crispy skin all round, juicy breasts and dark meat that swooningly fell off the bone.
Veggies are catered for too, with roasted butternut squash pulled in a bun (£6) or as a salad (£6 or £10). There’s also a takeaway and weekend brunch menu.
What’s the room like?
Reys occupies the former Red Cow pub, a prominent Victorian landmark with an open view towards the market in the heart of Cambridge. Its décor is smart, artfully casual and comfortable, with a fox-orange colour scheme, wood tables and copper lights. You’ll find groups, couples and families here, perhaps creating an atmosphere louder than you’d want for an intimate dinner but fine if you enjoy animated conversation.
Menu must-orders and misfires
The smooth chicken liver parfait (£6) is served at the perfect temperature with nicely chewy toast and reminded us of L’Ami Louis, the famous Parisian bistro that could have been the inspiration behind the Reys ‘quest’ (“it all started in Paris”).
Don’t miss the crispy fried chicken wings in barbecue sauce (starter £5.50, side £3.50). They come deep-fried in a light tempura pillow of rice and tapioca flours with a drizzle of herbs and sesame seeds. The crunchy Asian slaw is refreshing and vibrant, too, and we enjoyed the marshmallow-light steamed Asian buns.
The Reys house fries (£3.50), cut on the premises, weren’t available when we went (a glitch with supply, apparently) so we had the French fries instead (£3.50). The chocolate lava pudding (£5.00) was good but our favourite was the fruit compote with coconut ice cream (£5.00).
We enjoyed well-chosen glasses of Côte Du Rhone Villages and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with our dinner, but you can also order half carafes, as well as by the glass and bottle. We also appreciated the sweetener-free tonic with the pre-dinner G&T and the Reys table water (sparkling or still) with limitless refills.
What else we liked
Quirky decorative touches add whimsy: French-language book illustrations, old typography, framed vintage cleavers, fox-motifs (the staff even wear foxtail ‘tattoos’). The service strikes the right balance, too. We had charming service from a waiter who took us through the menu with enthusiasm, topped up our water regularly without having to be asked, and enquired with interest into what we thought of the food.
A stylish, fun, well-tested, well-run place for roast chicken: best in class and an asset to Cambridge for doing one thing with serious attention to detail.
Reys, Corn Exchange Street, Cambridge CB2 3QF
Words by Laura Donohue crumbsonthetable.co.uk
First published October 2015
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