*We’re sorry to announce that H.en Islington and H.en Brighton have now closed*
MasterChef finalists Jack Layer and Billy Wright have collaborated on a delicious menu – right down to the fried chicken feet – at the new H.en restaurant in Islington
Words: Rachel Mantock
Fresh off MasterChef, finalists Jack Layer and Billy Wright have been enlisted to oversee the menu at the new H.en chicken restaurant in Islington, founded by Philip Ilic, who launched H.en Brighton in 2014. At H.en, minimising wastage is of the utmost importance. Even chicken feet have made their way onto the new menu at the Islington branch.
‘We loved that the guys at H.en wanted us to use as much of the chicken as possible,’ says Layer. ‘If the MasterChef experience taught us anything, it was that we love a challenge, pushing our boundaries and doing something new. That is how chicken feet made their way on to the menu!’
Surprisingly, the chicken feet served at H.en Islington are fantastic, like a less salty, classier pork scratching and are highly addictive. When asked about their strategy when it comes to the ‘no wastage’ policy, both Layer and Wright say that it’s ‘easier than it looks’.
‘We just look at what we have available to work with and come up with delicious recipes that we love and hope that diners will love too,’ they explain. ‘We should all be trying to use as much of an animal as possible, otherwise it’s a waste and a shame.’
We should all be trying to use as much of an animal as possible, otherwise it’s a waste and a shame
When it comes to health and nutrition at H.en, the boys take a logical approach, a far cry from the health neurosis that plagues social media and often the TV too. Refreshingly, when planning a new dish, they always start with brainstorming over how they can ‘make it most delicious and balance flavours and textures’. Using vegetables and salad is a vital part of this – ‘nobody wants an overly greasy burger!’, the joke.
The interior of H.en is playful and homely, in a modern way, with oversized metal lightshades and what looks like a wallpaper full of doodles. Co-founder of H.en and the sister of Philip Ilic, Amy Ilic, is the brains behind the lively, exuberant décor of H.en Islington, and she designed the space with the nature of the H.en company at the core.
‘H.en is a playful, ethical, authentic company that feels inviting and friendly,’ she says. ‘This has always been reflected in H.en’s staff, ethics and design. It has a playful entrance and its own persona, even from a distance, which radiates from the bright yellow egg paint of the exterior entrance. Also, as you enter, there is a salvaged, corrugated iron wall, in line with our commitment to sustainability and also creating the feel of being in a barn.’
Once inside H.en, you are immediately met with a large round table with six chairs, placed on a rug with a basket pendant hanging over it, H.en’s own farmhouse cosy family nook. ‘We chose a friendly, pastel pink for the ever expanding arched windows and accents throughout, mint for the divide, and jet black was our choice for the floor and bar area, grounding the entire space and allowing it to translate into night well.’
With sustainability at the heart of every single aspect of H.en, they collaborated with Ardour Design when planning the look of H.en Islington, a company they feel is just as holistic as them in their thinking about wastage. Ardour Design helped them to buy salvaged and second hand furniture where they could, resulting in a raw feel.
Having bonded with the H.en team over their love of fried chicken burgers, one thing leading to another and Layer and Wright fell into being in charge of the Hen Islington menu, relishing the new opportunity once they got the gig.
From MasterChef to MasterH.ens, everything on their current menu was built with a pinch of laughter and a large sprinkle of thinking outside the box. If there is one thing we can take from the eccentric MasterChef duo, it’s not to take ourselves too seriously.
154-155 Upper Street N1 1RA; 020 3227 0147; henrestaurant.com