Thursday, 14 May 2015

Chick'n'Sours Kingsland Road, Dalston, Hackney

Fancy fried chicken is now a *thing*. Since the opening of fancy fried chicken joint Wishbone a few years ago, the techniques for brining, marinating and coating chicken wings, thighs, drumsticks and breasts have become legitimate subjects for geeky discussion. I love the buttermilk brined chicken in a bun with Korean hot sauce at Spit and Roast, or the schmaltzed chicken with gravy at Rita's, but my all time favourite is Dante Fried Chicken in Los Angeles, who blows my mind with his approach to brining and crunch. His book is well worth hunting down.

For all the wonderful fried chicken, I've had some pretty bland stuff too and some claggy coatings that soak up all the oil. Jackson and Rye was one of the worst I've ever had, but even Foxlow's left me a little underwhelmed. 

When I heard about Chick'n'Sours opening on Kingsland Road, and that Carl Clarke was behind it, I knew to expect interesting things. I once made it to Disco Bistro and was blown away by the exciting flavours he incorporated into 'luxe' junk food. His reputation meant that Chick'n;Sours' soft launch was booked up in minutes, but I made it along in the restaurant's second week. 

It's a neat little restaurant, with no more than 40 covers, and views out onto Kingsland Road. Inside and outside is low key stylish. The menu is very concise: a selection of sour cocktails, a few beers, a few wines and a nice selection of soft drinks. The food menu consists of a house fry and a guest fry, a fried chicken burger, some interesting sides and starters, and a single dessert.

We kick off with a sour cocktail. My house sour has raspberry and chilli vinegar in it, giving it an extra aciditc kick. The flavours are complex and it has some interesting notes, but I find that the sweetness overwhelms the sourness, and it's a bit too gluggable. My friend's basil and strawberry is adorned with big, luscious basil leaves and black pepper. It's delicious.

Getting into the chicken swing of things, we start with a plate of wings, which can come in naked, sweet or hot. We go for hot and get six juicy, meaty wings covered in a red sticky sauce similar to buffalo sauce but with a bit more spicy bitterness. The sauce has real depth and a big kick, and yards above the gloopy sugary buffalo sauce you'll find in many other joints.

On to the main thing: the chicken. The house fry is a pretty classic take on fried chicken. You get a thigh and a drumstick, both super moist and full of strong meaty flavour, with a crispy, crunchy but not-too-thick coating. It's not oily in the slightest. The signature covering is a "seaweed crack" - a light dust of dehydrated (I guess) seaweed and other umami flavours, which makes this incredibly moreish. There are a number of other dipping sauces for £1.50, but we stuck to the house chilli oil on the table - and it's excellent lightly spread on the chicken.  The house fry comes with pickled watermelon, which provides a juicy, tangy balance to the salty, meaty, crunchy chicken.

My friend orders the guest fry, which, on our visit, is Thai style - topped with crispy shallots, spring onions, fresh chilli, thai basil and mint, and served with a chilli jam dipping sauce. It's great.

The sides are a big deal. You could even see the fried chicken as merely an excuse to tuck in to some tasty sides. I'd even encourage vegetarian (well, those tolerant of by-products) friends to come and pile up some tasty side and starter dishes. The fries are cooked in a rich beef dripping, and the generous serving is a steal at £2.50. We could eat them endlessly. We also enjoy a yam-bean slaw. Yam beans are a South East Asian member of the yam family, and here it's julienned along with red onion and something green, coated in a light miso mayo and topped with black and white sesame. It's fresh and crunchy and savoury and wonderful.

We also order a pickled apple and chicken skin salad, which is basically a super pimped caesar salad. Leaves of gem lettuce are loaded with creamy blue cheese dressing, crisp flakes of smoked bacon and the crispy chicken skin. Shards of pickled apple cut through the salty umami, giving a much needed freshness. My dining companion found the dish overwhelming, and I think a little less of the blue cheese dressing and a bit more of the apple might have reached a better balance.

Another highlight was the pickled water melon, coriander and peanut side. A perfectly balanced fish sauce dressing is sweet and savoury and just delicious with the roasted peanuts. If we'd had the space we'd have tried the Szechuan aubergine, which I've heard is great.

There is just one dessert: a Weetabix soft service ice cream. The ice cream tastes like malty Weetabix milk, and it's topped with crunchy bits of Weetabix. I like it; my friend does not. It's not very sweet, the maltiness has a slightly bitter edge. It tastes nostalgic, and I like the texture of the crunch with the cold ice cream.

We have a thoroughly good meal and feel well looked after by the team. I'm already planning trips back to try some of the other sides and also their brunch menu. It's certainly a cut above much of its Dalston competition, where new openings are mostly either contrived  and pretentious or generic and half-arsed. It's also refreshing to taste masterful fusions of Asian and Western flavours and techniques - there are too many David Chang pretenders who lack the care and know-how to pull it off. Clarke's team at Chick'n'Sours know how to develop stunning and dishes and price them well - you can eat well here for less than £20 per head.

Chick'n'Sours is likely to be popular - it was buzzing on a Tuesday evening in week two. Thankfully, it takes reservations through the week, but is likely to be walk-ins only on Friday and Saturday evenings. Get there soon, because most other fried chicken is a waste of calories.