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By Tom Parker Bowles Event for The Mail on Sunday |

By Tom Parker Bowles Event for The Mail on Sunday

CHIK’N

134 Baker Street, W1


chikn.com

Rating:

‘That sure ain’t chattin’ food,’ says the Mayor, as I gaze down at a quarter of fried chicken, perched upon a slice of cheap white bread. I’m not quite sure what he’s on about, but hell, he’s agreed to have lunch with me and talk hot chicken. So I smile politely, as if to agree. We’re sitting, a few years back, in Prince’s Hot Chicken, a scrubbed but simple restaurant on the frayed edge of a nondescript parking lot in one of less salubrious suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee.

The city may be best known for the eternal twang of country guitar, but for me, it has further reason for worship, namely the birthplace of that aforementioned fiery fowl, a local speciality that sees spice-marinated chicken dredged through flour spiked with ever-increasing amounts of cayenne pepper. A mere pinch for ‘plain’, right up to mighty fistfuls for ‘XXXHot’ (‘slap ya momma fiery,’ I’m told with glee) expertly fried in huge, black and battered iron skillets.

The room, clean, bright and clad in primary colours, has a few chairs and tables, but is certainty not a place in which to linger

Of course, being the vainglorious fool I am, I ignore the mayor’s sage counsel, and go XXX. And while Mayor Bill Purcell’s ‘hot’ has a crust that glows as golden as a Pat Boone oldie, mine is blacker than Satan’s heart. It seethes with pure, unbridled cayenne rage. That first bite, though, is sublime – a crisp, bone dry and beautifully seasoned exterior. Which offers the briefest moment of resistance before yielding to the onslaught of the incisors. And revealing a mouthful of divinely succulent flesh.

Then the pain begins, a slight lip tingle at first, followed by an ever-building inferno of capsaicin ire – wave upon wave of molten flame turns my tongue into a useless lump of throbbing gristle. By this stage, even thinking hurts. I look up at the Mayor, who smiles and nods his head. ‘As I said, this ain’t chattin’ food.’

Next time, I stuck with the hot. And found true fried chicken salvation, one of my favourite mouthfuls on Earth. Because this is an art, no doubt about that, and in the American South, it’s taken very seriously indeed. But I’m no expert. Hell no. ‘To know about fried chicken,’ drawls John Egerton in his classic Southern Food, ‘you must have been weaned and reared on it in the South. Period.’ I’m not sure the Japanese and Koreans, deep fried chicken masters both, would agree.

But chef Carl Clarke, Brummie by birth, must have lived a former life in the South. Because he’s the British high priest of deep-fried poultry, the man behind the wonderful Chick ’n’ Sours, where sharp cocktails meet well brought-up fried birds. And now, alongside business partner Dave Wolanski, he’s opened CHIK’N in Baker Street, the ‘guilt-free alternative’ to the likes of Chicken Cottage. Birds are free-range, employees are paid in excess of the London living wage, and you can get a chicken burger for under a fiver. They hope to roll out across the land.

With decent British birds, they can’t hope to compete with the fast-food joints who use cheap, miserable, intensively farmed imported birds. Birds that allow them to make money from charging £3 for a fillet burger. But Clarke and Wolanski have Nando’s very much in their sights.

The CHIK’N hot burger is a serious beast, a great fat wodge of divine fried chicken, slathered in Sriratcha sour cream, loaded with a sharp tangle of spicy slaw, and wedged into a bun

The ‘guilt-free alternative’ to the likes of Chicken Cottage. Birds are free-range and employees are paid in excess of the London living wage

The room, clean, bright and clad in primary colours, has a few chairs and tables, but is certainty not a place in which to linger. We arrive just after 11.30am, and within minutes a queue snakes down the road. The children vacuum down thick Chocolate Coco Pop shakes, and rave about the curly fries, and swing their legs merrily from the high stools, watching Baker Street go about its lunchtime business. They eat Tenders. ‘Good crunch,’ says Lola, ‘but the meat’s too dry.’ Everyone’s a bloody critic, eh. But she’s right. They lack all-important succulence.

FROM THE MENU

Chik’n Hot £5.95

Straight Up Chik’n £4.95

Chik’n Classic £6.95

Chik’n Wings £2.45

All In Fries £5.95

 

Still, the CHIK’N hot burger is a serious beast, a great fat wodge of divine fried chicken, slathered in Sriratcha sour cream, loaded with a sharp tangle of spicy slaw, and wedged into a bun that manages to be both soft AND hold the whole thing together. Juice drips and dribbles down the fingers, just as it should. A burger that could steer even the most bovine obsessed over to the fowl side.

Better still are the nacho style ‘all in fries’, which is a classic Clarke dish. Oodles of lurid fake cheese, studded with good bacon and pickled onion, and flavoured with a grunt of chilli, and a numbing of Sichuan pepper, poured lustily over those wonderful fries. American diner by way of Chengdu, it’s a messy, mucky junk food masterpiece.

Throw in the fact we’re in and out in under 15 minutes, with a bill just over £20, and you have real fast food that actually satisfies. Look out for it in a town near you soon.

This Chik’n has wings.

What Tom ate this week 

Thursday 

Lunch of more wild boar salami, more Aqua Cotta soup, then excellent home made sausage at La Porta da Alma in Capalbio. Then off home, via a decent pizza at Farinella at Rome airport. Arrive home late. Toast and Marmite, then bed. 

Friday 

Lunch of typically fine sushi and sashimi at Roka, plus that sublime crab rice hotpot, Korean lamb chops and tuna tartare. Then an early dinner at El Pastor of tacos and guacamole, before home for a fistful of cheap cheese slices, lavished with pepper. 

Saturday 

My belly is now so large that people are starting to ask when it’s due. So 5/2 time. Daylesford soup, prawns, Carr’s water biscuits and Mr Freeze. Yum. 

Sunday 

More 5/2 penance. See above for details. To bed early, dreaming, for once, of Monday.

 

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