The bucket list: finding London's best fried chicken

The bucket list: finding London's best fried chicken

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People don’t tend to agree on many things. Whether you’re Leave or Remain, Trump or Clinton, Taylor Swift or Katy Perry, the world is full of angry tribes, eager for a scrap. Given that we’ve arguably never been more divided than we are now, we all need something to bring us closer together. Thank goodness we have chicken.

Despite all our other differences, we can all agree that fried chicken is absolutely amazing. For some reason, covering poultry in breadcrumbs, butter or buffalo sauce makes almost everyone around the world go weak at the knees. If politicians were able to think outside the box, international incidents would be resolved not at the negotiating table, but over a bargain bucket.

As one of the world’s foremost foodie destinations, London has been busily carving out its own niche in the international fried chicken scene. Huge numbers of specialists have flocked to the city, producing poultry dishes influenced from every corner of the globe. Generally, trying all this chicken would take months of research, planning and careful organisation. When the Twisted team discovered that there was a chance to get hold of some of the tastiest chicken the capital has to offer all in one place, we all lost our collective minds. And so we come to the Bucket List.

For two years on the trot, street food specialists Kerb have gathered together an all-star list of British chicken experts in one event. This celebration of all things feathered showcases some of the most talented chefs from across London, all of whom have chosen chicken as their cooking canvas. Here, a hungry diner can find icons alongside upstarts and traditions next to bold new ideas. For anyone looking to build a pretty good picture of the health of London’s fried chicken scene, Kerb Presents: The Bucket List is a good place to start.

The principle behind the Bucket List is pretty straightforward. Eight of London’s best fried chicken joints compete head to head, serving a selection of their signature recipes before the public cast their votes and crown their chicken champion. Each guest is given a bucket, a jar of fiery Frank’s Red Hot sauce and a voucher sheet complete with tickets for the restaurants. It’s up to guests how they then navigate around the small arena and in what order they dive into the food. After a few minutes collecting our thoughts next to a well-stocked bar, we attacked.

Descending into the throng only made us more excited. Tantalising plates of sweet-smelling wings and steaming strips flew past us every few seconds as we headed straight to the nearest stand, home to one of London’s most beloved chicken restaurants.

Morley’s have been a London favourite since they first opened in 1985, and now operate in 19 locations across the south of the city. Their signature blend of value and quality has won them many fans, and with good reason. They may be more straightforward than many of the wings we would go on to sample, but sometimes the old ways are still the best. Solid crunch, peppery seasoning and juicy meat. A good start.

Up next was a trip to Korea. Famous for pioneering the double fried method, Koreans have a particular soft spot for this particular brand of fast food. Carrying the fried chicken flag for this proud foodie nation is clearly no easy task. Fortunately, Mother Flipper were more than up to it. Serving a panko breadcrumbed drumstick, drizzled with a soy glaze, chilli flakes and shredded spring onion, this chicken gave a perfect example of the tricky balancing act between heat and sweet. Well worth a visit if you’re near Brockley.

We were beginning to build up some momentum, and had no intention of stopping. Having been fairly civilised in our eating until now, we decided it was high time to get sticky. Filipino joint BBQ Dreamz provided the perfect excuse. Each of us picked up an adobo-glazed wing, sitting fat and glistening on a plump pile of spring onion and coriander, and promptly tore it to pieces. The added presence of a pot of spiced aioli sent sauce flying everywhere. It was messy, undignified and extremely satisfying.

After a brief wipe down and a well-earned pint, we were ready to go again. And so, we headed to one of the event’s special surprises. Butchies have been making some of London’s best chicken for nearly five years, famously producing one of the most delicious fried chicken sandwiches you will find anywhere. Their boneless strips with chicken bone broth may not have quite reached the dizzying heights of this signature dish, but then it’s difficult to imagine anything that could.

Fresh from wolfing down Butchies, we plotted a course towards one of the tournament favourites. Petare were the reigning champions from 2017, and it was clear from one look at their operation that they meant business. Regiments of serious looking, bearded cooks were drilled with military precision - dipping, frying and glazing their way through endless boxes of boneless chicken thighs. Specialising in a Venezuelan interpretation of the global fan favourite, Petare’s chicken came coated in a guava glave, a ribbon of tingly habanero mayo and a smattering of chilli flakes. The result was spectacular. Punchy in all the right places and ticking every taste bud box, it was easy to see how they had earned their title.

More pints were followed by more chicken. By now, intense arguments were springing up over the pros and cons of the various competitors. Petare’s glaze was causing tears of joy. We needed some more chicken to bring us back on track, which we thankfully found at Thunderbird. Serving what, in many ways, is one of the most traditional fried chicken flavours, Thunderbird delivered a wing soaked in tangy chipotle buffalo sauce, alongside a pickled celery stick. Simple, but effective. With just the right amount of heat and a mouthwatering kick of acid, this was perhaps the quintessential example of the all-American buffalo wing. It was just a shame that they had run out of truffled blue cheese sauce before we got there!

The home straight loomed. Six down, two to go. It was now that we turned to some of the biggest drumsticks I’ve ever seen. Biang Dang’s recipe for crunchy, tangy Taiwanese chicken apparently called for dinosaur legs to be a key ingredient. Not that we were disappointed. The hot, salty sauce was lip-smackingly moreish and worked perfectly with the side of Asian slaw and edamame. Deeply savoury and undeniably delicious, Biang Dang certainly put Taiwan’s chicken on the map.

As luck would have it, we had arguably saved the best for last. At first glance, the small, slightly shy looking chicken wing proffered up by De Ja Chicken didn’t look like it would be the star of the show. After one bite, we were all reminded of the old adage about books and covers. Intensely crunchy, without a hint of grease, the wing had notes of coriander, coconut and lime, alongside a subtly sweet and spicy octo vinaigrette. Like Petare before it, De Ja had managed to tick every box, and then some.

No amount of arguing could settle the debate between De Ja and Petare. In the end, the Twisted vote was split and we were all left tutting at each other's foolishness. Eventually, much to the fury of the more sophisticated members of the Twisted team, it became clear that the public had sided with Petare. Then again, memories of that guava glaze make it hard to argue with them. The fried chicken kings have come. Long may they reign.