Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Chooks, Muswell Hill, and Orange Buffalo, Brick Lane


"Shoestring, Taggart, Spender, Bergerac, Morse. What does that say to you about regional detective series'?"

"There's too many of them?"

"That's one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is, 'people like them, let's make some more of them'."


The joke in the above exchange between Alan Partridge and the Chief Commissioning Editor of the BBC was that, bereft of successful ideas himself, Alan merely spotted the most convenient bandwagon and attempted to ride it to success. And as well as being a handy way of shoehorning an Alan Partridge quote into a food blog, it has a (slightly tortured) parallel with what's happening in certain corners of the London restaurant business.


The Giraffe group has by no means the monopoly on bandwagon-jumping but they have definitely been one of the highest-profile offenders over recent years. Strike One was Guerilla Burgers back in February 2010, where, spotting the frenzy surrounding the Meatwagon appearances in South London, they decided there was money to be made selling 'authentic West-coast burgers' in a desirable Marylebone location. Unfortunately 'authenticity' is a subjective term, and to various people's crushing disappointment, not least my own, Guerilla Burgers turned out to be a glorified pub burger served with frozen crinkle-cut chips at a massive mark-up. It was quietly rebranded within the year.


And now, as any food geek will tell you (don't look so surprised, you know who you are), the Next Big Thing is going to be chicken - whether fried, rotisseried or served as wings. Giraffe knows this, too, so they've rushed into field with Chooks, a desperate trend-chasing exercise in creative bankruptcy that has recently reared its ugly neck in Muswell Hill. It is, and I'm saving you the miserable experience of travelling to Muswell Hill to find out the same for yourself, completely awful; overpriced, ineptly constructed food served slowly by inexperienced staff in a room that's a bit like - actually, very like - Meatliquor with the hard edges filed off. The sweet Margaritas are served in jam jars, the cutlery comes in white metal tins, there's even ironic corporate "graffiti" in the toilets. As for the food itself, well, the fried chicken tasted of water and grease, and flabby buffalo wings came with a "blue cheese sauce" that was as thin as mouldy milk. Please promise me you'll never go.


But! But. Thank God not everyone with the desire to operate a food business in central London has timid investors to please or the imagination of a sand fly. I'm not going to waste any more words on Chooks, it doesn't even deserve the SEO score, so instead let's focus on a stall just off Brick Lane that treats its chickens - and its customers - with respect.


Orange Buffalo care about what they do. The wings themselves come in a choice of four flavours, from 'Original' (tangy, mild) through 'Woof Woof' (hotter, more complex) and to the top level 'Viper' which I'm yet to try but given that it contains the fearsome naga chilli I assume packs quite a punch. They are deep fried to a marvellous crispy skin then (correctly, as per the authentic New York state method) rolled in the hot sauce by hand before being presented on a paper tray of chunky blue cheese dip, sticks of celery and side of either onion rings or fries.


The wings themselves are fantastic, made with skill and using very good quality, meaty chicken. The onion rings are little bitesize things, greaselessly fried and with a good crunch, ditto the fries. The blue cheese dip, though, was almost the standout element - a chunky, creamy pile of cooling dairy that provided the absolute perfect antidote to the chillified chicken. Six wings, with the blue cheese dip, celery and a generous pile of either onion rings or fries was £6.50.


I know Orange Buffalo aren't the first people to serve chicken wings. The Meatwagon weren't the first people to serve bacon cheeseburgers, Big Apple didn't invent gourmet hot dogs, and Banh Mi 11 didn't invent Vietnamese pork paté baguettes. But each of these operations were successful - and great - not because they saw a trend and tried to make some money from it, but because they started selling the kind of food they wanted to eat themselves, and their passion for doing so was evident in the end product. The lesson to be learned, time and time again, is this - make the kind of food you want to eat, make it with care, and to hell with what anyone else thinks. A bandwagon is never a good enough reason for a restaurant.

Chooks 2/10
Orange Buffalo 9/10

EDIT 01/11/12: I have been asked to make it clear that the relationship between Chooks and Giraffe is familial not financial - Chooks is owned and run by the son of the founders of Giraffe and is a separate entity. That said, you can see the family resemblance...

Chooks on Urbanspoon

The Orange Buffalo on Urbanspoon
I was invited to review Chooks

12 comments:

Lizzie Mabbott said...

Chooks looks hilariously bad. I bet the people of Muswell Hill feel well 'edgy' eating in there.

I have a special place in my heart for Orange Buffalo. (In truth, I think I fell in love with the guy in the trailer. Or maybe I fell in love with him because he was selling me wings. By the by.) Anyway, you must try the Paul F (soon to be renamed, I think) sauce one up from Woof Woof, even if you are a mango-hater.

Helen said...

I can't believe you didn't ask to use my photograph of the Chooks buffalo sub. Paul WF WATCH OUT!

Andy said...

"a desperate trend-chasing exercise in creative bankruptcy" made me laugh...

Mr Noodles said...

In the words of some lads from Sheffield: 'get off the bandwagon and put down the handbook.'

Charlie said...

I thought the Paul F was one step down from the Viper? The Viper definitely tastes stronger, but maybe that's because the mango mediates the heat in the Paul F?

Anyway, I've been twice now (once with the Paul F, and once with the Viper), and I completely agree - this place is awesome, and the guy who runs it is charming. It's also around the corner from my office, so I intend to visit it a lot.

After careful examination, we think you get seven wings with the "meal deal" (£6.50 including drink and fries), and eight wings if you just have the wings on their own (£6). I may be wrong on this. But anyway, I have a big appetite, and I thought seven wings wouldn't be enough, but once I was reduced to a sweating, crying mess in the rain by the Viper sauce, I was quite satisfied.

Excellent review!

Charlie said...

I thought the Paul F was one step down from the Viper? The Viper definitely tastes stronger, but maybe that's because the mango mediates the heat in the Paul F?

Anyway, I've been twice now (once with the Paul F, and once with the Viper), and I completely agree - this place is awesome, and the guy who runs it is charming. It's also around the corner from my office, so I intend to visit it a lot.

After careful examination, we think you get seven wings with the "meal deal" (£6.50 including drink and fries), and eight wings if you just have the wings on their own (£6). I may be wrong on this. But anyway, I have a big appetite, and I thought seven wings wouldn't be enough, but once I was reduced to a sweating, crying mess in the rain by the Viper sauce, I was quite satisfied.

Excellent review!

Anonymous said...

I've also been to Orange Buggalo a couple of times and think the guy who runs it does a great job. But...I just can't work up an enthusiasm for the wings. I want to, and I'm sure they're the best around...but I couldn't taste the underlying meat for the sauce. Is that the point? Or do I just have unsubtle taste buds? Either way, I'm not sure this dish is for me.

Brighton Restaurant said...

Nice post ! The saucy chicken wings of Orange buffalo eatout look delicious & absolutely mouth watering !

The Consumer said...

An Alan Partridge reference always goes down a treat, rotfl
I loved Orange Buffalo, wings are unbelievable, but I have to say, being a wing fanatic I also had some great ones at Chooks in Muswell Hill, Fight....... We are in total disagreement, and my friend who by the way is from Texas, said the buttermilk chicken was almost as good as his Mums. The waitress was wonderful, could not fault her. Also Mr Cheese and Biscuits I believe you need to get your facts right before you pass judgement, I believe Chooks is independent, maybe fire the reasercher blog fail, apart from Alan, and in his words... 'Smell My Cheese'

theundergroundrestaurant said...

Having a bit of a catch up on your posts. You write brilliantly, you should win an award.
It's a shame that none of the current food blogging awards take blogging seriously.
Ugh, but is it true that chicken is the next big thing. How bo-ring.

Chris Pople said...

Lizzie/Charlie: Yes the Paul F is between the Viper and the Woof Woof. I went back the same evening (tragic I know) and tried it, and actually my favourite is still the Woof Woof. Possibly because me and mango don't get on.

Anon: Wouldn't do if we were all the same! They're better than the Chooks ones at least...

The Consumer: I've put in an edit to clarify, but whether the connection is financial or familial, the whole place just screams of the Giraffe ethic. It's a proto-chain, a lazy one at that, and expect to see it popping up at an airport terminal near you soon.

theundergroundrestaurant: Thanks! And yes, this isn't the last new chicken restaurant opening you'll see this week...

Anonymous said...

Chooks is actually pretty good. OK, it's in Muswell Hill. Who cares - get a car. You guys are (food) snobs.