Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Chick'n'Sours, Covent Garden
"It has runaway success written all over it," I said about the original Chick'n'Sours in Kingsland Road, and with my predictions being so very rarely correct I hope you'll indulge me this opportunity to brag just a little about getting this one bang-on. With their unique and timely vision of Asian-influenced US comfort food this lively little spot in Dalston caught the public's imagination - and appetite - from day one, and in retrospect it was inevitable they'd want to open a 2nd branch at some point.
And ordinarily I'd wish them well and leave them to it; I rarely make an effort to review multiple branches from the same team because, well, usually I've said everything that needed to be said the first time around, and however welcome it would be to have a Chick'n'Sours on every street corner (and that would be very welcome indeed), hopefully all the same reasons for visiting would apply each time. There's no need to labour the point.
Except here we are, and I am going to the labour the point about Chick'n'Sours, not least because there's more than enough new and improved here in Covent Garden to fill the pages of another blog post but because also, even if the menu, the quality of the food and the style in which it is served was a complete carbon copy of the Kingsland Road original, I'd still feel duty bound to tell you about it for one simple reason - Chick'n'Sours... is... brilliant.
Let's start with a new entry in the Covent Garden menu - an irresistable snack called Mexi-nese Nachos. Corn chips soaked in a rich cheese sauce, looser than melted American and with more flavour though don't ask me how, studded with warm bacon bits and "Chengdu chicken" (crunchy skin I think but don't quote me), all topped with some fantastic crisp kimchee and green chilli. Nachos have been reimagined and reinvented so many times in so many dive bars it's a miracle C'n'S have come up with something original at all, least of all something that could very well spoil every other plate of nachos you've ever eaten in your life. A must order.
A must order too are the disco wings, available in a variety of different treatments. Pictured are the 'hot', best described as a vinegar-chilli Buffalo-style sauce, but with extra levels of deeply satisfying umami flavour, the bubbly crust of the wings holding so much of the sauce that biting into each one was a gloriously messy affair. They are the best chicken wings I've ever found in London, combining great quality, meaty chicken with supremely addictive coating and sauce. And that's even before they're introduced to the cooling, creamy St Agur dip.
I worry I'm sounding a bit like a press release, but Chick'n'Sours is one of those places that makes advocates of us all. The house pickles are a colourful selection of Asian-fringed flavours, sweet and sour, from soft chunks of cucumber to squishy cabbage. The pickling is clearly finely honed, a process presumably evolved from the very earliest days in Haggerston, and before that when head chef Carl Clarke was organising Korean popups around town.
Smacked ("Hunan-style") cucumbers, soaked in sesame oil and with a healthy slick of chilli, also satisfied on every level. It seems to be a Sichuan (or at least vaguely Southern Chinese) trick to combine something cooling (cucumbers) with chilli heat, to end up with an addictive contrast of pain and pleasure in every mouthful.
That same contrast is what makes the famous pickled watermelon side so good, a stalwart from Kingsland Road we couldn't help ordering again, refreshing chunks of fresh watermelon that soothe at first before the tingle of chilli kicks in a few seconds later. It's all enormous fun.
Finally, coriander and sesame chicken tenders, doing that same extraordinary balancing act of crunchy, moist, soft, sharp, sweet, you name it. Exciting, innovative comfort food that you'd happily order again and again.
All this is, in short, why I pay other people to make food for me. I said that "in retrospect" it was inevitable that Chick'n'Sours would want to open a second branch but actually, back in May 2015 you can't really blame them for just hoping they'd make it through to Christmas and that they'd find a sensible way of managing the queues. It's only with the passage of time we can appreciate the place for what it was - a genuine game-changer that found a way of reinvigorating the US comfort food trend with exciting Asian flavours and deserved every bit of the "runaway success" (© Cheese and Biscuits 2015) that came their way. And judging by the full house at 12:30 on a Monday lunchtime, this may just be the beginning. Chick'n'Sours is brilliant.
No chance this gem is being left off the next version of the app. Meantime see where else is good.