Monday, 9 July 2018

Wingmans, Kilburn


There was a time, not so long ago, when we thought we knew burgers. Available on every pub menu in Britain, not to mention all of the familiar international chains on every high street, they were as familiar to the average Briton as fish and chips or bacon sandwiches, a staple of the late-night kebab shop and Saturday afternoon back garden BBQ. Bun, minced beef, tomato, lettuce, ketchup, done. What's the big deal? What's the drama?


It took a wobbly streetfood van in the corner of a car park in Peckham in the summer of 2009 to wake us from our collective delusion. Britain had not, it turned out, actually known burgers. At all. Oh sure, we thought we had - we'd known things that looked like burgers, that had the vague form and texture of burgers, that were labelled as "burgers" on menus. But no, we hadn't ever known real burgers because here Yianni of the Meatwagon finally was to show us how it should be done, and how utterly misguided we were as a nation in thinking those sad, grey little piles of watery mince hiding inside floury bread rolls were anything approaching the real deal. No, the Meatwagon made real burgers, and a nation's eating habits were transformed.


The problem with the state of burgers in the UK pre-Meatwagon was that people thought they were already in their final form and never really put much of an effort into discovering they were wrong. And much can be said about the state of the country's Buffalo wings. Properly done, Buffalo chicken wings - named after the city of Buffalo in upstate New York and nothing to do with bison - are the ultimate American drinking food, the combination of spicy cayenne sauce (usually Frank's) cut with butter, crisp fried wings and fresh chunky blue cheese dip hitting all of the sour/sweet/hot/soft/crunch pleasure points. But order them from the majority of pubs and bars in the UK and you will be presented with chicken that has been any combination of smoked, grilled or baked, covered in anything from BBQ sauce to sweet chilli. And as for a decent blue cheese dip? Well, good luck with that. A trip to the Peckham "WingJam" last week confirmed the sad state of wing affairs in the capital - out of eight or so stalls, only one - from Brother Bird - were any good at all.

There are precious few wing specialists in London - and therefore the UK - offering anything approaching an acceptable product. My previous favourite was Orange Buffalo, who make probably the best blue cheese dip around, but their "Buffalo" sauce, nice though it is, is made using mango and is therefore non-standard. I'm a strong believer that you have to get the basic recipe correct first before experimenting with variations, and was happy to discover Wingmans (stupid name I know - should there be an apostrophe there? Why not Wing men?), newly installed on Kilburn High Road, seem to be playing things fairly straight. Frank's buffalo sauce, celery, blue cheese dip. Hopes were high.


First the good news, and it is very good news. The chicken wings themselves are basically perfect. Large, healthy looking things with a delicate fried crust, the flesh was moist and firm, and the sauce just exactly the right balance of tangy cayenne heat and dairy. Unfortunately (and it's a very big unfortunately) they'd seen fit to offer them with quite the worst "blue cheese" dip I'd come across outside of Domino's pizza, a horrid thin and artificial pile of gloop with no discernible texture and very little taste other than a faint note of chemical grease. The fact the same kitchen could make chicken wings so good and saw no issue in serving them with this travesty of a blue cheese dip is genuinely baffling. What were they thinking?


A couple of days before my trip up to Kilburn I'd found myself in the Temple Brew House, a friendly little spot near the office with an astonishing selection of draught beers. More out of hope than expectation I ordered their "Buffalo wings" and wasn't entirely surprised to discover they were disgusting - soggy, formless little things so overcooked they'd dissolved into mush, in an insipid "Buffalo" sauce that tasted more like Heinz tomato soup than anything involving Frank's Hot Sauce. However, bizarrely, the blue cheese dip they came with was wonderful - fresh and vibrant with huge chunks of blue cheese, it was everything a blue cheese sauce should be. Someone should get these guys together; with the Temple Brew house dip and the Wingmans chicken, they'd have an unbeatable combo. It would be like when Yianni met Scott Collins.


Wingmans (I hate saying that word) also do the usual Asian-influenced variations. Shanghai Oriental was decent, with the same good chicken and addictive crunch of the Buffalo paired with ginger, spring onion and coriander. I've certainly had far worse. And "Jamaican Me Crazy" wings were certainly the advertised "HOT!" although I'd quite liked to have seen scotch bonnet chillis being used instead of red for extra Carribbean authenticity.


Truffle parmesan fries were good, although leaving the skins on always smacks slightly of laziness. And a bowl of "spicy Korean gochujang and sesame cucumbers" was underpowered, tasting of little more than rubbery cucumber. So yes, the sides need a bit of work.


I don't know how to come to any easy conclusions about a restaurant that can get one half of a dish perfectly right, and another half incredibly wrong. I really want to give 10/10 for the chicken and 1/10 for the blue cheese dip, but that way madness lies so instead I'll just go for a score that vaguely reflects my overall satisfaction with the place; namely, not very satisfied but not completely disappointed either. Plus there's every chance that one day soon Wingmans may realise their blue cheese dip is a disaster and will have another shot at it. Until then, the search for the perfect product goes on. Is anyone out there ready to be the Meatwagon of Buffalo wings?

6/10

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, how I miss the Buffalo wings in New York!

Ok, so they’re not Buffalo, but Good Friends in Deptford are the best wings I have had in London. They shift through huge vats of them, for good reason. Lots of heat, lots of crunch, and lots of meaty chicken!

sunfug said...

Chris, I'd argue that Mike and Nick of Orange Buffalo are the Meatwagon of the Wings world in London. They've been plying their trade for 6 years now and for at least 2 of those they had no challengers. Meatwagon's Brixton Market-based Wishbone was one but it was awful, a real misstep I thought. OB have a range of sauces and you must have had their Vincent (Mango) sauce. It's not to my taste but their Original and Woof woof varieties are much superior versions of the standard Frank's n' butter. For a time they had an under-the-counter Chipotle sauce which was the absolute bomb. It was discontinued due to the high cost of making it requiring several bottles of Bourbon to produce a batch. As you can probably tell I'm a huge fan not least because Nick and Mike are two of the nicest fellows you could come across. From my experience most attempts at Buffalo Wings in our City owe a big debt to the OB boys.

sunfug said...

Chris, I'd argue that Mike and Nick of Orange Buffalo are the Meatwagon of the Wings world in London. They've been plying their trade for 6 years now and for at least 2 of those they had no challengers. Meatwagon's Brixton Market-based Wishbone was one but it was awful, a real misstep I thought. OB have a range of sauces and you must have had their Vincent (Mango) sauce. It's not to my taste but their Original and Woof woof varieties are much superior versions of the standard Frank's n' butter. For a time they had an under-the-counter Chipotle sauce which was the absolute bomb. It was discontinued due to the high cost of making it requiring several bottles of Bourbon to produce a batch. As you can probably tell I'm a huge fan. Their wings are crispy bits of spicy deliciousness and Nick and Mike are two of the nicest fellows you could come across. Their crew over the years has reflected this being an eclectic, interesting and lovely bunch. From my experience most attempts at Buffalo Wings in our City owe a big debt to the OB boys.

SamTheFoodFan said...

I tried Wingmans for the first time this weekend at the BST festival. You're spot on - the wings were excellent and I put the poor blue cheese sauce down to the fact that it was festival food. Really not that difficult to get right, hopefully they'll work it out soon. There certainly is a gap in the UK market for decent Buffalo wings!

Mary said...

MeatLiquor are the answer! They do amazing wings and their blue cheese dip is scandalous!

Ben Gardner said...

Randys Wings!