(Update, 25th August: Bigbe Chicken is now Good Friend Chicken, and has moved a couple of doors down. When I last went, it was much the same with an expanded menu and slightly higher prices of around 30p or so per item. The old favourites were still superb, but the squid, which I hadn’t tried before, was terrible. Other new items, like chicken necks, were OK but slightly awkward to eat. “Good Friend” is still great, but unless you’re feeling adventurous stick to the popcorn chicken and chicken breast.)
Bigbe Chicken is a small Taiwanese fried chicken shop in Chinatown that opened about three weeks ago. I heard about it from Lizzie’s Hollow Legs blog and visited it late one night after attending a film premiere around the corner.
Its menu is small and straightforward: three different kinds of chicken, deep fried squid, and some sweet potato fries. I went for the deep fried breast and a batch of popcorn chicken.
The first thing you need to know is that the portions are enormous. I didn’t think the chicken breast’s £5.50 price was too bad to begin with, but once I saw that they were the size of a football hammered about half an inch thick I realised that I was on to a true bargain. Popcorn chicken was appreciably different, with a much greater batter to chicken ratio and fried for longer for a crispier shell.
All are topped with your choice of flavoured powders – I had ‘special pepper’ (Sichuan, I think) and chilli powder on my chicken breast and Thai seasoning on my popcorn. The pepper and chilli, recommended by our very chatty and friendly server Laura, was sweet and spicy, and soaked into the batter nicely. The Thai was maybe slightly underpowered for the popcorn chicken, whose batter was so thick it probably needed something punchier, but it was hardly a problem.
The chicken itself was magnificent. It was hot, crispy, salty, juicy and meaty, and the sheer pleasure of holding a giant piece of searingly hot chicken in your hands while you nibble off bits as it cools in your hands is hard to overstate. I can’t work out how it managed to stay so hot throughout me eating it but I’m happy to say that I didn’t burn my mouth.
Popcorn chicken was perhaps even better. The thumb-sized pieces were fried to a perfect crunch and had, I think, a slightly more peppery batter than the breasts. The portion was about two fistfuls which, for £2.99, might be the best value for money food you can get anywhere in central London. The sweet potato fries I tried were also fried to a crisp, though in general I don’t really like sweet potato.
My friend had the drumstick, which was actually quite a big full leg with thigh attached, and looked like it had been cooked long or hot enough for the grease inside (a personal bugbear of mine) to melt away. I’m going back this weekend to try some off-menu things like chicken skin and parson’s nose, which I asked the owner about after reading about them in Lizzie’s review.
I predict that quite soon Bigbe chicken will become so popular that you’ll have to queue around the block to get some. It deserves it. They have done something simple but new, and done it rather brilliantly at an unbelievably good price. My suggestion: get there before everyone else does.
Score: Two medals.