For most of my life I didn’t believe people who said that they preferred brown chicken meat to the white stuff. To me, the thighs and legs were greasy, fatty offcuts that you ate with a roast chicken to remind yourself that, like all good things, the breast and skin came with a price tag. Anyone who volunteered to eat the brown meat was a pathological altruist and not to be trusted.
That’s usually been my experience in restaurants, too, which in London somehow seem to struggle with deep-frying a chicken wing enough to make it edible, let alone a thigh or leg. So I was nervy about the menu of Chick ‘n Sours, which demoted breast to ‘boneless white meat’ below the leg and thigh ‘House Fry’, but I went for the brown stuff all the same.
We started with the St Agur blue cheese salad, which came dotted with little bits of what I think was guacamole and sprinkled with bits of bacon and fried chicken skin, and the Szechuan aubergine, which was cubes of deep-fried aubergine with a spicy, sweet sauce (this was their take on fish-fragrant aubergine).
The salad was just a little bit too understated for my liking – even good, fresh lettuce is usually quite flavourless and I was hoping for a stronger blue cheese flavour. The aubergine was crispy and the sauce so good that we drank it straight from the bowl (just as at Som Saa).
And then came the House Fry chicken – two large, rich brown pieces with a side of pickled watermelon, along with a blue cheese dip and a sriracha and sour cream dip we’d ordered separately. It was astonishingly textured and crunchy. As we tore it apart I was shocked and pleased to discover that this brown meat was not greasy, slimy or fatty – it was more like a confit duck leg than any chicken leg I’d ever had before.
We followed this with the Guest Fry, which was the same thing with a peanut satay sauce, coriander and thai basil. This was a little redundant – I love these flavours but the chicken coating mostly overpowered them, and eventually I just ended up dipping them into the lovely blue cheese sauce as if it was the normal thing.
Sides were good: the pickled watermelon rind tasted sweet and vinegary, just like my mother’s homemade pickled cucumbers but with more bite. The kimchi coleslaw was much better than any coleslaw I’d ever had before, although that might sound like damning it with faint praise. Both of these were acidic enough to cut through the richness of the chicken skin and sauces and paired very well with them.
The beef dripping chips were the first beef dripping chips I’ve tried that actually tasted like beef dripping, and indeed the bottom of the bowl ended up with quite a deep pool of dripping that, while slightly gross, tasted very nice.
All this was so good that my companion at one stage wondered if she could go and make herself throw up so she could continue eating. I’m happy to say she didn’t do that but I understand why she considered it.
Sours-style cocktails were a bit underwhelming, although at £6 each I didn’t feel as ripped off as I usually do with boring cocktails. My daquiri-style one was just bland, and the strawberry-flavoured house cocktail was too sweet and fruity for my tastes, although my companion enjoyed hers.
Chick ‘n Sours lived up to the impressive hype it has built, and if it wasn’t all the way up in Dalston I’d go back regularly. To cook brown chicken meat so well that even a white-meat supremacist like me loved it is an impressive feat, and the accompanying sides were interesting and delicious in their own right. Like many pop-up style places Chick ‘n Sours felt like it was being prepared for expansion into a chain. Unlike most of them, I hope it will be.
Score: Two medals. (For an explanation of our scoring system, see here.)