For some reason, London’s restaurants find it extremely difficult to do good buffalo wings. No matter how good somewhere is in other respects, their wings will likely be slimy, soft and coated in some sweet, sickly, tomato-based sauce.
I have no idea why this is. Buffalo wings in America, even at chain restaurants and dive bars, are usually pretty good. They’re easy to do at home, if you have a deep fat frier or don’t mind improvising with a cast iron pot.
All you want is for them to be crispy (this is essential), hopefully somewhat meaty inside, and coated in a simple sauce of Frank’s (or, even better, Crystal) hot sauce mixed with melted butter. Kenji’s method is pretty foolproof, and involves cooking them twice – the first time, at a low heat, can be done in advance so you only need to give them a short time in a screamingly hot frier to get them nice and crispy outside.
I am so obsessed with London’s shoddy wings I’ve considered doing a piece naming and shaming the worst places, and investigating what it is that they get wrong. Do they only cook them once, at too low a temperature? Is the sauce the way it is for cost-cutting reasons, because Frank’s costs too much, or because other customers want something closer to a spicy marinara sauce than the simpler, traditional, vinegary one? Who knows. I don’t even want to begin thinking about why so many places think putting breadcrumbs on wings is a smart move – too much KFC, I guess. And why on earth is anywhere so lazy as to serve the wings unjointed, let alone with the inedible wingtips left on? This last one is invariably a sign of a lazy, cynical restaurant that should be avoided at all costs.
There are some exceptions. Stickywings on Brick Lane has done a valiant job for a few years now, sacrificing some meatiness for crispiness (a reasonable trade-off) but giving a good, traditional sauce. Thunderbird, despite breading its wings, is OK if you’re in the neighbourhood, and at least serves generously large wings. The original Meatliquour and Meatmission do decent wings as sides, although I can’t comment on the dozens of new Meatliquour branches that have sprung up in the past few years.
Now Orange Buffalo has set up a fixed restaurant, after seven years operating out of a foodtruck in Spitalfields. Sat on a corner in Tooting between a McDonald’s and the Gala Bingo Club, it is a bright, loud fast food outlet with no pretension.
Some of the six sauces are available to sample before you order: as well as two heat levels of their main sauce, we tried a gochujang-based Korean sauce and a chilli-mango sauce. There’s also a barbecue sauce and a sauce advertised as being excruciatingly hot, but I don’t know why you’d want either of those.
The standard portion is eight wings for £8, which is a little mean considering the per item cost cannot be more than a few pence each. A kilo of wings is £1.70 at Sainsbury’s – Orange Buffalo’s may be better quality, but this feels unnecessarily stingy, especially for a dish that many restaurants manage to offer in unlimited quantities. You can add up to six more wings for 50p each.
The wings themselves were cooked excellently. The skin was perfectly crispy, with plenty of knobbly, crispy bits outside, and hot, juicy meat inside. They were slightly larger than usual (which might account for the price, to some extent), and retained their crispiness as they cooled down while we ate through them.
The sauces were good. The original was slightly too thick for my liking, and I would have liked an option to have a simple hot sauce and butter coating, but it tasted good and, texture aside, was fairly close to what I wanted. The hotter “woof woof” flavour was moderately hot, but not unenjoyably so. Surprisingly, the Korean coating was probably the best of the bunch – it was savoury, somewhat hot, and the coriander on top added some freshness to it.
The ranch dressing dip was fairly standard ranch, which is no bad thing – it’s hard to beat the flavour of dill and sour cream/buttermilk with hot wings. But the blue cheese dip was really weird – it barely tasted of blue cheese at all, with no tang or funkiness I’d expect, and had the consistency of egg mayonnaise. A disappointment that I would avoid in future.
There were a few minor issues with the service: the guy taking our order wasn’t really listening to us when we ordered so didn’t take down that we wanted the six extra wings (I realised later on and we were able to add them), and they were served without dips and I had to go back downstairs to get them. Obviously these are not a big deal, but the restaurant was not busy and it’s kind of annoying anyway.
Overall, Orange Buffalo’s wings slightly edge out Stickywings for being the best buffalo wings you can get in London. While they lose a few marks for not offering a traditional buffalo sauce and for serving too few, to my mind, for the price, they are the best-cooked wings you can get without flying to the US.
Rating: One medal.