Amazing Billy and His Tasty Chicks

Originally published in my other blog Panasian Kitchen

We heard about Billy and Chicks via social media and wanted to try it.  We’d heard a lot of good things and as we love southern fried chicken we were very curious about how their chicken tasted.  We also found a Timeout voucher online that pretty much sweetened the deal for us (£5 for 2 pieces of chicken, chips and a drink – absolute steal!).  But if you find the voucher on Timeout, make sure you read the fine print because you can’t use the voucher on Fridays.

BATC mural front of house

So armed with our Timeout vouchers, on a rainy Thursday, we headed to Billy and the Chicks.  If you’re going to Soho Theatre, this is a convenient place for a pre- or post-theatre meal as it’s just around the corner.  But be warned that it is a very popular place for cocktails in the evenings so you have to expect a bit of a crush.  Lunchtimes are quieter as most of the punters tend to take their food away to go back to their offices.  Anyhow, we were seated as soon as we came in (we came at 12 noon and the place was virtually empty).  The staff are lovely and while they don’t hover over you, don’t hesitate to ask your questions because they’re really friendly and they know their food.  We presented our vouchers and were asked what we wanted to drink.  TOP TIP: If you get there early enough (just after 12 noon), you can choose what part of the chicken you want, i.e. breast, wing, thigh, or drumstick, because no one else has ordered and you can have your favourite chicken piece.

Fried chicken galore

The Timeout vouchers are an absolute deal because Billy and the Chicks are very generous with their chips (skin on potato fries that are almost chip shop like, crispy-crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside! YUM!).  I would think one serving of chips would be enough to share between 2 people or one very hungry (heavy on the very) person.

The pot of chips

The chicken was amazing.  The spice mix reminded me of how KFC tasted like when I was a kid.  It was very reminiscent of KFC in the late 80s.  The chicken is succulent and the flavour isn’t confined to just the breading and crunchy coating on the skin, it permeates through to the flesh.  When you cut into the chicken, you see how succulent it is because the liquid that comes out isn’t oil but juice…lots of it!  This is quite easily one of the best fried chicken I’ve had in the Big Smoke.

Timeout meal

We also tried the ribs which were okay.  The sweet-sour flavour of the ribs was interesting enough to make it stand out slightly from other pure ribs that you could get from fast food places.  The ribs aren’t mind-blowingly amazing, but they are okay and worth the try.  I loved the tangy-ness of the glaze.

Pressure fried pork ribs in a sweet sticky sauce

The menu is not huge but what they had on there was very complimentary to each other.  I was also quite pleased that they served gravy as a side.  I’m not quite sure why, but gravy doesn’t seem to feature in a lot of places that specialise in American-style fried chicken. I haven’t tried their gravy though.  But judging from the comments coming from the Australian group sitting at the next table, the gravy was really good.  They each ordered their own gravy sides.  They said they didn’t want to share!  That’s for next time…because I am going back. The chicken is really good and I am so looking forward to going back!

Juicy fried chicken

The restaurant space is interesting.  There are a lot of interesting photos everywhere – even a mural of Queen Victoria eating a drumstick!   I would have wanted it to be lit a bit brighter though.  We sat near the large front windows so we could see our food.

God feed the Queen!

I enjoyed my eating experience because apart from the food nostalgia, the music was, for lack of a better description, very cool.  All the music reminded me of the rap and hip hop music that I liked (mostly songs that were in the soundtrack of Save the Last Dance!) when I was growing up.  There is a large DJ booth in the corner which convinces me they take their music seriously!

The DJ and his booth

Most fast food places will want to turn their tables over quickly, but at Billy and the Chicks, we didn’t feel rushed.  It felt like we were allowed to enjoy and savour our food. The staff are friendly and very zen and I absolutely love the small touches like inserting the straw into the soda can tabs so the straw doesn’t float away.  To me that means that they think about the customer and what they can do to make the customer’s eating experience a little bit better.  It’s the little things that matter.

Straws and the soda can tab

If you want really good chicken, the finger-lickin good kind, visit Billy and his delicious chicks! Even without vouchers, I would pay for the food full price, because it is definitely worth it!

Billy and the Chicks, London

The friendliest fish and chippy on the Soho block!

We’d walked past Poppie’s in Soho several times during our recent trips to London.  The Soho branch is on Old Compton Street and Poppie’s in Soho has taken over what used to be Bobby Chin’s House of Ho.  Whilst the signage is mostly black and white, the bunting strung across the signage makes it very cheerful, and, dare I say it, very British!

My friend Ally was visiting from Singapore and this was the only opportunity we had to meet with her.  I’d asked previously if she’d already had a fish and chippy meal since she arrived in London, fish and chips being quintessentially British, to me anyway.  She said no so I thought it would be good to have fish and chips because it would be a substantial enough meal if we were hungry but light enough because, well, it was fish. While I am partial to the fish and chip shop where I live, there was no way I was going to haul my friend up to Harwich to have just a fish and chip meal and push her back onto the train back to London Town.  It was our first trip to Poppie’s but we’d heard a lot of good things about it online.  It was convenient because it was close to where we wanted to go to in London.

When you turn into Old Compton Street , Poppie’s will be easy to find because it will be hard to miss the bright red Mini parked in front emblazoned with Poppie’s logo.  We popped our head in the door and asked for a table for 3 and we were greeted pleasantly and promptly showed to a booth.  The dining area was bigger than I thought.  Since the shop had a food prep and cooking area and a take away counter separate from the main space, I didn’t expect the space to be comfortable.  I thought that they would’ve tried to stuff as many tables as was possible.  But I was very wrong.  We had enough space to wriggle around very comfortably.  There was a certain charm to the diner/shabby chic decor of the space.

The staff is friendly and cheerful.  My friend thought we were regulars because of how the serving staff interacted with us.  I daresay you won’t find a friendlier group of people in the food service industry!  They were really nice and happy.  Some people might think they might be overly familiar, but it was nice to have friendly service that felt really genuine and welcoming.  The Poppettes, as the servers are known, know their food as well and can answer your questions about food really well.

Our food came out fairly quickly and piping hot.  You knew that the fish was fried to order.  The portion of chips was a great ratio to the regular portion of fish.  The fish was fresh, sweet and cooked to perfection.  The service was great and they looked after us without us feeling like they were forever hovering.  When we finished, they cleared our plates away efficiently but we didn’t feel like they were hurrying us up to free up the table.  We were allowed to sit and chat and finish our drinks.  The bill was also a surprise because it was very reasonable for what we ordered.  Great value for money as well!

I chose to order the cod because cod is always a safe option when eating at an unfamiliar chippy.  But I am definitely going back and ordering rock for my next fish and chip meal at Poppie’s.  It is definitely worth it!  When you’re in Soho, pop into Poppie’s for the best fish and chip meal!  You won’t be disappointed!

Poppie's Soho

Where chicken is not a laughing matter: Absurd Bird

A version of this review was published on TripAdvisor and my other blog Panasian Kitchen.
I haven’t forgotten about my chicken bucket list.  Alan and I have been working our way through the list,  I just haven’t actually sat down to write my thoughts on the visit.  Thankfully I have photos to remind me of the visit.  With my memory, it would’ve have been difficult to write a review!
Absurd Bird is found on 54 Commercial Street, near Spitalfields Market, in London.  The buses go through Commercial Street so the location is commutable.  I’m not too certain about the parking, but I’m sure there is a way to find space for your vehicle.
IMG_4554You come into an interesting space with the bar in front. The seating spaces are interesting. There are interesting booths and long tables with homey upholstered benches. The space is great because one wall is made up of huge glass panels allowing the natural light to come in. The light fixtures are very interesting – gilded bird cages!
The food is definitely no laughing matter.  I’m thankful Mr Hyde sent me a mailshot that featured a discount for Absurd Bird.  It was the prompt Alan and I needed to go pay Absurd Bird a visit!

MrHydecouponAlan ordered the fried chicken sliders with a side of sweet potato fries.  The sliders have the same crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside chicken in them.  Every crunchy bite of the chicken was amazing!

SlidersThe sweet potato fries are yummy with a capital Y.  They were so crispy! I very rarely find crispy sweet potato fries. It was heaven in every crunch!

Crispy sweet potato fries I ordered the chicken and waffles with a side of coleslaw. The yummy sweet-sour coleslaw is more a salad sized serving instead of a side-sized serving and is a perfect side to the chicken.
Chicken and waffles You get 3 crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside pieces of chicken and 3 fluffy pieces of sweet waffle. You also get a small pot of maple syrup and (HURRAH!) a small pot of gravy!
ColeslawIt is excellent value for money and what we ordered was delicious! While we ordered on main meal and side each, I think what we ordered would have fed 4 people. The servings are generous and they are certainly worth every penny you pay for.

We didn’t order any alcoholic drinks but they serve lagers and cocktails I think.  If you’re attempting to limit the amount of calories and keep hydration simple, you can opt to just have tap water for the table.  They’re happy to do that for you as well.

Tap waterThe staff are amazing and very attentive without being helicopter servers (i.e. they don’t hover!)!  I found it refreshing that they knew their product and our conversations with them were natural and they were very helpful with suggestions.  I loved it that we got a chance to relax and enjoy the food that we ordered.

Generous portionsI am definitely going back for more of their chicken and waffles!

BIRD is not the word

Given the choice between beef, poultry, pork and seafood, I would choose poultry over pork, then seafood then beef.  Beef is probably the best source of protein, but I would chicken over most meats any day.

In the last quarter of 2014, I wrote about my Chicken Bucket List.  It was a list of up-and-coming places to eat that specialised in chicken that I wanted to try (the London food scene is alive, well, vibrant and varied!).  I must admit, the underlying criteria was that the places needed to serve some sort of Southern fried chicken-style dish.

It was their claim that they “served the best free range fried chicken you’ve ever tasted” that drew me to wanting to try their food.  I mean it’s a very brave and bold claim certainly.  The people at Bird must trust their food that much to make that sweeping generalisation.

I went to the Shoreditch restaurant and got there fairly early (I had misjudged how quick it was to walk from Liverpool Street station to the Shoreditch location – clearly I did walk faster than I thought).  So anyway, I was cool with having to wait outside and sit on the benches situated outside the restaurant.  It was fine.  Besides, Shoreditch is a very interesting place and there will always be something to see.

Bird ShoreditchSo when the restaurant finally opened (nearly 45 minutes later than what was on the doors), my tummy was rumbling excitedly.  I love Southern fried chicken, and while I cannot claim to be an expert, my Spit and Roast-inspired buttermilk fried chicken is really good.  Bird was one of the very few places at the time that served chicken and waffles.  I was hoping to get gravy and maple syrup.

More Bird spaceThe space was okay.  Nothing too styled, it was clean and not cramped, if a little dimly lit (it was located right next to a bridge, almost under it, so I wasn’t expecting a space awash with light!).  The decor was kitschy but cute, with framed caricatures of chickens.

Bird SpaceThe staff were nice enough, seating us in one of the table-chairs-banquette spaces that was nearer the Bird doughnut hatch, on the left side of the restaurant.  It was quiet and I loved the fact that it was the quieter side of the room.  I was ready for a relatively spiritual experience.  After all, we were talking about chicken and waffles here!  So orders (from slightly smudged menus) were taken and I ordered what I came to order: fried chicken and waffles (I was disappointed that it didn’t come with gravy as I’d wished, but that was my fault because I didn’t check out the menu online before I went.  They didn’t have any gravy on the menu).

Bird menuThe service was friendly and efficient and soon, plates of chicken pieces and fresh waffles were slide in front of us.  I’m not sure whether it was just that it was the early hour or if it was just the location.  But my chicken looked wrong.  I know that they battered their chicken and they didn’t bread it, but I found it a bit awkward that the chicken piece I was given had a scaly bit exposed – don’t get me wrong, it didn’t affect the flavour, it was just not pleasant to see.  We do eat with our eyes as well.

It went downhill from there.  I visited their website that evening and it does say that their chicken isn’t Southern fried chicken.  It’s fried chicken.  Granted it is fried, but you do get succulent fried chicken.  My chicken was dry and overdone, painfully so.  I’m not too certain how the chicken is prepared, whether it’s brined or marinated in buttermilk, but my piece of chicken wasn’t battered very well.  The batter had a bitter aftertaste, probably signalling that it had been left a little too long in oil that was a little too hot.  Mind you, I’ve incinerated enough chicken so I wasn’t too fussed so much.  It was just that the chicken was so dry that it was quite a struggle to adequately make a dent in the two pieces of chicken that my two waffles were served with.

Bird chicken and wafflesThe waffles were really nice, if a little on the light and thin side.  I loved that it was more savoury than sweet with the addition of spring onions.  Usually the waffles, in my humble opinion, provides the sweet element, to the sweet-salty flavour combination (the salty element provided by the chicken).  It was a refreshing change to have a properly savoury waffle.  It was great to be able to drench it in proper maple syrup.  I must say that I would probably happier just having the savoury waffles and the maple syrup instead.  But the restaurant is meant to specialise in poultry (its name is Bird).

Bird wafflesI realise that everyone has their opinions and food is a relatively subjective experience.  But I was disappointed.  It wasn’t the chicken experience I was expecting, and for me, it wasn’t the best free range fried chicken experience.  I probably won’t go back to any of the other Bird locations.

Sadly, for me, BIRD was NOT the word.

Book du jour: After You by Jojo Moyes

Push yourself.  Don’t settle.  Just live well.  Just live.

But after the person you love the most in the world dies, how do you go on?

I’m guessing this is the question that Jojo Moyes attempts to answer in her beautiful sequel to the amazing book Me Before You.

I nearly fell off my chair (well, okay, that’s an overstatement as I was sitting on my couch when I found out Jojo Moyes had written the sequel of the heartbreaking novel Me Before You.).  If you haven’t read it, DO!  But be warned that the story will clutch at your heart and leave you reaching for tissues, more than once!  It is a story about a girl who cares for a paraplegic who is determined to end his life.  I won’t really say too much as I always think spoilers are what they are; they spoil stories for people.  I am not too bothered about finding out a story’s ending because even if I know how the story ends, I love finding out how you get to the end (I remember while in school in Chemistry, or Physics, or Maths, or Algebra, or Geometry or Trigonometry or Calculus I always enjoyed working my way back – I enjoyed knowing what the end was and learning how to work my way back to find out how you got to the answer.  Weird, I know!).  But there will be people who mind knowing how the story ends.  It was at times a difficult read, but in true Jojo Moyes fashion, she writes out these poignant scenes that are at the same time sad and funny.  You can’t help but cry, sniffle and chuckle at the same time.

I couldn’t help but buy the (Kindle) book when I found out that the sequel to Me Before You was out.  While the story broke my heart, I loved Lou (Louisa) and I wanted to find out what happened to her after Me Before You ended.  Jojo Moyes did not disappoint.  She has written a lovely story that while intrinsically connected to Me Before You, you can very definitely read this book independently.  This book was one of the reasons why I was happy to go to work and why I was so eager to get on that train home.

I finished reading the book this evening, just as the train pulled into Harwich International.  And while I was feeling a bit weepy, there are benefits to reading in a public place.  You rein in your emotions but you’re more aware of how emotional the book makes you because when you struggle to keep your emotions in check, you’re more aware of how emotional you are!

Even if you haven’t read Me Before You, read After You.  It stands on its own merit and it is, as all Jojo Moyes books are, beautifully written and the insights into people’s emotions are amazing.  It is a must read BUT you must remember two things when you start reading this book: you will, at some point, need a box of kleenex and the book is unputdownable!

After You

Style over substance

Ping pong

I love dimsum.  Particularly siu mai.  I’ve always thought that if dimsum was the universe, siu mai (and it’s numerous varieties) was the point of the big bang.  Where everything started.  But that’s my opinion.  I’m sure Chinese cuisine historians have differing opinions.

I miss the Philippines and it’s numerous siu mai kiosks dotted around.  If you wanted siu mai, there would be some small kiosk that you could go to to satisfy the craving.  It’s not so available here in the UK.  While Chinese takeaway is a favourite and every town, no matter how small, will have a Chinese takeaway establishment, not all the takeaways have dimsum.  The closest thing to dimsum is wanton soup, which is, thankfully, available on all the Chinese takeaway menus where I live.  Small favours, and am very thankful for them!

I am a huge fan of the dimsum trolley service.  Ladies going around the restaurant, pushing steaming trolleys filled with tiny bamboo steam baskets filled with unknown goodies.  I love the excitement of finding out what the trolley is carrying: siu mai, dumplings, hakaw, beef balls, char siu pork in puff pastry, spring rolls, crab dumplings, crispy prawn balls, turnip cakes and the occasional lotus wrapped sticky rice parcel.  I’ve since started mourning the loss of 2 restaurants that did trolley service really well.  There was a restaurant that I only remember as CCK in Chinatown.  It stopped its trolley service, then turned into an all-you-can-eat then closed down.  Then came New World.  It was dimsum perfection — for a while.  The service and the quality of food has since declined and it’s been 2 years since I’ve been.  People have suggested going to Royal China either in Bayswater or Baker Street but I haven’t had the time to.  Since New World, I’ve only ever gone to dimsum restaurants that serve you dimsum after you order them.

We went to the newly opened Ping Pong brance in Westfield Stratford yesterday.  The only word that comes to mind is horrible.  They didn’t have prawn or pork siu mai (which, in my opinion, is the backbone of dimsum choices), the dimsum was bland and oversteamed.  When the steaming baskets came to the table, you uncovered a gelatinous mess!  Everything needed a bit of flavour because everything was basically globs of nothing.  Even the soy and the chilli oil and sauce were bland.  For all the colour and styling in the restaurant space everything faded into the beigeness of the food.  And never again am I coming back to a Ping Pong branch.  It didn’t live up to the hype.  And it was all style and no substance.

 

Just saying

I logged on knowing that I hadn’t written anything on the blog for a considerable amount of time.  I didn’t really realise that the last blog entry I’d written was the day before Easter.  My how time flies, even when one isn’t having fun.  I’ve been battling a throat infection and a bad bout of flu for the past few weeks.

A few days ago I was in Notting Hill, mostly to find a Filipino restaurant that I’d been looking forward to trying.  I think I’m not alone in saying that if it was a Filipino restaurant, run by Filipinos, Filipinos would flock to it because Filipinos would, if they could.  I had eaten in another Filipino restaurant in London, in Charlotte Street, called Josephine’s.  The decor was a little dated but I didn’t mind it because the service, and of course the food, was wonderful.  Despite the fact that there were other customers, I felt well-looked after, not ignored.

That wasn’t the case in this other restaurant.  I know I definitely looked Filipino and made the point of mentioning that I was Filipino and read about the restaurant which was why I wanted to try it but I got an indifferent response.  Colder than lukewarm.  Most Filipinos would ask where you lived, how long you lived there and what you did for work.  This wouldn’t really be intrusive, it’s just the way Filipinos connect.  There are about 300,000 Filipinos spread all over the UK, a mere drop in the ocean compared the general population.  My experience, so far, has always been Filipinos wanting to connect with each other.  But funnily enough, the warm and effusive welcome for a fellow Filipino that I was hoping for was not what I got.  There was no effort to connect, there was no effort to engage.

The food was okay but the ordering wasn’t explained (the menus were on clipboards on the wall and you took one to the table then ordered at a make-shift looking counter), I had to ask.  The options weren’t explained but after I asked if I could have water instead, I was told they could serve me water.  I just felt like they weren’t interested in the business that I brought in.  And I was massively, massively disappointed.

There was another person in the restaurant, a person who, from the conversation I could overhear was a friend.  The person at the counter talked to this friend more than he talked to me.  I think most restaurants, in this day and age, would fight tooth and nail for punters.  I didn’t feel important to this establishment.  I felt like I was an interruption to their conversation.  I felt completely unwelcome.

Even now when I think about it, I feel like crying.  The entire experience was that awful.  I know I only paid £10 in total for my food.  But I would’ve rather not gone now.  I hope they treat other paying customers differently.  More importantly, if they’re going use a Filipino word for their restaurant name, I pray that they treat fellow Filipinos better because the Pinoys that come to them want to come in and feel like they’re in a Filipino oasis in the hustle and bustle of London.

Service is as service done, but this was badly done.  Very badly done.  I’m certainly not going back to this Filipino restaurant.