Bites

Something about the Bird

So…I’m all for second chances.

Last year, we went to Bird in Shoreditch because I wanted to try the chicken.  I think I’ve written about my love of chicken so many times that this trip to try Bird’s chicken is completely self-explanatory.  I also had my Chicken Bucket List (I will be posting an update to that post in the next few weeks, so please watch this space!) to consider.  So off to Bird we went!

And needless to say, I was quite disappointed.  If you want to find out how dismal our dining experience was, read about it here.  The chicken was dry and overcooked, the service was a lackadaisical and a bit blasé and I said I was never coming back to any Bird branch ever again.

Until we saw a voucher for Bird on TimeOut London for a three-course offering (sides, a chicken burger and a dessert).  Alan said there was no harm in trying Bird again, especially at that price (I can’t remember exactly how much that voucher was for but it was something like £15 per person plus drinks).  So I reluctantly agreed to purchase the vouchers and off we went.

The two visits couldn’t have been any more different!  It was like coming into a different restaurant all together.  I mean, same name, same decor, same menu, same venue…BUT totally different dining experiences.

The staff were absolutely friendly, and wanted to talk about their food.  I know the word passionate is overused in the food business, but they were.  They were actually excited about their food!  They were completely happy that we had the vouchers and they explained how we could get the most out of our vouchers.  So order the food we did!

We both ordered wings as sides.  Alan ordered wings with the honey and ginger sauce.  The sauce was on the sweet side but had that lovely ginger hit that stopped the honey from being sickly sweet.  It was a lovely sauce for the perfectly cooked wings.

I ordered the buffalo wings.  I loved it because it wasn’t blow-your-head-off spicy.  I love spicy food but I like it when it’s not so spicy that you can’t taste what you’re eating because it was too hot!  It was just the right blend of spicy, tangy and the floral peppery notes.   Plus, the accompanying blue cheese sauce was yummyyyyy and was an absolute bonus.

Then we ordered the chicken burgers.  There are 6 burgers to choose from the menu.  Being the buffalo addict that I was, I ordered the buffalo blue chicken burger.  This burger is a battered boneless chicken thigh fillet served on a brioche bun with buffalo sauce and a blue cheese slaw.  I don’t think I got a chance to take a photo of Alan’s burger but he ordered a bacon cheese burger.

Then we ordered Bird’s doughnuts for dessert.  Alan ordered a doughnut ice cream sandwich which I thought was a dessert big enough to feed a family of four!

I ordered the daily glazed doughnut special – which was, on the day, a mint chocolate glazed donut.  I thought it wouldn’t be as formidable as Alan’s desert of choice, but when my dessert arrived, it was bigger than I thought!

It was such a HUGE MEAL and which came to about £20, including drinks and service charge, per person.  But it was such a different experience from our first Bird meal.  We were looked after, but it wasn’t saccharine-sweet sincerity.  It felt very genuine, and they really wanted us to have a really good Bird experience.  We didn’t feel smothered and I was quite impressed because they asked us if the food was okay before we took bites, which I thought was nice.  It’s never nice talking around a mouthful of food.

When they saw me taking pictures, one member of staff, a cheeky but charming French guy (I wish I’d taken his name), encouraged me to take photos and to tell people about Bird and to write a review on TripAdvisor!  I thought was brave because he hadn’t asked me yet whether we had a good time.  I think he knew that we ate well and that the food was good.  That confidence in their product speaks well.

And to be fair, we like it so much, we went back again for just the wings!

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Bites

Best wings this side of the Atlantic!

This was first published as a review on Tripadvisor.

I love me a good chicken wing, so when the invite came to go to Randy’s Wing Bar, I said yes. I am partial to chicken well done. I think it has something to do with growing up on home cooked fried chicken with mash as a staple Sunday lunch. So I’m always on the look out for places that specialise in chicken (be it fried, southern fried, roasted, steamed…the list goes on and I will probably give it a go!).

We sort of wandered into Randy’s Wing Bar…virtually. After hearing about Randy’s, we looked at the reviews and for the most part, people were raving about the wings. Which was good, because,if you’re going to specialise in something, you might as well do them amazingly well, right?

We booked a table for a Monday evening. They have eat all you can wings on Mondays at the Here East location, but remember, you can’t eat all you can if you don’t book. You pay £14 for each person plus the price of drinks plus 12.5% service charge. One important thing to note, if you want to wing all you can, your choices are limited to 3 variants: buffalo, gangnam (Korean-inspired flavours) and Kansas wings. BUT it is TOTALLY worth it.

We arrived at 7, as booked, and we were efficiently showed to our seats. The place was already alive with the music cranked up and everyone laughing and chatting. It is a bar so expect a vibrant atmosphere. Because we said it was our first time there, our server explained the “mechanics” of the eat all you can wings promotion. You each ordered a wing flavour, and you must all finish your plates before your party can order the next round of wings. I think they just didn’t want people to waste wings.

I started with my favourite flavour, the Korean-inspired wings called Gangnam. The wings were succulent but I guess it depended on who was cooking the wings because mine were a bit to soy saucy. My idea of Korean style food is a good combination of soy, sesame, garlic, spring onion and ginger. I found that it wasn’t quite the balance that I expected. Don’t get me wrong, the wings were amazing. But the glaze didn’t blow me away, flavour-wise.

The next plate I tried was the Kansas wings. And they were VERY GOOD. I make a good Kansas dry rub so I was prepared to be disappointed. But as soon as I took a bit, I went OMG! The flavours were as authentic as I thought they could be. It was a good balance of spicy, tangy and a great kick of heat. Kansas would be proud.

The star of this particular show, though, were the buffalo wings. The reviews weren’t fudged…the wings were sooooooo good. My barometer for good buffalo wings are that they’re not too hot, just right to make your mouth feel this zing brought on by the chilli, but there is a flowery note that hits your mouth too. I know this sounds all too fanciful for just a bowl of wings, but that’s what I was expecting and I got all that in spades! A good bowl of buffalo wings come with an excellent blue cheese dip and Randy’s did not disappoint. i don’t know if they make their own blue cheese dip, but it was really good. The buffalo sauce and the blue cheese dip were amazing. I’d begged the server for an extra helping of blue cheese sauce because I was afraid I’d burn my mouth on the buffalo sauce (it has happened before that people made their buffalo sauce atomically hot). Our server didn’t forget. The buffalo sauce was amazing and the wings came already drizzled with the blue cheese dip, so really, I didn’t need the extra. But because the blue cheese sauce was so good, I didn’t mind finishing it anyway!

Like I said, the bar atmosphere was alive and the noise levels were slightly high. I wasn’t too bothered about this because it was a bar. The music was good though…it added to the experience. It was nice, if slightly dark. I kind of felt like someone was a little heavy-handed with the dimmer. But there was enough lights from the light fixtures overhead for you to see exactly what you were eating. I did like how they furnished the bar…I don’t know if they meant you to have an American bar feel, but it felt like it. Each table has rolls of kitchen roll because you will need them to wipe your fingers. There are a selection of the usual sauces as well. They bring you a bucket for your wing bones and tissues and several packs of lemon scented wipes, which are also handy. I love that they consider the little details like this – it shows that they thought of the entire customer experience!

There are other sauces/glazes available for the wings. They also have burgers and a selection of sides. They only have one dessert item, a dulce de leech brownie that looks amazing! But if it’s like their wings, it’s going to be absolutely amazing. I’ve seen the pictures and it looks amazing!

You can make your way to Randy’s Wing Bar by walking through the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (if you’re feeling virtuous and want to make sure you deserve the meal), or you can get one of the shuttles from the Stratford Bus Station that go to Here East (we didn’t know you could get a shuttle when we were going!). If you look on the maps, it looks like it’s a short walk from the Hackney Wick station, but I can’t be sure.

To date, I can safely say, these are the best buffalo wings I’ve tasted in the UK. I am looking forward to going back because at £7.50 per serving of wings, it is great value for money because the bowls are sharing sized.

Bites

A meal in grand surroundings

This was a review I published on my TripAdvisor page.

The current structure of the Royal Exchange in London was designed by William Tite and it was opened by Queen Victoria in 1844. It currently houses luxury shops and offices. I didn’t know that you could go in and look around it because I thought it was part of the Bank of England. I thought entry was restricted to people going there on official business.

I was recently told that there was a cafe inside and that it was open to the public. It was sign posted outside and we usually get on a bus that goes past the Royal Exchange. I don’t know how I missed the signs for a cafe and shopping outside! I guess when you don’t look for something, you completely miss it when you see it!

When you do go in, try to go in via the main entrance, where the portico and pediment are. Walk up the steps, walk past the gorgeous 8 Corinthian columns and go through the green iron-wrought gates. Once you are through the double glass doors, remember to look up. The interior of the Royal Exchange is breathtaking!

Right-smack-dab in the middle of the original Royal Exchange courtyard is the Royal Exchange Grand Cafe and Bar. When we went in May, the very chic oval bar was decorated with lovely cherry blossoms (I think the theme changes every season). I thought we would be underdressed because it was where the financiers of London worked (plus you had luxury shops like Boodle, Omega and Mont Blanc surrounding the courtyard) as we were dressed to be London tourists for the day. But we were greeted very warmly by the cafe staff and we were seated immediately (come early if you want to have a leisurely breakfast – I guarantee the surroundings will make you want to dawdle and gawp!).

The staff are very efficient but you don’t feel rushed. Our server was amazing, very friendly and I never felt scared to ask questions. The breakfast menu was quiet good: you had an option to go Continental and have toast and tea (or coffee) or your choice of an eggy breakfast (poached, scrambled, fried or in an omelette) with your choice of additions. If you preferred, you could have a pastry for breakfast or cake. It’s almost silver service but not formal enough for you not to enjoy your breakfast and stare at the sumptuous surroundings.

We chose to eat a light breakfast of toast and tea. I chose it because I loved sourdough bread and they served you that (you had the option of choosing the seeded bread too). When the toast came, I was pleasantly surprised because we got more than I expected to get. You get 2 types of jams (they came in individual-sized jam pots) per person and a large pat of French butter. The staff are solicitous and they do ask you if you need more jam or butter. I love to slather butter on my toast so I had to ask for more and they provide that with a smile and flourish. You get your tea served in a silver teapot but I do have to warn you, if you get the teapots with the metal handle, ask for an extra napkin to wrap around the handle because it is hot! The staff are very understanding though so they are happy to provide you with more napkins.

The Grand Cafe also does afternoon tea. They are currently running a Japanese-themed afternoon tea, which runs until 30 June. You may need to visit the Royal Exchange Grand Cafe website to see what their offerings are if you intend to visit after 30 June. You will be served a savoury course and then a sweet course. They aren’t stingy with the tea. I call it a tea-all-you-can service. You can change you tea choice mid-way if you choose. You can choose to start with a fruit infusion, or a mint tea and finish with a green or black tea option. If you don’t ask for more tea, the wait staff will ask you if you want more tea, and you don’t get charged for it. The teas are part of the set price that you pay. It is currently £20 for the classic afternoon tea and £28 for a cocktail afternoon tea. There is a 12.5% service charge.

Whilst they don’t do the traditional tiered cake stand type of presentation, I think it changes according to the afternoon themes. I might go back to find out!

It is good value for money, for where it’s situated. The service is wonderful and I can’t say it enough that I loved how friendly the staff were. They encourage you to have a wander around as well because there are gorgeous murals that can be viewed from the mezzanine level where the Gallery is situated.

It is an experience not to be missed, and not a lot of people know that you CAN have the experience!

Bites

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

Bites

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

Bites

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!

Bites

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.