Monday, 5 December 2016

Restaurant Review: Chick 'n' Sours, Seven Dials, London

London! We were up to our necks in it the other weekend, what with a rather brilliant wedding taking place in Islington between two very lovely people that we know. We just had time to squeeze in a spot of lunch in town before meeting people and doing stuff, so, being the zeitgeist-surfing trend-observing types that we are, we headed straight to Seven Dials for a spot of fried chicken. Because, in 2016, nothing says achingly cool more than doing what KFC have been doing for years, but just bloody better.

I tell you what though, once we secured and squeezed around a table - prepare to get familiar with your fellow man if you eat here - there was no mistaking we were among a far higher and more intimidating class of hipster than you tend to catch around Newcastle. The basement dining room was packing some powerful looks around its banquet and bar seating. I ignored them all so as to not feel scruffy and uncool and concentrated on the menu as the never-bettered sounds of Donna Summer and Giogio Moroder filled the gaps between conversations.

It all sounded pretty great, and was short enough for us to be able to order about half of the whole thing. I like being able to do that, it makes you feel all greedy and decadent. To hell with it, give me everything! I imagine when the barbarians were at the gates of Rome, people ordered generously. To be honest, it feels a bit like that nowadays what with one thing and another, so sod it: fried chicken for all!

The original Chick 'n' Sours is in Dalston and was a joint brain-fart between business partners Carl Clarke and David Wolanski. The former has had a career that I'll lazily describe as interesting, what with him having been a big-name DJ as well as working for chefs like Simon Rogan at Roganic and being Executive Chef for Harvey Nichols in Istanbul. This place in Covent Garden is their difficult second restaurant.

Except that, actually, they make it all seem so easy. Everything is brilliantly slick and organised, service doesn't miss a beat and we were in and out crazily quick. More on that in a bit, but first, lets have a look at some of the food.

Szechuan aubergine
I had heard big talk about the Szechuan aubergine, so duly procured some. The aubergine itself had that lovely creamy texture which happens when it's been cooked for significant time, while the batter was at the sturdy end of the tempura spectrum. The whole thing was treated with a slick of a dark, hoi-sinnish sauce, spiked with chilli, but, slightly disappointingly, none of those addictively numbing szechuan peppercorns. Still, this was fine stuff.

Pickled watermelon rinds
The house pickle was watermelon rinds, and they were very good too. Crunchy and chewy all at the same time, while lovely and sweet, the result of either significant quantities of mirin, sugar, or both.

House fry: Seaweed crack and pickled watermelon
The house fry was dusted with some sort of nori powder, or "seaweed crack", as they're calling it. I can't imagine robbing from my parents or prostituting myself for another plate of it, so perhaps they're going a bit far with that description, but it was nonetheless very tasty indeed. Biting through just about the right amount of seriously crunchy coating before making contact with steaming, juicy bird was a good time. If the chicken has been brined, then it was not overly so, for it lacked the pappiness that can be the result of this technique when too enthusiastically applied. The pickled watermelon was refreshing, but also, being spiked with a lot of chilli, a fine thing in itself.

Guest fry: General Tso glaze, chilli, springonion and soy pickled green beans
The guest fry would have been more fun if the stuff it was slathered in hadn't been either the exact same, or as near as dammit, as what we had on the aubergine starter. Maybe they could have alerted us to this fact. Still, more very good fried chicken, although once you'd caught a bit of that dense, sweet dark sauce, everything just tasted of it and the fact that they're getting quality birds to dunk in their oil was neither here nor there. With hindsight, we should have gone for the K-Pop bun, which looked like a remarkable bit of work.

Hunan style cucumbers
A side of smacked cucumbers was nice, although more chilli, and especially more garlic, would have been fine by me. We also got some very decent beef dripping fries and, just for a bit of greenery, a really good slaw that I think involved mandolined raw green beans, and definitely involved a fair whack of ginger.

Rye 'n' black; house soda
A word for the drinks which were completely great. My rye sours benefited greatly from the inclusion of red wine syrup and was so perfectly balanced it could have walked a tightrope if you'd asked it too. Kasia's house soda was based on watermelon, citric acid and minimal carbonation, and was very nice too.

So, how long do you reckon it took us to get in, eat and drink all this, visit the toilet (separately), pay and get out? Just over half an hour! We emerged blinking into the late afternoon feeling we'd just been subjected to a well-greased and very fashionable hit and run job. I get that rents in this part of the land are insane, and that they're serving a short menu and that the whole point is to turn tables as fast as poss, but still. The thing is, we didn't exactly feel rushed, it's just that the gaps between us asking for something and it arriving, or between something disappearing and the next thing turning up were basically zero. I've seen the future of trendy yet attainable dining and it's bloody quick.

I think this is one of those meals that also suffered just slightly from the curse of high expectations. I had read Marina banging on about this place in the Graun a couple of weeks prior to our visit. Nonetheless, the idea of serving excellent quality fried chicken with a range of tangy, zingy drinks and sides is a sound one, and the people behind Chick 'n' Sours are to be congratulated on being so utterly competent. We waddled off to get some good coffee before hitting up Paul A Young chocolates. Soho is great.


Chick 'n' Sours
1a Earlham Street
Seven Dials



  1. What's better than a mix of fried chicken and chinese-style vegetables? I love the idea of it! When I lived in China I loved the aubergine dishes they did but it's difficult to find a good authentic version of it. Where were the Sichuan peppercorns?! I'm going to have to add this to my foodie list when I'm next in London!

    1. I know, their concept is sound as a pound! I'm hoping to find a few sichuan peppercorns at La Yuan tonight...


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