My love of fried chicken has taken me to the good, the bad and the ugly.
From the immediately regrettable six pieces for £5 from a questionable kebab shop, to my own sticky, spicy Korean fried chicken, it’s been emotional. But it wasn’t until my most recent trip to London that I had truly great fried chicken.
Many fried chicken joints (pop-ups and restaurants alike) pride themselves on “mama’s” home recipes. Sylvia, mama hen of Ma’Plucker, might have just opened the best fried chicken joint in London. Having flown the coop of America’s Deep South and landed in a noisy nook of Soho, Ma’Plucker set out to change your perception of a chicken dinner.
Walking in off Beak Street, something that drew a little chuckle from this lover of puns, you are straight into the beating heart of Ma’Plucker. A mirage of orange, 70s inspired geometric patterns and white tiled walls couldn’t be more warm and welcoming. And that’s before the infectiously cheerful staff greet you. It’s a good job they’re at hand, buzzing around the wooden shelving that adorns their till area, as the menu is not as simple as it may first appear.
In an attempt to spice up your selection choice, each part of your main meal is customisable; unless you stick to their ordinary menu options — but why would you?! Sylvia’s chicken can be enjoyed in three ways: crispy coated buttermilk dipped, chipotle rotisserie or hickory spiced pulled. Why would you do that to us Sylvia?! But before that you choose your base and a sauce. My guest (affectionately and appropriately nicknamed Pig) and I immediately entered into negotiations as we enjoyed the first of several frozen margaritas. These may be small, our only complaint, but they were fresh, full of flavour (and liquor) and magnificently more-ish…we unashamedly enjoyed three apiece over the course of the night.
While I opted for a healthy 250g portion of the pulled chicken on a waffle base, along with a saucer of homemade chicken skin gravy (after all, I am a Northerner); Pig stuck to tradition enjoying buttermilk chicken in a brioche bun. After the briefest of respites while we inhaled the incredible essence that can only come from beautifully cooked chicken, we tucked in and soon sank into a symphony of gluttonous groans. The pulled chicken had sensationally balanced seasoning and surrendered with the lightest touch; and this was before the introduction of the gravy — the best gravy I’ve ever tasted. It had a stunning depth of flavour, it really was chicken skin in liquid form. I immediately thrust a teaspoon in Pig’s direction and she concurred with the widest of eyes and a childish smirk. The buttermilk chicken had retained the creaminess from the wonderfully crisp batter, maintaining the succulent breast. A light brioche bun and large lettuce leaf allowed the chicken to shine, Pig selected a cool herb dressing which relieved some of the richness from the buttermilk and alleviated any greasy aftertaste.
Along with the bird we enjoyed two terrific sides of Ma’Plucker’s homemade baked beans and ‘crack & cheese’ — the second option was a foregone conclusion for me as anyone who knows me or has read previous articles would have guessed. The baked beans were doused in a deep but slightly spiced sauce that matched my chicken and gravy so well that they melted into a sumptuous similarity that some would take issue with, but not me! Nowadays I don’t take too kindly to chefs messing with the sacred dish of macaroni cheese, but Sylvia struck gold here by combing it with one of my favourite Italian delicacies, arancini. A golden globe of battered macaroni oozed upon opening, the cheese had not completely melted which was just glorious. I was like a kid at Christmas. I’d finely found my perfect fried chicken and it came with epic accompaniments, Sylvia could do no wrong.
As you could imagine, after such delights we afforded ourselves a rest before even contemplating dessert. During this time a large number of Australians landed and proceeded to continue drinking, as they had evidently enjoyed for most of the afternoon, and drove the volume up to eleven. Not that it detracted from the atmosphere in the slightest. Another group of Asian gentlemen had popped in earlier in our meal to enquire as to whether the meat was Halal; before promptly returning at 9pm to thoroughly break their fast. Meanwhile we noted the cute wire chickens which carried the sauces around the tables, Pig immediately wanting one. How anyone could ever not smile in here I do not know. The sights and sounds escaping the joint wafted across to the roaringly busy pub across the road. At least four separate groups of patrons trotted across the road over the course of our meal to order something to take out; as did an inhabitant from above the restaurant who had clearly just been to the gym but felt she had earned a treat/cheat night.
With a surprisingly brief list of proper desserts, we both chose sundaes to end on. We both had a look of guilt riddled regret when the gigantic sundaes arrived, we knew we were in trouble. The first spoonful however did remedy this a little. The sweet ’n’ salty popcorn sundae was devilishly sweet with it’s chocolate sauce drenching the smooth ice cream, balanced out in part by a dashing of salted popcorn. The cornflake and caramel alternative was another dentist frightening affair with even less taking away from the sugar — these unsurprisingly were not included in the “safe for the summer bod” dishes. Nobody could blame us for waving our white flags with half the sundaes sat staring at us through the glass.
We left Ma’Plucker giddy after such a gargantuan meal, I quickly certified it as one of the best meals I’d enjoyed in London and immediately recommend it to one of my friends as the next venue for one of his famous ‘meat ups’. Ma’Plucker had been promised as a mecca to meet my high expectations, well, they smashed it. Absolutely smashed it. I’d tried the rest, now I found the best.
Words by HQ