I love fried chicken. It started when I was five and my mum used to bring back bargain buckets from KFC. We'd sit as a family around a wooden table like an ad agency's wet dream, laughing and making empty friendly gestures at each other as we passive aggressively tried to eat as much of that sweet golden brown coating as we could. “Oh look – little Tommy has got a smidgen of coleslaw on his nose!” Oh, how we laughed.
Nowadays I can pretty much measure my life according to what kind of fried chicken I'm eating. Drunk? 20 chicken mcnuggets. Hungover? Two zinger tower burgers. Comedown? 20 chicken mcnuggets, two zinger tower burgers and my favourite film, indiana chicken strips and the temple of hot sauce.
So when I heard of a fried chicken and gravy popup called ‘Gravy Train’, I thought to myself, yes, this is a thing I could get down with.
“Basically we used to do private fried chicken and tequila nights in north London. Eventually these nights grew too big to be in our houses and we took it to the roads.”
That’s Gravy Train founder and head honcho Pasquale Daniel. Although the popup has travelled around London, by roads he usually means the beer garden of charming Islington boozer The Myddleton Arms, which can be found nestled serenely off Essex Road. This is a good thing, because if there’s one thing everyone likes more than fried chicken, its booze.
The first thing I did notice was the simplicity of the menu. Basically, it’s fried chicken and gravy done either in a burger, with mash or with coleslaw. But if a life time of eating fish and chips has taught me anything it’s that you don’t fuck around with the classics.
I ordered the Original GT, which had five strips, gravy, mash and hot sauce. My mates ordered some more strips and gravy and also their current special, BBQ glazed wings. Godamn. This fucking chicken man. I’m not even joking, I hate jokes. But this fucking fried chicken was some of the best I ever tasted. It was firmly crispy but still tender in the middle, enough so you can do that bendy thing they do in KFC adverts where it bends a bit then breaks open to reveal the white glowing tender meat inside. You know what I mean, that bendy thing they do. According to Pasquale the secret is soaking the chicken in milk the night before you bread it. But I wondered why it was called Gravy Train, when the chicken was this good.
He said: “The gravy theme comes from the caramelised gravy being the sly star of the show.”
Holy shit, the fucking gravy is CARAMELISED. I don’t even know what that entails but it was some of best consistency in a gravy I ever smooched. Rich tasting, but thick enough to get a fat scoop of it on the end of your chicken strip, it made the perfect accompaniment to the meat and creamy mash, especially when I dashed a tub of their hot sauce in it as well to make my hybrid FrankenGravy.
I didn’t even get to try the BBQ glazed wings because my mate kept on hitting my hand away when I tried to grips one but I managed to get a fingertip to the glaze and I could tell just from the brief encounter that them wings were ready to challenge for the World Wing Title 2015.
You’d think that with something as ubiquitous as fried chicken it would be hard to make it stand out, but somehow Gravy Train manages to do it with it’s simple but very strong flavours. Pasquale says: “We started making it ourselves because although we were raised on high street chicken shops, as we got older and our palettes more refined we knew it could be done better.”
And fair play. There are a thousand neonlit chicken shops out there that you can find me drowning my drunken regret in on any given night, so it takes something special to make me sit up and take notice, and Gravy Train did just that. Literally I actually sat up in the middle of eating it; it was strange, yet felt so right.