Chicken Town opened late last year on a wave of goodwill. It’s concept was simple – making fried chicken that isn’t slow poison. The last decade has seen Britain’s cities infested with chicken shops flogging greasy misery and chips for a couple of quid a box. School kids have been gorging on the stuff. And, although I can only speak for London, it ain’t the teenagers whose parents are packing them artisan lunchboxes who are eating this dubious filth the most.
Opening in Seven Sisters, Chicken Town’s idea was to put a stop to all this nonsense with a restaurant that serves as a proper sit-down chicken joint in the evening, using the profits from that to subsidise £2 chicken and chips boxes for school kids in the daytime – basically giving kids a chance to get the same amount of food they would from their local fried grot shop, but with the bonus that the chicken they’re consuming is the kind of lovingly prepared organic, herb fed bird that are normally restricted to tech industry professionals who’ve just bought a 3 bedroom place over looking London Fields.
So far, so worthy – you’d have to be something of a chump to pick holes with a social enterprise that targets a problem genuinely messing with the health of a swathe of London’s kids. But worthiness does not a good dinner make, so the big question- which we at Ransom Note determined to answer- was this; is the chicken in Chicken Town actually any good? So with true entrepreneurial spirit, we wandered over to Seven Sister’s on a Wednesday night to find out. And just for kicks (and because I’m too cheap to pay for a babysitter) we bought my 3 year old son with us.
The place itself is pretty easy to find – it’s about 7 minutes from Seven Sisters overground and 4 minutes from the underground. There are tables out the front, but frankly, you’d have to be mental to want to sit anywhere near the traffic carnage of the Seven Sisters road. Inside, it’s looking good, pink neon, wooden floors, and some inflatable parrots that my boy was very into. The place is run by Ben Rymer, who’ll (and he’ll probably not thank me for pointing this out) once had an illustrious career as a third of the International DJ Gigolo signed electroclash outfit Fat Truckers. Let’s just remember them for a second:
Rymer is a notorious scallywag who has offended pretty much all of London’s club scene at one point or another. He's apparently emerged from his chrysalis into some sort of fluffy humanitarian in the intervening years- I can honestly say I never thought I’d be in a position where he was blowing up novelty chicken balloons for a 3 year old, but that was the first thing he did as we came in. He then wandered around the place being (Jesus, am I imagining this?) friendly to the customers. The staff in Chicken Town are all on London living wage or higher, and the upshot of all this geniality is the atmosphere in the place appears to be one of actual happiness rather than the grinding gloom of wage slaves. Things were looking good.
We decided to go for the banquet – there were 5 of us (including junior) eating in the end, and the banquet worked out round £12.50 each between 4 – and for this price you get a mountain of nosh. The chicken itself came in a stack of massive thighs and drumsticks. The hench size is down to two things; the chickens used are all top of the range, non-battery farmed animals, and the meat is soaked in buttermilk for 24 hours, which expands it. On the day they’re steamed and then flash fried in rapeseed oil for a lighter fry. The end result is a huge, tasty bite. This lot came accompanied with a bunch of sides – collard greens, sweet potato wedges, chips, mash and gravy, coleslaw and macaroni cheese. The mac & cheese was particularly banging, probably because it’s a full fat monster, and the least healthy thing on the menu. Drinks wise we were powering through a local ale which I’m buggered if I can remember the name of. It came in orange cans with a skull on. Work that one out CAMRA bods.
After we’d hammered through the banquet, all of us were stuffed, but a curious thing happened – rather than feeling the coagulated self-loathing that comes after a fried chicken pig out, we all felt fine; like, not sluggish and repulsive. It was kinda disturbing as it suggested that every time I’ve felt that way from eating considerably less in a standard chicken shop, I’ve consumed something very wrong indeed. Ughhh. In fact, if anything, the food seemed to turbo charge my kid, who started pelting his balloon around the restaurant. Ahhh isn’t he cute I imagine all the other diners were definitely thinking. When I finally got him to stay still so I could interrogate him about the Chicken Town experience, he concluded that the chips were his favourite part. Or maybe the chicken faced balloon. It was a close run. But the verdict was a ‘yummy’.
Us nominal grown-ups concluded with a cheeky Campari drenched blood orange ice cream that was tasty, if supremely boozy. The meal was remarkably cheap – even more so when you consider that the staff are all getting paid properly, and the place is run on a non-profit basis. Whilst the trek up to Seven Sisters may put some off, we had to conclude that was it was more than worth a trip – the chicken is far, far better than the shit they serve at Nando’s, the place looks good, a meal is cheap, it’s actually bringing something to the community, and you can get pissed off the ice cream. Result.