To succeed in life, you need just three things: a wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone. At least that’s the philosophical gem proffered by Brixton Market’s newest baby, Wishbone Chicken. I think perhaps it’s fair to say that the burger has now been well and truly ‘done,’ with Honest Burger, Hawksmoor and, of course, Meat Liquor all having successfully sexed-up the humble beef patty beyond all recognition.
Next up, naturally, is chicken. And so Scott Collins (fresh from aforementioned burger tinkering over at Meat Liquor) and food-blogger extraordinaire, William Leigh, have waged an assault on the modest chicken shop, casting aside dodgy battery-farmed birds and pallid, soggy fries, and establishing the UK’s first free-range chicken shop.
Choosing Brixton Market for such a venture is surely a no-brainer. Since 2009 Market Row and Brixton Village have transformed themselves into a Mecca for South London’s coolest foodies, and Brixton’s own roots mean nowhere quite does ‘chicken shop’ like this corner of the capital. Cheap, easy and culturally familiar, it’s not hard to see how it has gradually become part of the staple diet of many Londoners. So what’s Wishbone’s place in all this? Chicken for the middle classes who’d sooner wash it down with a whisky sour or craft beer over a warm can of pop? Essentially yes, and it does it all rather well. If I’m to be perfectly honest, upon hearing that the Collins/Leigh collaboration was destined for SW9, I had my misgivings; every venture here is small-scale and hard-fought-for. Frankly, anything with too much gloss or financial investment would stick out like a sore thumb. But Wishbone Chicken seems to have eased itself in well. The venue’s wire mesh, reclaimed school chairs and bare floors mirror the edgy, grimy, under-styled look that Brixton does so well. And so, to the ambient sound of commercial rap, I ate.
The menu itself seems geared towards ‘grazers,’ who might drop in after a cocktail and pintxo at Seven before moving over to Mama Lan in the Village for a dumpling or two. It’s small, uncomplicated, and (unsurprisingly) pretty poultry-heavy. There are a few sides to keep that strange breed of human (the vegetarian) happy, but let’s face it: no one’s here for the Black Eyed Pea salad or shredded cabbage. Now I’m always a tad dubious about anything labelling itself ‘Salt’n’ Pepa.’ I find whatever it is inevitably lacks in both. Not so here: the dark, slippery thigh meat is coated in a crisp, flavoursome (and peppery – boy, is it peppery) crumb, and served alongside a tangy Asian mayo. The Korean wings are fairly far removed from anything you’d find in your local finger-lickin’ chicken joint; the pungent fermented chilli will have you salivating from several feet away, and the double-frying makes for more of a tempura-esque batter than anything else. They taste good.
For those who just want chicken, no bells on, inauspiciously wrapped in brown paper and served with a pot of house BBQ, it’s OK too. And I’d wager good money that the BBQ sauce with the Chicken Shop wings will be the smokiest, tastiest of its kind you’ve ever sampled. Or, for an aromatic, adventurous, decidedly classier bit of chicken, there are the Thai Thighs: the hero of the menu in my eyes. Served with whole crisp mint leaves, tamarind, chilli and plenty of shallots, it’s pretentious chicken at its very best.
With Giles Looker of Soulshaker behind the bar, you’d be forgiven for expecting a hefty tome of a drink menu à la Milk and Honey or Mahiki, but refreshingly everything liquid fits nicely onto one sheet of paper. The cocktail – singular – is a sour, and you can have it with one of ten different spirits, with or without egg, and with or without ice. The beer is craft, and the cider is artisan. But best of all? They have Ting. And anywhere with wings and Ting in Brixton will do just fine.
Words: Aimee Hunt