There’s something almost unchaste about eating fried chicken. It’s a sensory, tactile experience: select a golden hunk, its crunchy coating hot beneath the fingertips, dip it once, twice into a spice-spiked sauce before lifting it to your lips and, eschewing all propriety, ripping it apart with teeth and tongue, breaking the crisp outer layer to reveal the tender meat within. Soon, licking the final vestiges of spiced crumbs from lips slick with grease, you’re left with just a plate full of bones picked clean. Later, you’ll catch a whiff of deep fryer in your hair. You’ve done fried chicken and you’ve done it right.
Belles Hot Chicken
This isn’t just a cult of fried chicken, it’s a cult of personality – that of Kiwi chef and Belles owner Morgan McGlone, whose fried chicken skills, passion for wine and charisma infuse everything Belles Hot Chicken does. He perfected his fried chicken in Nashville (he was also a model agent in Paris, FYI) before returning to Australia and opening Belles Hot Chicken in Melbourne. Thankfully, McGlone soon followed up with Sydney stores.
Built on a spice mix that ranges in five degrees from Southern (mild) to Really F**kin Hot (self-explanatory), Belles chicken comes from Cordina Farms and undergoes a very involved process of brining, tossing in a secret mixture of flour spiked with 12 herbs and spices (it’s known as “Flour Daddy” and McGlone won’t be drawn on what it contains) and frying in a combination of canola and cottonseed oil heated to precisely 178 degrees. As soon as it emerges, golden and crunchy from the fryer, the chicken is tossed in masala dip and the chosen spice level is added. Wings, tenders and drumsticks make up the main event, served with sauces such as Belles Blue Cheese and Mississippi Comeback and sides including mac and cheese and coleslaw. Those who choose to dine in also get the benefit of Belles excellent wine list, which focuses on natural wines by local winemakers.
Shop 5, 33 Barangaroo Avenue, Wulugul Walk, Barangaroo
Tramsheds Harold Park, 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge
Back in 2013, Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham unwittingly ushered Sydney into a new era, putting the humble hamburger on the front page after opening a bar down a Newtown backstreet. Their joint, a winning combination of hard rock, beer and really good Southern American food, hit a nerve and Mary’s still pulls a queue most nights. And although the Mary’s Burger is its signature, the fried chicken is serious – despite the fact that the Half Bird is listed as a side. The Mary’s T-shirt, exhorting diners to “get fat”, isn’t joking. With sides like mashed potato and gravy and shoestring chips, it’ll recall fast food experiences past – in the best possible way.
Smyth says Bannockburn Free Range chooks (free from hormones and antibiotics) arrive at Mary’s whole, and Mary’s chefs break down each bird themselves. Next, the chicken pieces are brined in a spiced buttermilk mix before they’re tossed in spiced flour. Finally, the chicken is deep-fried until it reaches golden, crunchy perfection on the outside and moist, juicy excellence on the inside. Finally, it’s served – but what with? Smyth told us he recommends “hot sauce for the spicy, honey for the lovers and mash ‘n’ gravy for the drunks”. If you can’t bear the thought of hitting up Mary’s and not having a burger, there’s the Mary’s Fried Chicken burger, with crispy chicken thigh, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and special Mary’s sauce.
6 Mary Street, Newtown
The Chicken Institute
The wise professors of the Chicken Institute kitchen have made a study of perfecting fried chicken. First, the chicken is “cooked” in a dry brine made up of lots of Southern American spices before being deep-fried to lock in the juiciness. Despite its Asian bent (the Kim Chi Poutine is a must-try) the Institute’s experts have chosen to forgo the batter of Korean fried chicken in favour of a dusting of flour or corn meal in order to keep it light and crisp. Choose from Original, Sticky, Garlic, Peanut Butter and Peri Peri fried chicken and know you’re in safe hands.
61 Fitzroy Street, Surry Hills
An anomaly in a place where chia bowls and activated almonds rule the menus, Bondi’s Milky Lane carefully carved itself a niche with churro bowls seemingly created just for Instagram and hip hop branding including a rapper’s Last Supper mural and burger homages to the fallen (Tu Pork Shakur) and the still-rhyming (vegetarian The Drake). And if you’re going to do fast food, you’re only as good as your fried chicken which here comes in two iterations: Korean Fried Chicken with Chilli Sauce and the Chic Kanye burger of Southern fried chicken, maple smoked bacon, American cheddar, slaw, lettuce, barbecue sauce, habanero aïoli and pineapple relish.
The verdict? The Korean fried chicken pieces are deliciously crisp, having been brined for 24 hours in a solution of water, salt, sugar, tobacco and Korean gochujang paste before marinating in an egg white, gochujang paste, sesame oil, furikake seasoning, soy and ginger mixture and coated in a spiced flour mix. The deep-fried pieces of chook are served with refreshing iceberg lettuce and a spicy Korean sauce for dipping. The burger? It’s every bit as artery-offending and taste-bud-pleasing as it sounds.
141 Curlewis Street, Bondi Beach
Reuben Hills is really catering to a Sydney crowd. Not only does the Surry Hills café specialise in really outstanding coffee, sourcing and roasting its own beans, but the menu, mostly based upon the flavours of the regions the beans hail from, also includes fried chicken. This is not your average café. With a menu of Central and South American inspired all-day dishes, Reuben Hills heads north to bring us its F***ing Great Fried Chicken, which is first brined, soaked in buttermilk, baked, coated in a gluten-free mix of cornmeal and spices before finally being deep-fried. Things head back down south with the sides: the crunchy, juicy boneless chicken pieces are served with a Honduran wheat tortilla, pickled guindilla chillies, chipotle aïoli and salsa.
61 Albion Street, Surry Hills
A thick, crunchy flavoursome crust characterises the fried chicken brother-and-sister team Jeff and Julie Oh (formerly of Kobe Jones) turn out at this Enmore Road eatery. The diminutive space, casual furnishings (just a few wooden tables and stools) and Korean décor hints at the inspiration for the Ohs’ food – you’re basically eating in their childhood dining room. Although the menu is packed with Korean flavours, it’s not a traditional interpretation of the cuisine – rather, it’s what their mother cooked for them. The kim chi, ssamjang (spicy soybean sauce) and even the sweet chilli sauce – all straight from the cookbook of Mrs Oh, a mum who knows what she’s doing in the kitchen. And so, to the chicken. It comes in four varieties: Original; Sweet Chilli topped with crunchy peanuts, Spicy Bomb with dried chilli and coriander; and Soy Garlic with sesame seeds and spring onion.
The chicken is brined overnight in a mixture that involves almost 20 spices before it's breaded and fried – the result is tender, juicy and crunchy. The crumb on the outside helps the excellent sauces adhere to the chicken and the sweetness and spice is cut by the side dish of carrot and radish pickle that comes with each. Julie Oh says that in Korea there’s a big culture of eating fried chicken and drinking beer together – that’s the experience she and her brother want to bring to Sydney via their mum’s excellent recipes and a selection of canned beers and traditional Korean tipples. Cheers to that, Mrs Oh.
99 Enmore Road, Enmore
It’s a three-day process to create Thirsty Bird’s signature fried chicken. First, the whole birds are butchered in-house. The chicken pieces are brined overnight in a salty liquid that’s infused with “secret herbs and spices” (two can play at that game) then allowed to dry for at least 12 hours. Finally, the chicken is dipped in flour, doused in buttermilk then floured again before it’s dropped into hot oil and served up to a grateful public. The result is crispy, tender chicken that’s beautifully dry to the touch rather than greasy. Your best bet is the deal: two pieces of fried chicken, pickles and a side (for us, it’s got to be mac and cheese, adulterated with bacon and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs; the other carbs – waffle fries and mash and gravy – are also mighty tempting) and homemade sauce of your choosing.
3/2-14 Bayswater Road, Potts Point
The BL method is an interesting one: the chicken thigh is brined in McClure’s pickle juice before it’s dipped in a herb-spiked flour mixture then soaked in buttermilk. It undergoes a final thorough dusting of the flour mix before it’s deep-fried and placed in between two halves of a house-made milk bun along with McClure’s pickles, Challenger Streaky Bacon, American cheese, lettuce and sriracha mayo. Many a dad bod has been obtained through this method; none has been regretted.
1/151 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
The Soda Factory
According to The Soda Factory’s head chef, the secret here isn’t 12 herbs and spices, it’s the temperature of the oil: when it’s exactly right the chicken will turn golden on the outside without burning and cook to juicy tenderness on the inside. We can’t say exactly what that temperature is, but we can tell you that Fat Bubba’s Bucket O’Chicken is chicken thigh coated in a buttermilk marinade before being rolled in a house-made spiced flour mix and then served (in a bucket, no less) with ranch dipping sauce. It’s been on the late-night speakeasy’s menu since 2012 and there, we hope, it will remain.
16 Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills