“KERB” is a term in London food circles that creates shivers down the length of the most ardent foodies’ pantaloons. For a number of years KERB has run street-food markets across the City of London (Camden/West India Quay/Thursdays at the Gherkin et al). It has fundamentally altered the way street-food is perceived and accessed and has made accessible to the masses the sort of adventurous pop-ups that frequently become so loved and admired that they receive the well-earned (in most cases) dosh of food lovers from across the country through crowdfunding in order to start their own kitchens. A classic example would be Som Saa (though not through KERB), which is now widely considered to be one of London’s top restaurants (considered is a stupid word – it is – and the deep-fried whole seabass is so lip-smackingly good I would venture it is one of the finest things I have ever put in my mouth). So naturally KERB is a very good business and a vehicle through which great ventures can publicise their creations and put them in front of punters. Winner for them, winner for us and LO! winner-winner chicken dinner when KERB announced The Bucket List at Granary Square near Kings Cross.
Naturally I could not venture to such an event without my favourite chicken (pun intended) chico Tom and we also decided to welcome to our chicken Bucket List club, Jamie and Patrick, both fierce lovers of chicken and good times, much of both were intended on a fairly cold May Friday as we gathered at Granary Square. Arriving at Granary Square was the Chicken equivalent to arriving at Mecca. Scores of chicken lovers queued in lines that snaked around the (clearly) too small location. Arrival meant two things, the classic uni-esque florescent band to signify entry and a bucket (waaay they have a theme) plus tokens for each vendor, the £25 ticket buying you a serving from each of the 8 vendors and a free beverage. With a plethora of options we decided to use our free drink for some mulling over time = Beavertown Neck-Oil for 3 and a rogue (and by the look on Jamie’s face undermixed) vodka and coke. Well-lubricated we decided on a winning strategy, start at the first one and just keep eating our way to the end (i.e. eat your chicken in the queue to the next vendor). This proved inspired.
We started with Other Side Fried’s classic fried chicken tenders (which have become somewhat of a KERB staple over the last year. This is a good thing because their chicken is a very good thing – lightly dusted in cocoa chilli (yes cocoa chilli, it’s winning – don’t knock it until you bury your face in it). It was at this first pit-stop that Tom made a discovery akin to Franklin and electricity – if the vendors were serving on plates what to do with the Bucket? Well naturally turn it over and use it as a throne for your chicken – god he is smart – if only we all had such innovative and out of the bucket thinking (stop me). We queried at this point whether it could get better – fools.
So on to the next vendor (Daja Chicken) an entity I had not yet heard about but hopefully will hear more of in the future. Their double coated, double fried Asian inspired chicken tenders were hot, zingy and exciting. They elicited a mixed response from the bucket-list club with some still focused on the excellence that had gone into our mouth from Other Side Fried. I fear this was unfortunate as the flavours worked very well and as someone that enjoys a bit of wham bham spice in my chicken tenders it was jolly tasty. More please!
Vendor 3 was Only Jerkin (props for the finest name in the chicken paddock) whose enormous battered chicken balls were hotter (temperature) than the sun. Biting into one of these bad boys without first drinking liquid nitrogen was a mistake – and the nuclearity (new word alert) of their warmth unfortunately masked an adequate piece of cooking. Served with jerk gravy one ball was enough, two was senseless but what was a genuine error was the gravy in a pot too small for your balls – put it on the side and let me dunk! Whilst the chicken was tasty it did feel a bit more like KFC, a pinch greasy and the skin sliding away from the scorching interior. I feel Only Jerkin has something (and not just a good name) but a bit more attention to the detail would not go amiss. Onward!
To Bill or Beak – another fusion flavour combo with fermented green Szechuan chilli hot sauce. If Only Jerkin were hot in temperature these volcanic tenders were Szechuan and therefore very very hot. They were banging and consequently Jamie was banging on the table for napkins, the chicken sweat dripping from his brow, and yet he kept eating – a testament to the flavour sensation in his mouth. Bill or Beak is not for everyone, it is indeed spicy, but god does it pack a flavour punch that would floor even Anthony Joshua (and I bet he would like it too).
Up next, Mother Clucker, a Truman Brewery regular and an ever-present on my list of favourite chicken establishments. Their tenders with sriracha mayo are smashing and an ode to a good thing done very well. It speaks volumes that even though these were not the best I have had from Mother Clucker, they were still firmly in the conversation for the “tender of tonight” title.
Next was a very long queue which reminded those of us in it of a conga line, not least because of the exceptionally jolly Venezuelan tunes and vendors at Petare who, we later discovered, had never produced fried chicken before the Bucket List. I do hope that this is not the last time – served on a dried leaf with guava glaze and habanero mayo, these delicious morsels zinged with lime and habanero heat. They were astonishingly good and it will be a travesty to chicken, nay to food, if these do not appear on the menu of Petare’s new restaurant which, if their food at Bucket List is anything to go by, cannot be far away. But now an ode to the humble lime, what fabulous zingy-ness the dear lime provides any dish. So often a dish is a squeeze of lime away from perfection, of course lime can be overused, but Petare used its qualities to perfection and what a joy to see this underrated ingredient shining through. It was therefore no surprise that Petare was voted the dish of the day by the punters – fully deserved.
Next we ventured to Mother Flipper, known predominantly for a solid burger offering on the KERB scene, whose offering at Bucket List was Korean fried wings. This was the first wing of the day and to be honest it promised much, whilst delivering little. Korean wings are a lovely thing but so much saffron was used in the making of this dish I did not know whether to eat it or sell it for a profit on my ticket. I should have done the latter for eating it bore me no riches, neither financial nor gastronomic.
The final instalment was Killa Dilla, a rather bland offering of overcooked chicken tender coated in chilli heatwave doritos. Now forgive me, but if you wish to make your chicken hot, please feel free to add a dry rub to your bread/batter mix. Do not, however, smash up a load of perfectly good tortilla crisps (branded optional) and ruin an otherwise perfectly pleasant piece of chicken. There are reasons why some food innovations do not catch on. The reason this one will not is because it is not nice. A shame to finish on such a note but a stark reminder that street food is not the eternal optimist, it does provide a platform for brilliant innovation but it also allows for experimentation and where that is present so are errors. To feel the full benefit of KERB we must appreciate that not every creation will be a winner.
So KERB Bucket List was a fab evening filled with chicken and laughter. There were some seriously good chicken tenders and some other disappointments. However, what was clear, yet again, is that London’s street-food scene is booming and it is moulding fantastic potential restaurants. All power to KERB who are at the forefront of this movement and long may they continue to be so.