In the American South – or the Dirty South, depending on where you go – two things reign supreme: fried chicken and church. Divine revelations are a regular occurrence when you’re sitting down for your ‘meat and three.’ The body of Christ is in the bread at communion; deep-fried, breaded chicken has its own communicants – often in possession of a drawl and a penchant for Brad Paisley. And as I’m from South Carolina, and consider myself their most authentic export since Flava Flav, I condemn bad fried chicken as sacrilege.
Any visit to London would, in this regard, leave The Trashmen sorely disappointed, as bird is very much not the word here. This city is a veritable wasteland in fried chicken terms, with little more than the Colonel’s finest or the po-facedly named ‘Fulham Fried Chicken’ to show for itself. And thus, when a little bird told me Billy and the Chicks was slated to open on St Anne’s Court, I was thrilled.
Billy Stock – the eponymous Billy – has a name larded with suitability, and a pedigree to rival any prize-winning chicken at the county fair, having flown the coop from both St John and Salt Yard. He and his pal Sam Bellamy have set out to create a portal into their teenage years, spent chowing on chicken in South East London, and opting for a deep fryer instead of a DeLorean.
The restaurant’s decor is right at home in Soho. With just enough exposed brick and plywood walls, and even a turntable in the corner for hip-hop and country nights, the space feels trendy without trying too hard. Sturdy silverware and kitchen roll in lieu of napkins let the diners know that this is a messy business. But, unfortunately, the avian Doc Brown and Marty McFly fall a little short when it comes to the food.
If I had slept with Billy and the Chicks, I would have to rate my deep-fried, secret-spiced orgy on Lulu – the Yelp of dating. My labels would include #Earnest #DownToEarth #Hot&Cold. You would not find amongst them the coveted #PantyDropper. A 6.2 / 10, and that’s generous. Because, as a culinary lover, Billy wasn’t.
I recommend that you begin with the Moonpie Float. While you’ll need to go on an archaeological dig to find the ice cream amidst the sweet chocolate slush, the kick of the moonshine will give you the courage to tackle what’s coming. And maybe get you drunk enough that you won’t notice what’s wrong with it.
The hefty fried chicken meal deal is passable, though unremarkable. The meat itself is juicy and tender. The batter, however, lacks texture and only takes away from the excitement of chicken so flavorful. The fries, while deeply savory, are limp enough to send to one of the nearby sex shops for a prescription. The not-quite-saving grace is the tub of bright, crunchy slaw on the side.
They must be gossiping back in the kitchen, as it seems that the chicken and ribs are sharing secrets. At least when it comes to spices. The hot wings must be suffering the climate change, as they’re about as ‘hot’ Take That. That being said, they are rich and moreish, and they go down way too easy. I even considered cracking the bones in half to suck out the marrow like Robbie Williams with a Lucozade in 2007. While the ribs lack that visceral stickiness that leaves you wondering whether you’ve just emerged from a Jell-O wrestling match, they are, like Gary Barlow, at least inoffensive.
Despite the local provenance of the mac and cheese (Neal’s Yard cheddar forms the base of their three-cheese sauce), which is trumpeted as proudly as their own South East London heritage, the dish is bland and pale. It tastes more like what you’d whip up after slinging back enough Moonpie Floats to take care of ‘arm day’ than like a carefully imagined side to accompany your bird.
It seems that Billy and the Chicks may still be finding its footing. They have all the components to be a spot that people flock to, but the food needs a longer incubation. Because right now? Well, it just feels like they’re winging it.
Monday – Saturday 11:30pm – 11:00pm
Sunday 11:30am – 10:30pm
£10-15 / person