Move over to Kentucky, there’s a new fried chicken Colonel in town – and these guys also sell pints of beer pouring from the bottom of the glass.
Restaurant brand Wing Wing serves “the other KFC”, Korean fried chicken, from its London branches in Tavistock Square and Charing Cross, where we visited. Known as “chimaek,” this fried chicken and beer pairing is perhaps Korea’s best culinary option. Sorry to all the bibimbap and barbecue fans…
As someone who has enjoyed a wide range of Korean dishes while traveling in Busan and Seoul, I was excited to find out how a restaurant in London could serve the chimaek concept. I was not to be disappointed, it was finger licking chicken.
What is the chimaque?
Some culinary discoveries feel like “finding money in the field,” Lauren Bull told CrazyKoreanCooking.com. Chimaek is “one of those discoveries”. A Korean “mash-up” of fried chicken (chi) and beer (maekju), chimaek is a combination that has been “a staple of Korean cuisine for years.” From the 1970s, “in a real stroke of collective genius”, the Koreans built a whole business model around the pair.
Chimaek rose to fame during the 2010 FIFA World Cup and more recently ‘made us salivate at our screens’ watching a Korean drama Crash landing on you, said the South China Morning Post. It’s a “pairing made in foodie heaven”.
Korea “honestly doesn’t have the best beer in the world,” the Korea Times said. So that’s “exactly why we associate it with the best chicken in the world.” It is an “irresistible union”.
How was the food at Wing Wing?
I’m not exaggerating when I say the chicken was as delicious in Charing Cross as it was in bustling Haeundae Beach in Busan. It was crispy rather than greasy.
Wing Wing’s menu is full of chook delights – and the “signature” wings and drumsticks are a must-have for your order. We recommend choosing a mix of all three flavors: licorice, soy garlic, and hot. Licorice flavored chicken may not sound appealing, but it gives a natural sweetness that complements the meat. Six wings cost £7.50 while six drumsticks cost £13.50.
For main courses, yes they were just “starters”, we chose the chicken katsu boa bun (£7.80), which tasted as good as it looked. And to go a bit to the left, we also ordered crispy breaded prawns (£9.90), so as not to feel deflated.
After stuffing our faces with all that chicken, dessert really shouldn’t have been an option. But how can you resist a ‘nutty’ bao (£2.50 each), a bun filled with strawberry cream, salted peanuts or banana caramel? “Do you want to try all three?” Oh, go ahead then. They may look a little too sweet, which is true, but they were worth getting too full to eat anything else.
And the drinks?
Did we mention that you can also buy beer at Wing Wing? We washed down our “other KFC” with a few pints of Japanese lager, Kirin. Other draft options included Camden Pale Ale, Bud Light and Hoegaarden. Would we have preferred a pint or two of a Korean beer such as Hite? Maybe, but the freezing Kirin did a decent job on what was a school night.
Beer is the drink of choice for chimaek, but if you want a taste of a Korean tradition, order shoju. It is a clear and sweet spirit that is available here in Strawberry, Green Apple or Grapefruit. Cocktail lovers can also sample classics on tap such as Mojito, Aperol Spritz and Gin Garden.
K-pop, karaoke and music bingo
From the outside, the Charing Cross Wing Wing looks like any other food outlet. Step inside and it’s as if you’ve been transported straight to Seoul. The branding is bright — all pinks, yellows, blues, greens, and neons — and there’s also a funky animated display on the second-floor windows to entice passers-by.
For K-pop fans, the many screens play music videos from K-pop’s biggest boy and girl groups. It was obvious from watching the other diners that K-pop was as big an attraction as the food.
Wing Wing doesn’t just serve delicious food either. There are “KTV karaoke” rooms, spaces for private parties and events like music bingo. The second music bingo, on May 18, will celebrate Asian music alongside Western hits, in a classic bingo format. Expect to hear the biggest K-pop tracks from groups such as BTS, Blackpink, Wonder Girls and Loona.
What’s the verdict?
It’s really easy. It was a winner, winner, chicken and beer dinner. A word of warning though, don’t go to Wing Wing for a quick bite. It’s way better than fast food or takeout, so make it a (non-school) night out.
Wing Wing, 47-49 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0AN; wingwing.co.uk