Dish With A Difference

We’re talking about: Asian fried chicken

Poultry is going premium as people look for flavours that make it pop, along with higher welfare options.

30 October 2019
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  • The Dish: Big Ji, a butterflied chicken breast that has been brined, coated in gluten-free sweet potato flour and deep fried
  • The Place: Mr Ji, 72 Old Compton St, London W1D 4UN
  • The Chef: Samuel Haim

What? Mr Ji will deliver its take on the Taiwanese night market chicken. The new restaurant will dish up Taiwanese fried chicken that is 100% free range and dusted with flavourful powders, alongside booze-spiked, oriental fruit teas.

The hero dish is the Big Ji, a butterflied chicken breast that has been brined and coated in gluten-free sweet potato flour and then deep fried. Chef Samuel Haim trialled many different flours before finding that sweet potato flour worked the best, keeping the chicken juicy but extra crispy, as well as non-greasy on the outside.

The Big Ji will be dusted with a range of flavourings which the team have developed from scratch, including traditional spice, Thai ketchup, Korean BBQ, and salt and black vinegar. These will be accompanied by Mini Ji – bite-sized pieces of marinated thigh meat tossed in a range of house-made sauces.

Also available will be a steamed bao burger stuffed with a spiced fried chicken thigh.

Side dishes include hot and sour soup made to a traditional Taiwanese recipe and Mr Ji’s chicken tips: split wings shaken up with a seven-spice powder. Veggie accompaniments, meanwhile, range from crunchy Taipei slaw with ginger and chilli to pickled cucumber and soy sauce.

To finish, those with a sweet tooth can save room for the sweet potato doughnuts dusted with ginger sugar.

 

Where? Having started out as a pop up in Camden, Mr Ji will permanently land in Soho opening on November 20. Haim is the man behind award-winning fish and chip restaurant Hook in Camden and Greenwich, but has been inspired to open Mr Ji by his visits to the bustling capital city of Taipei.

“I first met the real Mr Ji whilst hiking up Elephant Mountain in Taiwan – he was an enigmatic character who tipped us off on where to find the best fried chicken in Taipei,” Haim said. “I’m looking forward to bringing my modern take on Taiwanese fried chicken to Old Compton Street, using fantastic quality chicken and punchy powders.”

 

Why? Mintel research has estimated that the value of the chicken restaurant market in 2019 will rise 5% compared to 2018, with sales of just over £2bn. Over the last year, the number of affluent Brits (defined as people with money left over at the end of the month for a few luxuries or savings) visiting chicken outlets and restaurants has risen from 40% in 2018 to 45% in 2019.

This growing segment taps into a number of trends – delivering people their protein fix, an increasing interest in exploring Asian flavour and demand for higher welfare chickens– which all adds up to consumers who are prepared to pay more for their poultry.

While Mr Ji is focusing on the Taiwanese version, Korean fried chicken is also proving particularly popular in the UK, with 71% of consumers saying they’re very/somewhat interested in this dish.

Korean fried chicken is the star of the show at Judy Joo’s new restaurant, Seoul Bird, which will also open in November in Westfield Shepherd’s Bush.Made to her secret recipe, the birds are brined for 24 hours before being double fried for extra crunch, and served with an Asian slaw of red cabbage, daikon, onion and carrot that’s been tossed in a citrus soy dressing.

Visitors can take their pick from higher welfare whole thighs, whole wings or tenders, as well as sauces such as spicy Korean BBQ, ranch, honey mustard and sweet soy ginger. For those who prefer their chicken chargrilled, there are Korean flame grilled chicks— smoky thighs and wings that have been marinated in soy, sesame, and Korean spices before being grilled over charcoal.

There’s also a Signature Seoul Burger, a toasted bun with Korean fried chicken, drizzled with signature soy and gochujang glaze, and topped with kewpie mayo, red onion, and iceberg lettuce.

A selection of side dishes is available, such as truffle loaded seaweed tater tots, kimchi mac and cheese, and Korean fried cauliflower in a gochujang and soy glaze.

“The Korean way of cooking is so generous and hospitable – Seoul Bird is my interpretation of true Korean comfort food, from shatteringly crunchy fried chicken to warming spicy gochujang sauces,” said Joo.

It’s not just the Asian style of fried chicken that is trending in the UK either. Back in March, the American-inspired Thunderbird Fried Chicken opened with a focus on premium poultry. The restaurant Louie’s was also unveiled in Hoxton with a menu dedicated to Tennessee-style chicken, while American import Sweet Chick debuted in the capital a month ago.

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