As if a dumpling crawl in Chatswood wasn’t sufficient, I decided that the next outrageous group eating activity that I was going to con all our friends into was going to be a day-long crawl around Sydney CBD and Newtown, indulging in a variety of deep-fried poultry. A fried chicken crawl it was!
The first stop around midday was to Hot Star Fried Chicken on Liverpool St. In the ten minutes that we were there between ordering and receiving our freshly fried chicken, around ten groups or individuals showed up to order as well – a clear indicator of the lasting popularity of the franchise after its grand opening earlier this year.
It’s my first visit and I’m impressed by the efficiency of their kitchen. With one guy taking orders and two guys manning the deep fryers, each order is pumped out quickly so that you’re always guaranteed the hottest and freshest order on demand.
We order a side of sweet potato fries to share, and they’re deliciously more-ish, hot and soft on the inside, and crispy on the outside. I only wish there was more to go around, as it’s a very modest serve.
And the chicken? Well it’s as big as my head for one, and very intimidating when you first hold it in your hands! I’m impressed by the quality of the chicken when I bite into it – the meat is incredibly tender and moist, despite the fact that it’s been hammered out to quite a thin schnitzel-esque piece. It’s certainly a lot tastier than many of the schnitzels I’ve had in my time! The combination of spices and peppers that have been used in the batter also gives the chicken an addictive flavour that leaves me wanting to order another serve…if only we didn’t have many more stops on our fried chicken journey!
Conclusion – Hot Star Fried Chicken is amazing value for money. Our sweet potato chips and original fried chicken cost only $10.90, and would only have been $11.90 if we chose to add a drink. The flavours of the chicken are dangerously addictive as well, and I think I’ll be back to try their smaller popcorn chicken bites.
Our next stop was Mamak on Goulburn Street, Haymarket. Best known for their many varieties of roti, both savoury and sweet, you can always pick out Mamak by the length of the line outside. A twenty minute to half hour wait is pretty standard for Mamak, which is why K and I normally go to the one in Chatswood as the queue isn’t quite as demanding.
The amount of spices in the Hot Star fried chicken leaves us quite thirsty, and we start our visit to Mamak with some drinks – Kopi O Ais (Iced Coffee, $4) for K and our friend Anita, and a Teh O ais limau (Iced tea with lemon, $4) for me. Malaysian-style iced drinks are always dangerously drinkable, generally because of the amount of sugar and condensed milk that they add!
We start our Mamak eating with a roti bawang (Roti with sweet red onion, $6.50), a bit of a savoury treat that we’re hoping will help cleanse our palates in between courses of deep fried chicken. It’s a simple dish, but made spicy and interesting when dipped in the sambal and two curries that it gets served with.
The ayam goreng (fried chicken, $14 for 4) comes out and we’re momentarily startled and shocked by how big the pieces were. Forget the tiny wings that you might get at a standard chicken joint – these are massive pieces guaranteeing huge mouthfuls of tender moist chicken.
Conclusion – I find that the ayam goreng at Mamak lacks a certain something, and for a moment, I can’t quite put my finger on what it is…then I realise it’s the lack of spices and herbs in the batter. After being spoiled with the explosion of spices in Hot Star’s chicken, the relative plainness of Mamak’s ayam goreng is quite disappointing. We’ll be back to Mamak as always, but I think we’ll stick to our rotis and nasis next time.
Our next stop was Arisun on Dixon Street, a well known Korean restaurant and beer garden – not unlike the hof bars that we encountered in Seoul! As it’s now mid afternoon, we decide to slow down and linger here for a few hours and a few drinks to rest our stomachs before we move onto our next stop. It’s the type of restaurant where you can sit and linger – they don’t rush you out the way many other Asian restaurants seem to.
We order a basket of Sun’s Sweet and Spicy Fried Chicken ($30), and are briefly disappointed by the fact that they don’t allow you to split the baskets as we also wanted to try the Hot & Spicy Chicken with Melted Cheese ($30)…however we weren’t game to order two baskets of chicken! Despite our disappointment, we find ourselves thoroughly enjoying the chicken we did order – it’s all very boney, but you get a real sense of satisfaction in sucking the spicy sauce off the chicken!
Conclusion – Arisun is a great place for a long lazy Sunday lunch with friends, and the basket of fried chicken and a couple of drinks really does make you feel as though you’re in a genuine Korean hof bar!
Our next stop is Mary’s of Newtown, and we choose to walk there from Haymarket. The half hour odd walk does us good! It’s my first visit to Mary’s and we almost miss the entrance as it’s quite cunningly hid away and free of any signage whatsoever. We arrive quite early, and manage to miss the evening crowd. The music is already pumping, and people are already getting their ‘end of the weekend’ drinks on.
Mary’s fried chicken has a crispy batter, and seems to me to be significantly oilier than the earlier variations of fried chicken that we had. It’s good but not great, and I find myself wishing that the herbs in its batter were more complex.
The mashed potato and gravy was ultra-creamy and terribly decadent. It’s the kind of melt-in-your-mouth barely-there mashed potato that leaves you with a deliciously buttery slick of creamy flavours on your palate.
The burgers at Mary’s are by far the highlight though, and my friend who has joined our crawl late in the game orders two cheeseburgers. With that soft style of brioche bun that melts to nothingness in your mouth, the thick juicy patty and American style cheese really hits the spot…as do the serve of french fries!
Conclusion – The burgers are the choice item on Mary’s menu, and that’s what most people seem to visit for. I look forward to visiting the burger joint that they’re rumoured to be opening up in the city though, as the scene at their Newtown venue isn’t quite for me – I’m a bit over the pumping music and drinks scene.
Our next and last stop is Hartsyard, which I last visited almost two years ago.
By this time, we’re already stuffed to the gills with seven hours worth of non-stop fried chicken eating. We play it safe, and order the single dish of fried chicken with a buttermilk biscuit and gravy to share. I savour every morsel of the crumbly and buttery biscuit, smothered in the creamy gravy, and lick my fingers to make sure I get every tasty piece of fried batter.
We see a couple on the table next to us order one of these amazing weekly special desserts, and reason to ourselves that surely dessert has a stomach of its own, and therefore we could fit more in…right? Even though we’re left groaning in pain by the end of our long day of eating, we don’t regret this choice of dessert – themed around the Greek soccer team during the World Cup, this dessert was an excellent blend of textures and flavours – and not too sweet either. It was the perfect portion size to be shared between five people.
Conclusion – Hartsyard always brings the goods in reinventing old favourites and delivering delicious shareable food for big groups. I regret not having been there more often – one visit every two years is simply not enough!
Overall? I’d actually have to say that Hot Star’s fried chicken gets my vote – largely because of the excellence of the spices and herbs used in its batter. It’s also a lot more accessible than the other options, and I can see myself dropping by every now and again to get a bucket of chicken bites.
In terms of being able to provide the full package though, Hartsyard wins by a long shot – a larger and more creative menu, accommodating wait staff, and an atmosphere conducive to larger groups means that the dining experience is always special and memorable.