Move over Kentucky, there’s a new fried chicken Colonel in town – and these guys also sell pints of beer which self-pour from the bottom of the glass.
The Wing Wing restaurant brand serves up “the other KFC”, Korean fried chicken, from its London branches at Tavistock Square and Charing Cross, where we went. Known as “chimaek”, this fried chicken and beer pairing may just be Korea’s best culinary option. Sorry to all the bibimbap and barbecue fans out there…
As someone who’s enjoyed a wide range of Korean food while on trips to Busan and Seoul, I was excited to get a taste of how a London restaurant could serve up the chimaek concept. I was not to be disappointed, this was finger lickin’ kickin’ chicken.
What is chimaek?
There are some food discoveries that feel like “finding cash on the ground”, said Lauren Bull on CrazyKoreanCooking.com. Chimaek is “one such discovery”. A Korean language “mash-up” of fried chicken (chi) and beer (maekju), chimaek is a combination that’s been “a staple of Korean dining for years”. Starting in the 1970s, “in a true collective stroke of genius”, Koreans have built an entire business model around the pairing.
Chimaek rose to fame during the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and more recently “got us salivating at our screens” while watching Korean drama Crash Landing on You, said the South China Morning Post. It’s a “match made in foodie heaven”.
Korea “honestly doesn’t have the world’s best beer”, said The Korea Times. So that’s “exactly why we pair it with the world’s best chicken”. It’s an “irresistible union”.
What was the food like at Wing Wing?
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the chicken was as delicious in Charing Cross as it was in the bustling Haeundae Beach area of Busan. It was crispy, rather than greasy.
Wing Wing’s menu is packed full of chook loveliness – and the “signature” wings and drumsticks are a must-have item for your order. We recommend choosing a mix of the three flavours: liquorice, soy garlic, and hot. Liquorice flavoured chicken may not sound appealing, but it gives a natural sweetness that complements the meat. Six wings cost £7.50 while six drumsticks were £13.50.
For the mains, yes they were just the “starters”, we chose the chicken katsu boa bun (£7.80), which tasted as good as it looked. And to go a little left-field we also ordered some crispy battered prawns (£9.90), so not to feel all chickened out.
After stuffing our faces with all that chicken, dessert should not really have been an option. But how can anyone resist a bao “nut” (£2.50 each), a bun that’s filled with strawberry creme, salted peanut, or banana caramel? “You want to try all three?” Oh, go on then. They may look a bit too sweet, which is true, but they were worth the we’re-too-full-to-eat-anything-else guilt.
What about 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 ice-cold Kirin did a decent job on what was a school night.
Beer is the tipple of choice for chimaek, but if you want to sample a Korean tradition then order some shoju. This is a clear, sweet spirit that’s available here in strawberry, green apple or grapefruit. Cocktail fans can also enjoy on-tap classics 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 though and it’s like you’re 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 in the passers-by.
For the K-poppers out there, the many screens show music videos from the biggest K-pop girl and boy bands. It was obvious looking at the other diners that the K-pop was as big an attraction as the cuisine.
Wing Wing is not just dishing up delicious food either. There’s “KTV karaoke” rooms, areas for private parties, and events like music bingo. The second music bingo event, on 18 May, will celebrate Asian music alongside western hits, in a classic bingo format. Expect to hear the biggest K-pop tunes from bands such as BTS, Blackpink, Wonder Girls, and Loona.
What’s the verdict?
That’s really easy. This was a winner, winner, chicken and beer dinner. One word of warning though, don’t go to Wing Wing for a quick bite. This is much better than fast or takeaway food, so make a (non-school) night of it.
Wing Wing, 47-49 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0AN; wingwing.co.uk