Chicken. Fried chicken, buttermilk chicken, marinated chicken, anything chicken. The waiters promised me it would be infinitely better than Nandos—and they are correct.
Chooks is all about casual dining, matched with Jukebox style music—think funky pop like Michael Jackson and Carly Rae Jepsen (yes, in the same sentence). The Ealing branch is designed like a chicken coop—I’ve never been in a chicken coop but I am glad to say my experience at Chooks was not claustrophobic, smelly or noisy.
The various design features such as picket fences around a raised dining area, a ceiling cluttered with lamps hanging down (like heat lamps), and ceramic chickens hidden in alcoves require you to take a moment to stare around, spotting the little details. There are also exposed brick walls, a ‘Chooks invaders’ arcade machine by the bar, and a list of house rules by the entrance, which includes the rule “no fowl language”. Geddit?! We think it’s mother-clucking awesome.
Lots of young couples and small groups on a relatively busy Thursday night, and several Deliveroo guys coming in to collect takeaway orders. Staff are undoubtedly ‘dudes’ with a friendly, laid-back attitude, an inside-out knowledge of the menu, and a passion for fried chicken (what guy hasn’t).
In hindsight, our starter dish (even to share) was not needed as the food at Chooks is so gut-bustingly filling. However, the popcorn shrimp we shared was light, crisp, and meaty with a sharp, zingy lime and chilli sauce.
To follow, my partner went for the buttermilk fried chicken, which arrived with a doughnut of perfectly prepared mashed potato—creamy and not too buttery, with a ‘gravy volcano’, which turned out to be the best part of the meal (until pudding). The chicken was succulent and the buttermilk batter was crispy and peppery, and surprisingly not oily.
I chose the Harvest Cobb salad with grilled chicken breast, shredded BBQ ribs, market greens, and crushed tortilla chips. It had been recommended to me by two of the staff members, and being a bit of a salad-freak I decided I should try it. Sadly it was more ‘nachos’ than ‘salad’, save for a lonely spinach leaf buried under a mountain of Doritos… but we swapped plates and my partner happily finished off the mound of cheese and pulled pork.
For side dishes, the creamy slaw—despite its name—was light, refreshing, minimal on the cream, and abundant in crunchy, crisp cabbage. The onion rings were more batter than onion, but the chips were the perfect crunchy-to-soft ratio, and seasoned with rosemary.
For pudding, I ordered a deep-fried Mars bar. It was calling my name from the menu, dreamily saying ‘go on’; how could I not refuse? I don’t even remember what else was on the pudding list (a cheesecake? Waffles?), I was just blinded by the idea of finally trying a deep-fried Mars bar. I’d never seen one before—let alone tasted one… so the words ‘please may I have…’ slipped out of my mouth to a nearby waiter, and soon enough I was sat facing this diet-demon.
I’ve been whispering my ‘sin’ to friends and family ever since, with the caveat ‘I only had two bites’ (I was too full to manage the whole thing). I’ve described it to people as eating twenty Nutella crepes all at the same time. I’m not even a Mars bar fan—show me caramel or nougat and I’ll run in the opposite direction. But after battering a bar you end up with a melted Nutella-like mess inside a crispy, stodgy, fatty roll of batter. It’s definitely not greasy like battered fish, and it doesn’t taste weird. Instead, it tastes so unbelievably right.
My partner, who I will not name and shame, also ate two bites of the deep-fried Mars bar AND (gasps of horror) a chocolate brownie shake with rum. He loved it like a little child in a candy store. Gravy volcanoes and alcoholic milkshakes? It’s got ‘big kid’ written all over it.
‘They’ve only gone and frosted the beer glasses,’ exclaimed my plus one in awe, as he noticed other tables sipping beer (bonus points from the beer enthusiast). Instead he opted for a Margarita, which was deliciously smooth and limey—almost like a cordial, and dangerous in the fact that it was very, very drinkable.
My homemade lemonade tasted flat and bland, not citrusy enough by far and featuring a forlorn piece of mint on top.
In a nutshell
Will I return? Once I feel like I’ve fully burnt off the deep-fried Mars bar (without the risk of becoming addicted) I will return. For another. I’d then probably order one of their more healthy salads like the Green Mimosa salad or Rockin’ Health Nut, and a litre of water to make me feel less guilty.
Chooks Ealing, 31 Haven Green, London, W5; 0208 998 0225; www.chooks.me