When GEEKED received word of a new pop-up called Mother Clucker, I volunteered mine, and A’s services immediately! Not only are we big fans of Southern food generally, we are also the resident Southerners on ‘staff’ and thus, we felt a bit entitled to act as the reviewers de jour.
According to their Facebook page, Mother Clucker ‘serves up traditional Southern, twice fried chicken that’s marinated in a sweet tea brine and coated in buttermilk and a secret blend of spices along with buttermilk biscuits and a few of our very own hot sauces’. Right. On.
Southern food in the UK is not new; we spent most of the last year chasing Anna Mae’s around food markets and festivals just to get a little taste of home. Anna and her crew are pros. They spent months touring the US trying to find exactly the right BBQ recipes, Southern flavors, and comfort-food combinations. The first time we had Anna Mae’s—we got a pulled-pork sandwich and spicy chili with Fritos—we swore we had been transported back to Texas. Over the winter months we were introduced to Anna Mae’s Mac n’ Cheese: a dish so good even a pseudo-vegan friend of ours requests that we alert him before our next trip.
With experiences like these, and well-trained tastes that originate in our childhoods, it may be the case that our expectations are unreasonably high. That said, we were informed that one of the primary creators of Mother Clucker is a Louisianan woman, who, like us, has made a home here in the UK. This all seemed very promising.
Unfortunately, our lunch there today (21/3/13) was not what we had hoped for. We had a good time, and it was well worth the stroll over to Soho, but this was not the ‘shut yo’ mouth’- ‘better than Mama’s’-fried chicken we were so desperately needing.
Sam’s Thoughts and Impressions:
I really like the marketing behind Mother Clucker. It’s witty and a bit biting. Plus, there is no end to the amount of enjoyment one gains from inserting the word ‘cluck’ into every pejorative phrase one is tempted to utter. Ho-ly cluck! Ahhh, cluck. What the cluck?! See? Fun.
We made reservations for lunch, which I would strongly suggest as almost every table in the pub was booked. We watched several parties come in and get turned away owing to the sheer lack of tables.
Mother Clucker opened on Monday 18/3 and will remain at The Endurance until 30/4/13. After that, according to their Twitter, there are big plans for a food truck. This makes a lot of sense. We sat down and were informed by our waitress that cutlery was optional. Well duh! This is friiiieeeeddd chicken! As A put it, no self-respecting Southerner would use cutlery to enjoy fried chicken. A food truck seems the perfect vehicle for peddling Southern finger foods.
The menu currently available is abbreviated. There were three options for lunch and since we couldn’t decide, we got one of everything. The Clucker Combo comes with a cup of Cluster Clucks (popcorn chicken bites), a drumstick, some waffle fries, and a buttermilk biscuit (like this, not this). We also got Six Wings, which owing to a problem with their morning delivery, turned out to be six chicken tenders instead. (We also asked for one of each menu item and wound up with—and paid for—two orders of the ‘wings’). Finally, there are Waffle Fries: ‘criss-cross cut fries covered in melted cheese with a sprinkling of spring onions and chilies’. Of course, we washed all of this down with two pints; again, something I would strongly suggest, as some of Mother Clucker’s ‘secret spices’ can be a bit fiery.
I really loved the sprinkling of green onions and fresh chilies, this was a refreshing, new touch. I also liked the texture of the biscuit: thick but crumbly, fluffy but dense. The spices in the batter of the fried chicken are also excellent. It’s got a hint of BBQ, smokiness and of course, heat. The Six Wings—which were in this case, tenders—were lightly fried and not at all greasy. The description says that the Wings are twice-fried to be extra crispy, but knowing the structural difference between wings and tenders, I wasn’t expecting to encounter crunch.
The ‘criss-cross cut fries’ were a total mystery to me. This was not a phenomenon any American would call ‘a fry’, nor would it, I suggest, be recognizable as ‘a fry’ to a Brit. These were sort of just potato chips (in the American sense of the word) and unfortunately, as they cooled, they became increasingly soggy and grease-laden. This was even more the case with the ‘fries’ covered in swimming in cheese.
I also thought the ‘drumstick’ was fairly disappointing. It was, as far as I could tell, not actually a drumstick but more like a breast. The fry batter was overdone so that any nuance of flavor disappeared under the ‘deep fried taste’. The meat was a bit rubbery underneath the crunchy outer shell and it was simply too greasy.
My last complaint is that there was no ranch dressing. Perhaps this won’t make sense to non-Southerners but for those of us born and raised ‘way down South’, this is almost non-negotiable when consuming spicy chicken of any variety. Having said that, Mother Clucker’s own homemade sauces are tangy, spicy and act as a lovely supplement to the already spicy batter.
Before we left, and after a Condé Nast writer forced us to look happy about eating our chicken for a photo, a Mother Clucker team member sat down at a table next to us and began discussing the hiccups of the first week. As I mentioned, there was a problem with that day’s delivery. Their fryers are also apparently not up to the job, or rather, the fryers are raring to go but all of them operating at once makes the building’s power supply opt for a ‘lie-down’. These snafus are obvious in the presentation of the food.
I think Mother Clucker has the right idea. And it is my sincere hope that as the days unfold, they will work out a routine that maximizes their potential to create good ol’ fashioned Southern food. I will go back, if for no other reason than I now have two, shiny ‘MC’ tokens redeemable for 25% off my next bill. I don’t think we saw Mother Clucker’s A-game, but I enjoyed my meal and I’ll be keeping my claws crossed for a more successful visit in April.
A’s Thoughts and Impressions:
Mother Clucker’s behind-the-scenes act is pretty appealing, too. They source happy, free-range chicken, and even the tea in which they marinate those happy cluckers is organic. That fact definitely helped us feel good about eating loads of fried chicken, which, actually, is something you can’t necessarily say for all of that delicious fried chicken in the American South.
When the goods arrived (that optional cutlery will remain optional, thanks), we were definitely enjoying the look of what was before us, until our eyes ran over the ‘fries’. I double-checked the menu to make sure it said ‘fries’ and not Ridges®. They did look hand-cut, at least, but with all the toppings and loads of cheese they were more like nachos than waffle fries. Ah well.
The Cluster Clucks as well as the fried breast-strips were tasty, and the former seemed to have a bit more kick built into the fried batter. I think some kind of starving 11-year-old Texan instinct kicked in, and I wolfed down all of my fried chicken before Sam even noticed. She generously donated two of her strips to the cause. The super-secret batter recipe is probably the highlight of the meal…it’s spicy, a bit cheesy even, and just quite tasty. But what diminished the impact of Mother Clucker’s nicely-presented meal was that it arrived lukewarm at the warmest. The cheese on the nacho-Ridges® was hardly melty, the fried chicken was warm but not hot (which I was also hoping for on this clucking cold day), and the biscuit definitely hadn’t just been pulled out the oven. Biscuits are supposed to be piping hot, y’all! With steam coming out! Cluck!
Before arriving, we had discussed that we should maybe have two ways of evaluating the food. One would be in comparison to the highest-quality fried chicken you’d find back in the States, and one would be in comparison to Southern-style food in the UK. That may make it sound like we’re overly-sniffy and extremely serious about this, and we’re not (I mean, well, this is our native cuisine we’re talking bout! Or what passes for one), but at the same time Mother Clucker seems to be part of a new American foodie movement in the UK and so the comparison to the States just has to be made.
MC is definitely promising. Like we’ve mentioned, the batter used for the fried chicken is definitely a strong point. If the chicken was piping hot, I’d have been totally happy with it. But it doesn’t yet compare with the folks back home. The food–at least on the short menu–is also very reasonably priced. I’ll happily return to see how things progress, but they’ll have to ante up if they want more (admittedly very hard-to-earn) cred with Americans in London.
Empty baskets and full bellies!