Coqfighter, 10 Coulgate St, London SE4 2RS
Coqfighter: Consistent, satisfying and clucking with flavour
I’ve banged on before about the Trojan Horse potential of fried chicken and our submissive will to forgive these shortcomings;
Quality of chicken
Quality of coating that sub-divided into flavour and structural integrity
Quality of execution
In my experience, vendors are willing to overlook at least one of these elements at all times. Maxin Chicken up Gloucester Road in Bristol like so many chicken shops, absolutely forego the quality of the chicken itself which is practically a given and of no surprise to any chicken joint with opening hours that pick up where the pubs leave off. Served in those oblong boxes with a little tagline to the effect of ‘hot n tasty’ or ‘as if you give a toss’ my chicken was always buried under the fries with devastating effect.
With the lid on the box, a sauna begins to form- steaming the batter from the chicken and sweating the fries in the process, leading to visible damp in and around the box. Coupled with that translucent blue carrier bag that further compounds the guilt of the total environmental impact you’ve caused, you’ve more or less spent £4.99 (£5 really because these shops don’t carry change) on a mistake.
But I kept coming back because the actual flavour of the coating was nigh-on perfect. Unapologetic thwacks of cayenne and black pepper with fine ratios of paprika, garlic and onion powder that were suspended in a batter that could be rejuvenated with a blast in a hot oven. Plus this place let you trade in your can of tepid fizz for extra chicken instead- a flexibility that I always cherished.
Not only this, but the fries that were always cooked to order were my idealised version of what fries should be. Thin but not skinny and always slightly burnished along the edges fading into golden sides, they held their salt and were in such a quantity, you didn’t have to ration them- just get stuck in. And for £5 I’d have 5 strips, 2 wings and all these fries.
On the flip-side to this is Wings Diner on Kings Street. Here, a piece of breast, thigh and fries (extra) is £10.50. Yes, the quality of chicken is higher and yes it’s brined in buttermilk for 24 hours before serving and double-fried, which is all welcomed effort that’s factored into the cost but here’s the ‘but’.
If you’re going to charge £3 for fries, then make with the fries. I didn’t ask for a suggestion of potato, they’re not exactly crafted from Yukon Gold’s or fried in dripping, so don’t take the piss. Fries cost fuck all- especially when not hand-cut, as the ancient proverb of ‘cheap as chips’ might imply.
Don't get me wrong, the chicken is good: the double cooking makes sure that you can bite clean-through without fear of an imminent chin-slap from loosely battered skin. I genuinely reveled in being able to ravage the fillets as I please, without the irritating tedium of a never-ending mouthful that you sometimes get from pizza or spaghetti.
When it comes to the execution, Wings Diner and the like plays a trick on you. It comes in those red plastic baskets lined with red and white chequered paper that you’d see in Saved By The Bell or any diner seen in American dross. It plays on that cringey love affair we have with American cuisine and that would be all fine and dandy if it then wasn’t priced like it’s a delicacy.
I’m an insufferable pedant about a lot of things as you can probably glean from this tirade but who'd’ve thought I’d be vindicated on a trendy side street in Brockley? Coqfighter is opposite an independent wine emporium 'Salt Bottles' complete with an artisanal dairy fridge (and wonderfully patient staff in the face of my ignorance about all the supply.
I’m warned that the ‘Burger Of The Month’ is a tenner; ‘Hot honey butter with miso ranch, American cheese and shredded iceberg’ but I’d been committed to the idea of this sandwich since it flashed up on Instagram and I am a stubborn man.
The Honey and Ginger Buffalo coming in at £6 with fries- seasoned with dashi and paprika in abundance at £3 and a box of nuggets definitely in excess of the 6 stated for £5.
My Editor suggests a nearby stoop of the Brockley overground and we turn the corner to see others with exactly the same idea in mind. A calm side-street gently bubbling with local activity, we post up next to a couple that are praising the amount of cream cheese in their bagels, expressing their unabashed joy that a trip to Brick Lane wasn’t at all needed.
One of the first things to smack me in the eyes besides the gleaming chestnut-brown brioche bun is the textbook ruffling of a gnarly, visibly crisp batter. Aware that with every passing moment is a chance for the sauce to wrest this glory, I dock my face right in to find my fear totally unfounded. From the top the bun gives way as it should; the toasting giving the extra support and resistance to moisture- through to this miso ranch which is inspired- the umami here nodding to the dashi on the fries which I assault with impunity.
The American cheese plays its role that’s caused me to love it throughout the years- a creamy adhesive that mimics a whisper of anything actually real, without treading on the wider flavour profile. Along with the simple fresh relief that only iceberg lettuce provides, all of these elements serve as a solid stage for the chicken to do its thing.
A piece of thigh meat that reminded me of Apollo 31 in its succulence, we test the steadfastness of batter- the crunch reverberates around our skulls whilst delivering punches from their seasoning that assures you that you could eat the piece as-is. My Editor’s buffalo sauce is a deep, bright lava hue that’s quenched with the classic addition of sweet and sour pickles.
The signature warmth of ginger not overly present but the sweetness of it distinguishable from the honey itself. The batter reveals an even coating that comes from attentive dredging and solid cooking skills and it’s now we realise that neither of us have said a single word. Just grunts in various pitches of approval.
It’s decided that this is one of the best examples of fried chicken that we’ve ever had. Even with the price tag that my choice carries, the wince is eased with the value of everything else. The fries are of my fetishised dimensions and constitution with a comprehensive dusting of smoked paprika that just overtakes the umami of the dashi, being the only drawback.
Wedging itself firmly between the flavour of Maxin-esque dives to the quality and welfare of somewhere like Wings Diner, the disbelief of our luck is furthered by the fact we’re paying such reasonable prices in a part of London so clearly and firmly in the bosom of gentrification. As the move to London teases ever closer, having a reliable fried chicken joint in place means I can start with the lesser-issues of a job and dwelling.