When I meet the founders of American-inspired ‘dirty’ restaurants around London I’m routinely surprised to find they aren’t the chubby fry-chefs you see chilling out on Man Vs Food, but hawkish young businessmen with folders full of market research, expansionary ambitions and venture capitalists on speed-dial.
So it is with Vishav and Dhilon, two university friends who launched the spectacular Pecking Order earlier this year, and now spend their evenings getting stuck in with the rank and file, mixing cocktails, rushing rotisserie chicken around and chatting to the guests.
They tell me they almost went with pizza, but decided that particular market’s pretty much tied up already. Is chicken that much more flush with opportunity? I’ve tried enough Chicken Shops, Wishbones and Chicken Liquors to know we aren’t exactly stuck for options.
Looking around Pecking Order, I see the inspiration from all these places – the industrial/rustic bare brick walls, gleaming cocktail bar and grill kitchen open for all to see the parade of pirouetting birds.
But what’s truly novel is the location they’ve picked for their opening gambit. My friend Adam and I are sat not in ultra-trendy Shoreditch or Soho, but Stanmore – a leafy commuter town at the end of the Jubilee line. It’s Friday night and if a chicken here crossed the road, he’d find nothing but the dim light of a closed Sainsbury’s. Inside, however, the atmosphere is fully ablaze with the chatter of birthdays, dates and families.
Clearly, the name Pecking Order has some significance. It’s sort of like introducing nuclear weapons to a tribal war in sub-saharan Africa – the local takeaway owners must be nervous. But even they must think about eating here after clocking off, because the food is every bit as considered, fresh and irresistible as anything you’ll find in your favourite London glutton-feastery.
We start with some signature cocktails – a “Pecking Order” for me, which has a palate-cleansing elderflower freshness – and a “Pecking Order Punch” for Adam, with an exotic combo of rum and pear brandy. They’ll knock you back £7.50 and £9.50 respectively, but they’re damn good.
The ‘Quick Fix’ menu is our next big decision, and it’s actually an easy one, as it’s where you’ll find the buffalo hot wings. If you’ve tasted the likes of Randy’s Wing Bar in Dalston Street Feast, pay attention: these might actually be better. I don’t know if the guys hired some sort of molecular physicist to gauge the spice level, or if expanding your pain threshold is more fun when you’re not standing up in Dalston – but it’s exactly the punch in the mouth we came for, packed with moistness and accompanied by a mercifully cool blue cheese dressing and crunchy celery.
We also order the King Prawns, which come entombed in a thick and fluffy Camden lager batter, more like corndogs (if you’ve had those) than tempura. Very filling, very satisfying.
For mains, there’s also the option of a beefburger or salad. But let’s face it, we’re here for chicken. You can either have it fried in buttermilk batter, or straight off the rotisserie, rubbed with a Sanders-killing ten secret spices and optionally topped with something called gremolata – an ‘extra zingy lick of truffle, herbs, garlic, parmesan and lemon zest’.
If you can’t decide, do what we did and share both. The fried chicken won out by a small margin – the buttermilk batter miraculously dry and crispy on the outside, the meat inside juicy and tender. The rotisserie chicken is nonetheless a worthy contender for chicken king of the shop, dancing on the tongue with various hyperbolic adverbs.
On the side we got onion rings, again served in that thick lager batter – and mac and cheese truffle bites that practically brought us to tears, although that might have just been hydrogenated fat trying to escape our bodies by any orifice it could.
If there’s one achilles heel, it’s that the salted caramel fudge brownie is a little dry. But if you’ve worked through a sizeable enough chunk of the savoury options, you’re probably too delirious to care.
If I’m overly gushing about Pecking Order, and I am, it’s because these two young businessmen have built a chicken holy place in Stanmore. Is it far? Sort of. It’s a twenty-five minute tube ride from Finchley and then a ten minute walk. Should you make the pilgrimage anyway? If you consider yourself a bona-fried chicken fanatic, do what you have to do. Fake a birthday and insist all your friends join you.
Maybe moving out of London doesn’t have to be so bad after all. What possibilities skyrocketing house prices present us! Maybe we can look forward to a day when the tweed-clad shock troops of gentrification reach the outskirts of Aylesbury and there’s just a gilded kingdom of mac and cheese bites and diabetes stretching as far as the eye can see. What an exciting time to be alive.
Tel: 0208 930 3977