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It all started with a casual message: 'KFC crawl to find Sydney's best Korean Fried Chicken. Who's in?'
One thing led to another and before I knew it, six of us were driving all over Sydney on one fine sunny day to determine where we could find Sydney's best Korean Fried Chicken! From Belfield to Strathfield, Eastwood and the city, all in the name of research, we spent over 12 hours eating fried chicken at five different restaurants.
What is it?
One of the best snacks ever! Much like Colonel Sander's Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, there are restaurant chains devoted to serving just Korean Fried Chicken. What makes Korean Fried Chicken standout against any other type of fried chicken is the unbelievable crunch from the double frying process, and the tasty, tasty seasoning.
The spicy version is fried in a specially formulated batter mix then glazed in a sticky mixture of ginger, soy sauce, sugar and gochujang (Korean chilli paste).
Then there's the plain super crispy version, or one tossed with a sweet soy sauce.
Traditionally, Korean Fried Chicken consisted of a whole small chicken cut into manageable pieces but as the size of chickens are nowadays much larger, most restaurants now only use the wing and small drumsticks.
Accompanying KFC is usually a dish of house-pickled radish/daikon cubes which offer a wonderful contrast between hot and cold, salty, sour and sweet.
The score card
The only way we could fairly judge Korean Fried Chicken was if we could taste all of them on the same day, so the taste would be fresh on our minds for comparison.
I designed a scorecard that broke down into:
- Seasoning: Aromatics, flavour, saltiness,...
- Moistness: Tender and not tough and dry
- Crunch: Crispiness of the batter and first bite
- Non-greasy: Tasty and not heavy or saturated with oil
- Size of cuts: Consistency of sizes and manageable pieces that can be finished in a few bites
- Accompaniments: Quality of the complimentary side dishes
First stop is in an unassuming Korean restaurant inside Strathfield Sports Club. The decor isn't anything different from other sports clubs. There's a TAB section, TVs screens, a bar and a bistro.
While the bistro serves both Western and Korean dishes, it's the Korean fried chicken that we're here for so we dive straight in.
We definitely feel like we've come to the right place as there's two entire pages of Korean fried chicken dishes to choose from! How could there possibly be 11 types of Korean fried chicken? Well...
- Incredible gangjung (a traditional Korean bite-sized rice bookie made of puffed rice, honey, peanuts and sesame seeds)
- Soy sauce gangjung: Crispy fried chicken smothered in rich savoury soy sauce
- Hot & spicy gangjung: Incredible gangjung meets wioth tasty hot & spicy sauce
- Bulgogi gangjung: Authentic traditional Korean style savoury Bulgogi sauce
- Spring onion gangjung: Incredible chicken gangjung with an emphasis on freshness and fragrance of spring onion
- Soy sauce chicken: Perfect combination of garlic and soy sauce
- Spring onion chicken: Crispy fried chicken with specially-made wasabi taste sauce and sprinkled with spring onion
- Fried chicken: Premium crispy powder covered original fried chicken
- Black sesame chicken: Boneless drumstick with more crunch
- Sweet & spicy chicken: A deliciously different spicy sauce with a rich tomato fragrance
- Tender long chicken: With a focus on nutritious, premium breast fillets with dipping sauce
The intention was initially to try the original and the spicy version at all restaurants, but we cave in and try three types here.
The spring onion chicken ($32 whole serve) is unlike any KFC we've had before. The batter subtly reminds us of NaruOne but it's the wasabi sauce that delights us. Despite it being a wet sauce, it doesn't make the chicken soggy but merely lifts it in flavour. The wasabi kick isn't overpowering either.
The hot & spicy gangjung ($32 whole serve) is piping hot and glazed perfectly. The chicken is deliciously moist and lightly fragrant, but it somewhat lacks the wow factor that makes you reach for a second piece.
However, it's the black sesame chicken ($32 whole serve) that steals the show! This barely needs the mustard or sweet chilli sauce it is served with. They're bite-sized, they're super crunchy, and the boneless drumstick meat is just so full of flavour. I also love the addition of sesame seeds through the batter.
Red pepper overall scored an average of -
Seasoning: 8.2 original / 6.6 chilli
Moistness: 7.6 original / 6.6 chilli
Crunch: 7.5 for both
Non-greasy: 8.3 original / 6.2 chilli
Size of cuts: 8 original / 7.8 chilli
Red Pepper Total: 7.4/10
Agreeing that we slightly over-ordered at our first stop, we're a little wiser when we arrive at Jeans Chilli Chicken at Eastwood Hotel. Eastwood is just a short drive from Strathfield but Saturday traffic in Sydney can stretch any short drive into a nightmare.
We stroll in like seasoned pros. Another Korean restaurant, in yet another pub. Everything feels familiar.
Cautiously inspecting the menu, it occurs to us that Jeans' house
specialty is chilli chicken; the BBQ type served on a hot plate, not the
chilli fried chicken that would fit our spicy Korean Fried Chicken
criteria. Menu photos of the EQ Honey Chicken ($32) look awfully similar though, so we wing it and order that.
Sticky and sweet, the glaze is definitely more honey-based than chilli. The batter is harsh against the chicken. I think just a minute less in the deep-fryer would have improved this dish.
The ginseng fried chicken ($32) is much more exciting, although still a little dry. Normally not a big fan of ginseng, I surprisingly find this version rather pleasant. The bitter/sharp/earthy flavour isn't as pungent and only just imparts a mustardy fragrance.
The fun thing about having Korean Fried Chicken at Jeans Chilli Chicken is the DIY rice balls which come complimentary with the chicken dishes. Bonus points for accompaniments there! In fact, in addition to the freshly pickled radish cubes, we're also served a creamy pasta salad with chunks of apple!
They're meant to charge more if you need staff to roll the rice balls, but seeing how clueless we are, the waitress jumps in to demonstrate before letting us do it on our own.
The proper technique is to cut up some chicken finely and knead it into the rice, seaweed and sesame seed mixture. Disposable gloves are readily available to keep this a less messy experience. I love the interactive nature of the rice balls. It makes a simple Korean fried chicken dish go such a long way. I reckon we could easily feed 3 - 4 with just one dish. Whoever said eating out was expensive?
Jeans Chilli Chicken overall scored an average of -
Seasoning: 6 original / 5.8 chilliJeans Chilli Chicken Total: 6.2/10
Moistness: 4 for both
Crunch: 7 for both
Non-greasy: 7.2 original / 5.4 chilli
Size of cuts: 6.2 for both
After a coffee/cafe break, we drive to Epping and arrive during that blurry time slot where restaurants are just semi-open for late lunchers or early dinner eaters. Beschico is dim and uncomfortably warm at first, but we settle quite quickly into one of the booths and all is forgotten once the chicken is served!
Beschico is actually part of a successful restaurant chain in South Korea and there are signs of that in the fast-food style menu and serving plates. Everything is branded down to the wet towelette!
Beschico's original fried chicken is probably the closest to the
Kentucky Fried Chicken that we all know. It is more refined in flavour
and seasoning, and less oily, but the most similar in terms of texture
The spicy version isn't too sweet (a good
thing!) and each bite hits those savoury notes well. Feedback all round
is that it isn't spicy enough.
& original combo (chico hot half chicken and chico original half
chicken) set us back $34 which seems to be the average price of Korean
Fried Chicken nowadays. There feels like a lot of potential here. I mean, you don't become a popular Korean fried chicken chain in Korea for no reason! So I'm keen to return to try the garlic soy sauce flavour.
Beschico overall scored an average of -
Seasoning: 6.6 original / 7.5 chilliBeschico Total: 6.9/10
Moistness: 5.8 original / 6.5 chilli
Crunch: 8.3 for both
Non-greasy: 6.8 for both
Size of cuts: 6.3 for both
Seeing as Arisun don't do half & half serves, I have to make the very tough decision of just ordering one flavour instead of reviewing both.
Jugs of beer helps to break up our fried chicken diet.
Arisun's outdoor dining space is always buzzing. Service lacks here
but they make up for this with amazing Korean Fried Chicken! You'd think
that after having fried chicken all day, that we would be less excited
by another plate of KFC, but being reunited with Sun's sweet and spicy fried chicken
($30) was a special moment! It's the way the batter remains so utterly
crispy and the perfection of the sweet and spicy glaze that catches me
Arisun overall scored an average of -
Seasoning: 7.8 Arisun Total: 7/10
Size of cuts: 7.3
The next stop takes us out of the city to the suburb of Belfield. Whoever I ask, even Belfield residents, never seem to have stepped past the frosted doors of Pelicana.
Pelicana opens late and a steady stream of phone orders keeps the owners busy. The doors are usually closed or left open just the slightest amount. I had to solve this mystery once and for all.
As you can tell by the photos, the restaurant is shockingly bright inside. It's almost like a casino inside - it could be any time of the day and it wouldn't matter!
The blackboard menu is broken into two categories. There's fried chicken, and sushi. We're talking about big, hearty Korean sushi rolls, the Korean version of a sandwich from the deli!
But back onto the chicken... Suburbia prices are a nice surprise. For just $22, we get the special dinner for two which consists of 8 pieces of chicken (they happily let us have half spicy and half original), chips and 2 can soft drinks. Radishes are an extra $2 but that's still a bargain in our eyes.
The chips are loaded with chicken salt, an indulgence that brings us back to our high school and uni days. The batter on the fried chicken is breadcrumbed versus the norm. We welcome the refreshing change of texture although it wouldn't be my first preference.The spicy sauce tastes a little generic too. However, I probably should mention it is way past midnight by this stage! So for a
midnight snack, this Korean Fried Chicken is a pretty satisfying feed!
Pelicana overall scored an average of -
Seasoning: 5.8 original / 5.6 chilliPelicana Total: 6.2/10
Moistness: 6.5 for both
Crunch: 5.8 original / 5.3 chilli
Non-greasy: 7 for both
Size of cuts: 6 for both
Admitting defeat after five consecutive Korean fried chicken restaurants, we sadly had to drop NaruOne from the KFC crawl as all of us had been there just a week prior.
It's no secret that I'm a massive NaruOne fan, having eaten there on more occasions than I could ever photograph! Even after the KFC crawl, I still crave NaruOne's fried chicken! On all levels of seasoning, moistness, crunch, non-greasiness, size of cuts and accompanies, their Korean Fried Chicken in my opinion just seems unbeatable.
A special thank you to my hubby (hehe, still getting used to it! #jenandzenwedding) and dear friends Sez, Dave, Bec & Jono for being crazy enough to join me on my KFC crawl! xx
Get your Korean Fried Chicken fix
Strathfield Sports Club
4A Lyons Street, Strathfield, NSW
Phone: (02) 9701 0911
Jeans Chilli Chicken
4A Lyons Street, Strathfield, NSW
Phone: (02) 9701 0911
41 Beecroft Road, Epping, NSW
Phone: (02) 9869 8188
1 Dixon Street, Haymarket/Chinatown, NSW
Phone: (02) 9264 1588
6 Burwood Road, Belfield, NSW
Phone: (02) 9742 3399
375 Pitt Street, Sydney, NSW
Phone: (02) 9261 2680