- 30 ways to dress up a barbecued chook
- The essential Good Food guide to Sydney's best takeaway chicken
Takeaway chicken – whether it's chargrilled, fried, spicy or roasted – is a language nearly everyone can speak.You can chew on a drumstick or two solo. You can pick up a whole bird for the family on a busy weeknight. Your favourite portion with sides and sauce is a quick, convenient lunch whether you're a tradie or a teen. It's no coincidence that nearly every Australian suburb has a chicken shop.
In Melbourne, there are businesses that have been run by the one family for generations, but some newcomers are asking if they can do better with salads, sourcing of truly free-range birds or innovative cooking methods that require more time but pay off in every bite.
We're seeing an influx of operators from Sydney, where eating charcoal chicken is practically a sport, who are adding breadth to our options. There's Taiwanese, Nashville, French and Lebanese spins. We're officially hot for takeaway chicken right now and these are some of our favourites.
The new El Jannah Chicken Shop in Preston. Photo: Wayne Taylor
How do they get their chook so damn smoky? What's the secret ingredient that makes the toum so addictive? Should you eat in or use the drive-through? These are all pertinent questions for Melburnians navigating their first taste of El Jannah, which crossed the New South Wales border in April and painted the town green. The charcoal chicken sensation made its debut in 1998 in the Sydney suburb of Granville and has earned the loyalty of many fans there, expanding to 13 franchises. And now it's our turn.
El Jannah's first Victorian store is in a former Hungry Jacks in Preston and cleverly makes the most of its predecessor's drive-through. If you don't spot the queue of cars, you'll soon see the neon green lights that mean you're moments away from Lebanese-style charcoal chicken, available as is (whole, $15.90, includes toum) or with a rainbow of pickles, tabbouleh, pita and dips. Burgers, fried chicken, pita wraps and other items round out the menu, but the chicken plate is the classic order.
The team does not seem quite prepared for the warm welcome they've received, so you may feel the frayed nerves of some staff. But, rest assured, when the chicken arrives, it's hot, charry and very moreish.
Open daily 10am-11pm, 600 High Street, Preston, 1800 491 838, eljannah.com.au
Victor Churchill's charcoal chicken is available to takeaway (whole or half), to eat at the bar, or in hot chicken rolls to go. Photo: Bernard Holbery
If there's a flamboyant way to cook takeaway chicken, you can bet that premier butcher shop Victor Churchill is onto it. Owner Anthony Puharich went to the trouble of sourcing a Josper rotisserie for his debut shop in Melbourne, a handsome piece of machinery that joins the Josper charcoal oven and parrilla that power the bar menu, adding char to everything from arrow squid to bistecca. Standard Jospers aren't so rare in Australia these days, but the Spanish-manufactured rotisserie version is the only one of its kind in Australia and it transforms Milawa chickens into a golden, crunchy lesson in the power of brining, resting and cooking over charcoal.
You can take a whole ($25) or half ($14) home and while you're there load up on roast spuds, green beans, a wedge of Ossau-Iraty cheese, dessert prepared by the in-house pastry chef and a bottle from the wine list, with a 30 per cent retail discount. Talk about easy entertaining.
Lunch on the run might be a chicken and gravy roll on brioche ($12), but if you're treating yourself, take a seat at the bar, where a half chicken with sprightly green salad ($38) is only going to taste better with a glass of white burgundy and some oysters to start. It's easy to get dazzled by this glitzy butcher shop, but it also nails the basics, and at a decent price to boot.
Open Mon-Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 9am-5pm. Bar reservations available daily at noon and 2.15pm; takeaway chicken available from noon each day. 953 High Street, Armadale, 03 9978 1968, victorchurchill.com
Centre Charcoal Chicken
Keep walking past Bentleigh's cluster of cafes, camping shops, sushi spots and lawyers' offices, and then you'll see it: the unassuming eatery emblazoned with signs for Lilydale chicken. As soon as you step inside Centre Charcoal Chicken, your eyes will drift to two long rotisseries lazily turning both lamb and the namesake bird over glowing coals. About the same time, the alluring aroma hits you. It doesn't matter what time of day it is or how hungry you are: you want whatever is on that spit. The chicken will be a Lilydale bird brined for 48 hours, available as a whole ($17), half or quarter.
Seasoning is simple, but the stuffing is a pleasant surprise: buttered rice with carrot and celery. The meat has the trademark tenderness that only a slow spin on the rotisserie can produce. There are more salad options than you'll find at most chook shops – we counted six types, including potato and spring onion salad with a seeded mustard vinaigrette and a beetroot salad, but there can be up to 12. Still, it's difficult to ignore the hulking potato gratin sitting under the heat lamp, baked until a dark crust forms on top.
Open Mon-Sat 11am-8pm, 271-275 Centre Road, Bentleigh, 03 9557 8755
Korr Jee takeaway chicken is made by a Vue De Monde chef, Will Tang, who is putting hours of prep into each bird to create super-crisp skin and flavoursome meat. Photo: Supplied
Along with serviettes and knives and forks, this St Kilda eatery should offer you earplugs for the extreme crackle that erupts when you bite into its chicken skin. The secret to the brittle shell on Korr Jee's roast chooks is a lengthy drying process (up to 12 hours) and a glaze containing small amounts of sugar and vodka, says owner Will Tang, a former Vue de Monde chef. He opened his own chicken shop after being dissatisfied with what he could find in Melbourne.
Brining is the all-important step that locks in flavour and moisture, he says, and at Korr Jee he makes sure his South Gippsland birds have a nice long soak – up to 16 hours. After being roasted in a dry oven, the fowl arrives piping hot in a gust of rosemary (whole, $30). You might pair yours with ultra-creamy mash and chicken jus, Noisette bread with house-made garlic butter or a grain salad dotted with seasonal veg, such as pickled and roasted cauliflower.
The painstaking preparation of sides, mains and sauces is readily apparent, a refreshing change from what can often be a sloppily prepared fast food. A regularly changing specials board displays things like chicken and mushroom pot pie, or cashew-chicken curry, and a bar is stocked with quality spirits for hot toddies or Suze negronis. If time's on your side, make haste to Korr Jee.
Open Sun-Thurs 11.30am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11.30am-10pm, 92b Acland Street, St Kilda, 03 9939 9566, korrjeechicken.com.au
Nashville-style hot chicken at Belles Hot Chicken. Photo: Paul Jeffers
Belles Hot Chicken
Melbourne hardly knew what hit it when chefs Morgan McGlone and Aaron Turner brought back a souvenir of their time in Nashville: the city's famously spicy fried chicken. Debuting in Gertrude Street in 2014, Belles helped spur the fried chicken craze and, despite Turner and McGlone both departing, it remains a go-to for chicken rubbed with searing spice at seven different heat levels (two are off-menu).
Everything on the short and sharp menu, from drumsticks that smear your fingertips bright red ($21 for four and one side) to chicken burgers with crinkle-cut chips, is built for takeaway. But if you just grab and go, you'd miss out on the American diner fit-out, food served in red baskets, enthusiastic staff and a perfectly pitched drinks list favouring crunchy natural wines to cut through the fried chicken. As for the heat? You're on your own there.
Fitzroy open Tue-Sun 11.30am-9pm, 150 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
CBD open Tue-Thu 11.30am-3pm, 5pm-9pm; Fri-Sat 11.30am-9.30pm, Sun 11.30am-4pm; 147 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. belleshotchicken.com
Super Tasty Rooster
Northsiders swear by this Fitzroy North shop when time and energy are in short supply and dinner isn't going to make itself. The Eleftheriadis family purchased Super Tasty Rooster nine years ago, putting their own stamp on the line-up of chook shop staples. Alongside dimmies and quarter chicken-and-chip packs, you'll find a daily selection of sides such as manestra (orzo simmered in tomato sauce) on Wednesdays. Dessert might be rizogalo, Greek rice pudding. But no matter what day of the week it is, the cabinets are cleared out by evening.
Get there early if you're after golden, glistening fowl (whole, $16.80), which is made by marinating the meat in a secret spice mix for between two and three days, and stuffing the birds with breadcrumbs to keep them moist. They're cooked on a gas rotisserie, not charcoal, but if that's a deal-breaker, there's always the best-selling schnitzel burger.
Fans also love the atomic bomb, a version of the Halal Snack Pack. Usually adorned with doner kebab meat, here it features chicken. On sunny days, the nearby Edinburgh Gardens make for a fine place to enjoy your bounty, perhaps with something refreshing from neighbours Blackhearts & Sparrows or Public Wine Shop.
Open Mon-Fri 10.30am-8pm, Sat-Sun 11am-8pm, 123 Scotchmer Street, Fitzroy North, 03 9486 2774
The Hot Chicken Project, Geelong is Aaron Turner's Nashville-style hot chicken venue. Photo: Gail Thomas
The Hot Chicken Project
Don't be fooled by the unassuming name: a visit to this Geelong bar and eatery is a full sensory assault. Opened by chef Aaron Turner, owner of fine dining Igni following his year in Nashville, The Hot Chicken Project is both homage and chef's update to that city's famed formula of hot birds, sauces and sides. Whether you sit in or get your chook to go, the core menu asks nothing more of you than choosing your favoured cut ($22 for three and one side), heat level (there's five plus an off-menu scorcher called Lucifer) and accompaniments like turnip greens or potato salad.
If you want to go off-menu, you'll be rewarded with up to six choices of burger, including two that – gasp – aren't even chicken. Turner's other twist on the Nashville chicken shop was adding cocktails, craft beer and a fridge full of natural wines that he believes pair well with the crunch and salt of fried birds, as well as a dive bar feel complete with a rock and roll soundtrack turned up to 11. Sure, you can eat a bucket of fiery wings on your couch, but why wouldn't you want to get the full experience?
Open daily noon-10pm, 84a Little Malop Street, Geelong, 03 5221 8977, thehotchickenproject.com
Chargrill Charlie's new Malvern store. Photo: Supplied
Another favourite from Sydney's rich charcoal chicken scene, Chargrill Charlie's has been winning over Melbourne's east since opening its Camberwell eatery three years ago. A Malvern shopfront was added last December. At both stores salad is the word on every customer's lips – no mean feat for a business focused on poultry. Each store prepares more than half a dozen choices daily, whether it's the Charlie's chopped salad, roasted cauliflower and almond, or a bright coleslaw dressed in soy and sesame.
When it comes to the bird, you can go for a classic breadcrumb-stuffed chook (whole $20.90) or the butterflied and well-charred Portuguese with hints of smoky paprika spice. Both are cooked over gas at a high heat but the Portuguese comes with three choices of glaze (peri-peri, lemon and herb, Thai), all of which are made in-house. With sides including roast pumpkin or fried rice, desserts such as chocolate mousse, and schnitzel for those who prefer their chicken crumbed, you can see why there are 17 locations in Sydney. Look out for more stores here in the future.
Camberwell and Malvern open daily 9.30am-8.30pm, 10 Prospect Hill Road, Camberwell, 03 9882 8661; 216 Glenferrie Road, Malvern, 03 9500 9110; chargrillcharlies.com
Ones to watch
West Footscray's ferment-focused bar and eatery Zymurgy has changed direction for winter, becoming a charcoal chicken destination. Vegetarian croquettes, focaccia, house-made pickles, salads and Filipino-inspired ice-cream sandwiches from locals Kariton Sorbetes round out the menu, and everything is available to go. Open Thu-Fri 4.30pm-9.30pm, Sat noon-10pm. 561 Barkly Street, Footscray, 0413 955 478, zymurgywest.com.au
Henrietta, a Sydney outfit combining the best parts of a restaurant with all the hits of a charcoal chook menu, is opening in Windsor in August. Expect a huge mezze line-up, whole fish cooked over coals, and strong vegetable dishes.
El Jannah is opening a second Melbourne store in Campbellfield. Building is under way and it's expected to open sometime in spring 2022.
The Hot Chicken Project has closed its long-time Anglesea pop-up but a second store is in the works at Ballarat. It should open this winter in a part of town home to Pancho restaurant, Meigas tapas bar and Fika cafe.