Top chicks: Melbourne's best chicken dishes 2016

Paul Chai
Charcoal chicken at Henrietta's Chicken Shop & Bar in Melbourne.
Charcoal chicken at Henrietta's Chicken Shop & Bar in Melbourne. Photo: Wayne Taylor

1. Marion

The copper and white-washed interior of Marion Wine Bar is the latest tentacle to spread from Andrew McConnell's empire, making a home next door to its upmarket sibling Cutler & Co. Head chef Josh Fry is a big fan of rare breed birds and makes sure he has a chicken dish, usually from Milking Yard Farm, on the menu every couple of weeks. "Chicken is one of the most affordable meats you can get and to then see something that is quite expensive it is a bit of a shock," says Fry, who describes the taste of Sommerlad birds as "outrageously good". You can buy Sommerlad chickens from Andrew McConnell's boutique butchery Meatsmith (273 Smith Street, Collingwood) for $29.90 a kilogram (a whole bird costs about $90).

53 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy 03 9419 6262; marionwine.com.au

2. Henrietta's Chicken Shop and Bar

After trialling their ethical, top produce chicken shop at a series of pop-ups, Albert Street Food and Wine alums Ruth Giffney and Stuart Brookshaw have found it a permanent laneway address in the CBD. Henrietta's offers a brined, charcoal-cooked bird from either Bannockburn, or the premium-priced Milawa free-range option. The fitout is "nouveau farm" with plenty of wood, rustic metal pails and big pictures of happy chooks. Your bird comes marinated and rubbed in indigenous spices, such as lemon myrtle and native peppercorn, with sides salads of ancient grains and herby potato. There is Brunswick Bitter on tap and sangria by the jar. And the team is not finished popping up in unusual places, the next one being Dubai.

Sommerlad chicken at Marion in Fitzroy.
Sommerlad chicken at Marion in Fitzroy. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Shop 7, Fulham Place, Melbourne, 03 9629 7886, henriettas.com

3. Mr Ottorino

Matt Tine, chef at Fitzroy's new Mr Ottorino, has free-range and rare-breed birds on the Sicilian-influenced menu. Tine is currently researching new suppliers for ethically raised birds for his signature dish, rice-stuffed chicken, a recipe that comes from his nonna.

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122 Johnston Street, Fitzroy, 03 9415 6876 mrottorino.com

4. Embla

The team behind the popular Town Mouse in Carlton opened wine bar Embla this year with a wood-fired oven at its heart. Chef Dave Verheul loves a good free-range chick "cooked super simple" and you might find it cut in half and roasted with garlic, salt and rosemary, alongside a jus that is made all the more delicious by the tasty dark meat.

122 Russell Street, Melbourne, 03 9654 5923, embla.com.au

5. Igni

Chef Aaron Turner has a serious poultry pedigree, starting Belles Hot Chicken with Morgan McGlone in Fitzroy before splitting off to launch the Nashville-style Hot Chicken Project in Geelong. Now Turner is going more upmarket with Igni, which opened this year in a simple, modern space of concrete floors with lashings of wood along the prominent bar. It's a degustation-only affair that changes regularly but expect a star chicken dish when he can source the right bird.

2 Ryan Place, Geelong, 03 5222 2266, restaurantigni.com

6. Pretty Mama

Milawa free-range birds get the jerk chicken treatment at this slick Caribbean diner tucked away near Southern Cross Station. This sleek mash-up of a tiki bar by way of Havana is a joint venture from Michael Cotter (Po' Boy Quarter) and bartender Shae Silvestro (ex Brooks, Der Raum).

220 Spencer Street, Melbourne, 03 9034 4355, prettymama.com.au

7. Good Days

A room short on fuss – duck egg blue walls, black and white tiled floor and a wooden bar – turns out an Asian menu big on flavour. Grab a bar seat to watch the open kitchen at work carving up Milawa chickens and McIvor Farm pork. The chicken rice, national dish of Singapore, is a hearty reinvention with Asian greens, a herby green sauce and ginger-stuffed nuoc cham with the roast free-range chicken piled on top, all charred and juicy. It is a fresh, succulent plate that would whip the fussiest diner into a queue-forming frenzy.

165 Sydney Road, Brunswick, 03 9041 2000, good-days.com.au

8. Rude Boy Burger

You'll find excellent produce slapped between two pieces of bread at Rude Boy Burgers, a retro and recycled burger joint tucked under flats in Brunswick West. Try the Fried Chicken Parma Bun where the meaty taste of Milawa free-range chicken still shines or try it with crispy prosciutto, tomato and basil sauce, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard and ketchup. A perfect dude-food do-over for a Melbourne chicken classic.

482 Albion Street, Brunswick West, 03 9386 4302, facebook.com/rudeboyburger

Coming soon

Paul Wilson's chicken project

Although it is yet to receive an official title, Wilson is clear on the details of his imminent venture at popular Prahran Market. "Chicken will be the hero," Wilson says. "It's a very small site and it is really giving the market goer an opportunity to drop in and grab a home-cooked meal, prepared by a leading chef who has spent 15 years researching the best way to cook a chicken." Wilson is going to brine, cold smoke, then spit roast his heritage birds. Then they will be cut in a unique method he learnt in Mexico.

TBC, Prahran Market

Philippe Mouchel, rotisserie restaurant project

Taking inspiration from the French rotisseries that he loves, Mouchel is opening his new restaurant in Collins Street in mid-June. The restaurant will be based around a rotisserie, where he will also slow cook a range of proteins, including free-range chicken. "I like to cook them in the simple way," Mouchel says. "I like to roast them in a rotisserie with a good seasoning of salt, pepper, perhaps some fresh thyme and rosemary, lemon and put some herbs under the skin and basting them with a bit of fat, a little bit of butter …well it is not really a little bit."

115-117 Collins Street, Melbourne