KOREAN FAST-FOOD CHICKEN | BBQ CHICKEN | Only seasoned chilli fiends should attempt this. For the Hot Hot Drum set (two pieces served with two sides including the option of olive rice, $15.50) the chilli glaze will set your mouth on fire. The thick, crunchy fried batter that shatters easily holds the juicy and tender drumstick meat, and, really, it is the best canvas for the glaze. This is supposedly a healthier version of fried chicken: BBQ Chicken claims to use only olive oil to cook their chicken (hence the acronym: ‘BBQ’ stands for ‘Best of the Best Quality’). Our tastebuds are numb from the chilli heat, not that we’re suggesting they dumb down the spiciness, it is perhaps a good idea to have more complex flavours rather than just mind-numbing heat. The only other one that is Korean-style among the five kinds of fried chicken that BBQ Chicken offers is the Oriental Honey Chilli Chicken (fried chicken topped with Korean honey and chopped chillis, nine pieces served with two sides, $16.90).
KFC AS AN APPETISER | BIBIGO | A go-to spot for healthy Korean dishes like hot-stone grilled meats ($15 to $25) and bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables, $10), Bibigo also serves an appetiser-sized portion of the Korean fried chicken. Called Red Chicken ($8), boneless pieces of chicken are batter-fried to a crisp coating and then tossed in a sweet and mildly spicy kohot sauce (a fermented pepper sauce made with red chillies, fermented soybeans, glutinous rice and salt). These are served in small pieces, result in fuller coatings and a more robust flavour. This spice levels aren’t high so this one's good for those who cannot tolerate spice.
BEST FOR SUBSTANTIAL PORTIONS | BonChon Chicken | This South Korean chain's Singapore outlet is at Level 1 of Bugis+. We had high hopes for this casual eatery: the Korean-style fried chicken is said to be completely trans-fat free, and the chicken cooked to order – takes 15 minutes – with the sauces hand-brushed on every piece. Our order of medium-sized drumsticks (six pieces for $14.90) did indeed take a quarter of an hour to arrive, and was served piping hot, crispy and full of flavour. Large, meaty drumsticks that are coated with either Hot, Soy Garlic or a mix of both sauces. The Hot packs a spice that lingers while not being numblingly spicy and the Soy Garlic is a fragrant garlicky flavour that packs an umami punch. The best part – the generous portions are good for sharing.
ALL YOU CAN EAT KFC TO SOAK UP THE BOOZE | CHICKEN UP | At Chicken Up the draw is an all you can eat spread of fried chicken. They open in the evenings (from 5.30pm to 2am or 3am) and their wildly popular chicken buffet ($29.25 per person) draws in the crowds till the wee hours; the fact that you can top-up $17.55 per person for free-flow draft beer, helps too. Of the five types, the signature offerings are the dry Spicy Up (the spice is in the batter, not as a coating; four pieces for $18 - pictured) and the Yangnyum (fried chicken coated with a signature sweet and spicy sauce and topped with sesame seeds, four pieces for $22). Have your fill of all their mildly greasy fried chicken offerings – curry, spicy, mild, yangnyum and soy chicken flavours – and more: the buffet also includes popcorn chicken, fries, salad and a chicken stew. They use only fresh chicken that is prepared upon order – no frozen or pre-cooked chooks served here.
KFC HIDEAWAY | GAYAGEUM KOREAN FAMILY RESTAURANT | We wanted to love this one – tucked away in basement 2 of Bukit Timah Shopping Centre, among dance schools for children and interior design companies, it has the best service we encountered – the owners are personable and accomodating. The long, brightly-lit restaurant space is a KFC hideaway in a world of its own: K-Pop dramas, running man and music videos are projected on the main wall. But the fried chicken was too floury. We tried the original – we tasted only the thick crust of flour in our mouth; the thick spicy sauce left flour in our mouth; the non-spicy spicy sauce (chilli bits were just for show) – had flour in our... you get it. This is a case of too much flour, too little dry-ish meat. We felt bad they had to go through the trouble of plating all five types of KFC on one ($40.70). Better to order the HGW community recommended ginseng chicken soup (half chicken with rice, $14; full chicken $19).
CRITIC’S PICK | STICKY SAUCE ON A GOOD VARIETY OF CUTS | KKO KKO NARA | Walk up the shophouse and step into this booth-seating-only Korean restaurant for the large chicken combo set ($40; small – though why would you go for this? – nine pieces $25) – six pieces each: with the thick and piquant yangnyum (sweet and spicy), sticky-sweet Garlic soy-based sauce, as well as the original. We like that the crunchy, sturdy-battered original comes in a variety of meaty cuts (dark and white meats), while the garlic soy is only coated on chicken wings – we’ll take variety over uniform cuts of meat any day. Dine in for the cosy experience – huddle up in dimly-lit booths and lick the savoury sauces off your digits as slowly as you’d like, which, trust us, you will.
SPICIEST KFC | NENE CHICKEN | This Halal-certified fast food outlet serves up Korean fried chicken that comes as sets (two-piece chicken tenders meal with shoestring fries, pickled radish and a choice of drink, $7.90 to $9.90). The flavours range from Original to Green Onion (battered and fried chicken that sits in a brown, soy-based sauce and comes topped with green onion), Swicy (sweet-spicy sauce that is more sweet than spicy) and Freaking Hot (a numbingly spicy sauce). The chicken itself has thick, Kentucky Fried Chicken-like batter; it is the sauces that add dimension to the otherwise plain chicken. Bravehearts, try the Freaking Hot, and put on those given gloves: true to its name, the sauce looks deceptively like tomato ketchup, though we suspect it lurks chilli oil to pump up the heat quotient. We also tried the popular *giggle* NeNePop ($3.90, with a choice of drink) which is really just popcorn chicken coated in Swicy sauce.
IF YOU LOVE CHICKEN SCRATCHINGS... | WOORI NARA| Boneless or bone-in, the skin on this District 21 Korean restaurant's fried chicken is crisp, dry and only slightly oily. It’s coated with a thin shell of flour, so the flavour and texture of the scratchings-like skin is retained. The skin holds the dense, honey-like sauce well too – the Yum Yum sauce is sweet, very slightly spicy, and mildly garlicky; the Soy is equally thick and sweet, balanced out by the saltiness of the soy; and the garlic chicken is the spiciest, with fresh chopped garlic mixed into the Yum Yum or Soy sauces. Past the light, crisp skin are moist chunks of thoroughly marinated chicken (plenty of thigh meat) so you will still be satisfied if you pick the non-sauced original. You can ask for the sampler platter (boneless chicken – original, yum yum and soy chicken; nine pieces for $20) to come with the garlic versions (on its own, 11 bone-in pieces for $17; boneless $19), but you’ll be charged extra for requesting four instead of three types. Be warned, this casual 40-plus seater gets packed with residential clients, even on a Monday – they serve other dishes, of course.
CRITIC'S PICK | BEST FOR CRISP BATTER AND SPICE | 4 FINGERS CRISPY CHICKEN | Great crunch and shatter from the thin, crisp coating: we can see why both Plaza Singapura, Westgate and Ion Orchard outlets are constantly crowded with people queueing up for their Korean fried chicken fix. Get the "best-selling" standard order here: wings and drumlets in a mix of the Soy Garlic and Hot sauces (six pieces for $7.90). While the Soy Garlic is a tad salty (we attribute that to the thin skin), the Hot is nicely spiced, and the batter holds up well for a prolonged period of time. Tastes like twice-fried chicken, with no trace of oiliness, prepared with sauce that is, supposedly, brushed on by hand. A big plus: they are MSG-free.