Behold the rise of a sleeping giant.
It’s amazing how Jollibee, in terms of branding and the group as a whole, have grown all across the world since its inception in 1978. It is literally, Southeast Asia’s most successful fast-food conglomerate, with 2,510 stores worldwide across 10 brands including Jollibee, Greenwich Pizza, Mang Inasal and the Burger King franchise in the Philippines; Yonghe King, Hong Zhuang Yuan and San Pin Wang in China; Jollibee, Red Ribbon, Chowking and Chow Fun in the United States; a significant Jollibee presence in Vietnam, along with outlets in Doha, Dubai, Brunei, Jeddah and Hong Kong. It’s an achievement that no other Singapore or Southeast Asian restaurant group has come close to, not even Fish & Co., PastaMania, YaKun or the BreadTalk Group. The group’s Singapore debut might well go down as one of the most controversial openings given the “local sentiment”, but its entrance couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. The subject of contention, intended or not, has ironically drawn locals like bees to honey to what might have otherwise remained as a silent addition to the vibrant Filipino-centric microcosm that is Lucky Plaza. When I visited, I observed locals thronging the counters with as many takeaway orders as the restaurant’s familiars.
Jollibee’s expertise, particularly in huge population regions like China, Philippines and the United States is very apparent the moment you step into the restaurant. It’s all very systematic, with queue lines enforced, and the front-line staff polite, courteous and efficient – really, the epitome of the legendary Filipino hospitality that I’ve heard so much about but rarely see in Singapore. However, what truly impressed me was how I didn’t receive the “Sir, please take a seat. We’ll serve it to you later” comment that I get whenever I visit other fast food chains these days. The idea of carrying a large tray of basically nothing, then to a secondary point to pour my own portion of sauces onto flimsy saucepans, before heading to the table to wait is ridiculous *coughMcDonaldscough*, so I really appreciated the actually fast-food service that is Jollibee.
The menu’s a hosh-posh of fried chicken or hamburger steak with rice, spaghetti and burgers. I went straight for the classic, Chickenjoy, which is their fried chicken selection. You can have the classic, which is a two-piece that comes with rice and sauce, or the one-piece with rice and sauce, or spaghetti. I usually go for the signature, so I just stuck with a two-piece, but the one-piece set ranges up to SGD 4.80, so it’s a real steal especially in the heart of Orchard Road, or anywhere else in Singapore, really. Prices keep going up every other month – I had generic chicken rice at some generic coffee shop the other day in Ang Mo Kio, and to my shock horror, it cost SGD 5! The Lucky Plaza store’s a 300-seater, which means that on average, the probability of finding a seat, even during meal times, is one. Besides, more people do takeaways than eating in, anyways.
Simply put, it was good. You remember how Popeye’s was like when it was back in the day when they were still quite good before they got their Halal certification? Jollibee’s like that, except that they tone down on the Cajun spices (seasoning here’s very simple, actually, which I liked), and they tone down on the deliciously crispy but needless flour bits – it’s all chicken. The meat was tender, and far from the sawdust that Kenny Rogers calls “chicken”. It’s also significantly less oily than Popeye’s or KFC’s offering. You can’t really go wrong with good ole’ fried chicken with rice, but I didn’t fancy the sauce, which tasted like the brown goo that KFC now calls the “Zinger mushroom sauce”. I didn’t care for it, and was happy to just enjoy the two generous pieces of chicken with their amazing chili sauce, which was ironically, Halal-certified (it’s those yellow packet ones). No choice of “drumstick” or “wings” rubbish here, for a two-piece chicken is really, a real-sized half chicken.
All I’m going to say this: I can’t wait for Jollibee to expand its presence a little more – I have a new favorite place for fried chicken now.