There were no expectations, and still, it couldn’t live up to them.
Ever since I learned about the existence of Chic-A-Boo Fried Chicken, and its first outlet being in Ang Mo Kio, my adopted hometown no less, I wanted to try it. However, the lone review then, as seen on Jiaksimi Png described an honest local start-up whose product didn’t necessarily impress. I’m not one to live by others’ comments, but looking for good fried chicken in Singapore is like searching for good French food in Paris. It’s everywhere, but it’s mostly mediocre to surprisingly dreadful. What seems like a simple task of serving up fried chicken appears to be a constant challenge in this city-state, even among the fast food chains, which should technically be the boilerplate for consistency. But no, it’s a bar too high, especially for KFC, whose chicken has made me cry with tears of joy, laughter, pain and sorrow…within the span of a month. It’s an emotional and epicurean roller-coaster ride that I didn’t expect would have its ups and downs. Mostly downs, actually…just when I thought I’ve seen the bottom, I go deeper.
With Chic-A-Boo, there’s also the psychological effect. The banty debut of this cockerel ranch is located in a coffee shop at Ang Mo Kio Blk 721. To get here, you will walk past the well-known S-11 at Blk 711 where the delights of the western chicken chop from Rasa Sayang, the mouthwatering indulgence of the Penang prawn noodles, the enticingly nectarous barbecue sambal stingray reside at; past the dainty aroma of a well crisp Popeye’s biddy at Jubilee Square; kids from one to ninety-two ruminating over the piping hotness of the savory curry chicken of Tip Top… before you get to the coffee shop. As if the task couldn’t be more difficult, Chic-A-Boo is located beside Aston’s. Many will attempt the walk along this red brick road, but only few may make it to Chic-A-Boo.
Like David challenging the Goliaths of fried chicken, Chic-A-Boo pretty much sells the same thing you might expect of a fried chicken restaurant – fried chicken…with the ubiquitous sides, and the obligatory alternative of, guess what, fried chicken burgers. They sell by pieces: the single, double, triple, followed by half dozen, a dozen and so on, with meals coming with a soup, a side dish mostly of carbohydrates, and a corn bread. The ‘curly-fry-omaniacs’ will revel in the gospel that curly fries are available all year round at Chic-A-Boo, instead of seasonally at McDonald’s. For balanced diet reasons, I went for a two-piece meal, opting for a side of coleslaw, which softens the blow of such a crisp indulgence. Chic-A-Boo Fried Chicken doesn’t have a website, but you can go all Sherlock and infer from the meal itself what the restaurateur’s intentions are. Unlike fellow local start-up Arnold’s Chicken and Jollibee, Chic-A-Boo has decidedly turned to Southern United States cuisine for inspiration – something which I think is its source of greatest strength and greatest weakness.
The cornbread, which is regarded as the “cornerstone” of Southern cuisine is telling. While it has the word “bread” in it, the cornbread is in fact, supposed to have a consistency closer to cakes and muffins. In that respect, the cornbread succeeded on many levels. It was warm, rich and luscious, and it reminded me of a really good Madeleine. However, I don’t think most Singaporeans will react too kindly to it, considering the understandable ignorance to what is essentially an alien cuisine, and their initiation to Southern chicken have been Texas Chicken (Church’s) and Popeye’s, whose interpretation is a biscuit, rather than a strict cornbread.
The soup, a Cream of Chicken, was spectacularly disastrous. It was starchy, and it felt like someone either threw loaves of bread and the broth soaked up the bread and broke it down, or someone had left the stove on so long that the whole soup was studying to curdle into a jello like warm pudding. It was near horrendous, and slightly worse than what they’d serve in the Army.
Like many of its peers, there are two varieties of fried chicken available, namely “Hot & Spicy”, and “Special”, which corresponds to KFC’s “Crispy” and “Original”. I chose to have “Hot & Spicy”. After all, there’s a certain thrill about having something fiery whilst in a warm environment, doesn’t it? Anyways, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the chicken (I did), but I felt that the recipe was possibly misinterpreted, misunderstood, or replicated after a stint at McDonald’s McWings preparation station. There was a certain “manufactured” essence to it which I just couldn’t put my finger on. In addition, while the chicken was satisfactorily tender and juicy, the “Hot & Spicy” overall lacked a layer of fire, and was ultimately just mildly crispy only, and eons behind the fast food incumbents. Despite its Southern fried chicken aspiration, which encompasses such a wide variety of recipes, vast culture and history on which to be inspired from to find just the right mix of American and Singaporean, Chic-A-Boo failed to tap on the resources available to create something really unique and special.