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As an amateur or should I say part-time food reviewer (I don't think that I fit the title of food blogger) who posts reviews as and when I like and given that I am no expert on food, I would never have expected myself to be invited to food tasting events especially since I'm not one of the big names in the food blogging arena. When I saw the call for applicants to take part in this food tasting event hosted by Open Rice at Chicken Up's latest branch at Parkway Parade, I gave it a shot while thinking that it would be extremely unlikely that I would be selected. As such, when I received the email confirming my selection, it was a mix of surprise and disbelief that I was going to attend my very first food tasting event! It was a tad intimidating at first because some of my fellow participants were armed with very professional-looking cameras, using additional lights or flashes or going to great lengths to arrange the dishes on the table so as to make the photos look better. Comparatively, I just brought my Sony camera which isn't even a DSLR and was meant as a countermeasure against dark lighting within the restaurant. Otherwise, I always use my mobile phone to take my food pictures. I guess this just shows how "casual" I am when it comes to taking food pictures for my reviews so I don't think I can match up to these more experienced food bloggers anytime soon in terms of skills, experience and enthusiasm. ^__^
Perhaps I should talk about my experience with Chicken Up so far for a start. I am not new to Chicken Up actually as I've been to their outlets before i.e. once in Tanjong Pagar and twice in Tampines. As such, I knew roughly what I was going to eat there before I showed up for the food tasting event. However, it seems like Chicken Up has added some new items which I don't remember seeing before which I think is a positive step towards attracting new customers and maintaining the novelty for existing ones.
The Parkway Parade outlet at the first floor of the shopping mall feels much bigger than the Tanjong Pagar and Tampines outlets partly because there are two sitting areas separated by the walkway. The Tanjong Pagar outlet felt more cramped as the tables were rather close to one another while the Tampines outlet also had similar issues as it isn't a proper shop space within the Century Square building. Lighting-wise, the Tanjong Pagar outlet was on the dark side since it was within a shophouse and there were not many windows to let in the natural light from outside while the Tampines outlet could be a bit dark if there was a lack of sunlight coming through the full-length glass windows as one side of the restaurant was facing the building. Comparatively, the Parkway Parade outlet felt less restrictive in terms of space and the warm orange lighting made it feel cosier. The shop space area houses the bar counter on the left, the sitting area in the centre, the kitchen at the back and a series of wall display shelves on the right containing bottles of food items such as spices and fruits. It might be good to fill up the entire display area as some bottles were empty so it didn't look as nice as it could have been. The first row of the shelves were also not lighted up so by fixing that, the whole display would stand out more prominently.
The other seating area outside the shop space can be likened to be semi-al fresco because there are no walls on the boundaries so you would be able to look across to other restaurants near Chicken Up. The borderless design makes the area look more spacious than it actually is. In addition, you don't need to bear with the heat like in the Tampines outlet because the outdoor seats there are exposed to the elements. In the Parkway Parade outlet, you get to enjoy an al fresco feel in air-conditioned comfort. Based on this reason alone, I think customers would be happier to sit in the "outdoor" area than if they had to contend with the heat, dust from vehicle traffic or even the haze which is becoming an annual issue when the winds are not in our favour.
Being a Korean restaurant, there is no lack of Kpop music as the BGM which should attract young people who like Korean pop culture and food. I heard a number of my favourites during the entire tasting session which I think is good in improving the dining experience. Ever since the Korean drama "He who came from the stars" (별에서 온 그대) became a hit, chi-maek (치맥) i.e. fried chicken and beer has suddenly become a very attractive combination to many people. For chi-maek fans, you would be happy to know about the chi-maek buffet offered by Chicken Up at its Tanjong Pagar, Tampines, Buangkok and of course Parkway Parade outlets where you can eat an unlimited amount of chicken wings with beer or soju at a fixed price. On most days, ladies can get this deal at $35++ each while gentlemen who are expected to be able to consume more, have to pay a $10 premium on top of this amount. Note that if you are coming on a Friday, there would be a surcharge of $20.
For customers who may be clueless about what to order especially if this is their first time here, Chicken Up provides a list of their best-selling food, drinks and desserts on the first few pages of its menu. Although not everyone may like what's popular among the masses, it is helpful for those who may have difficulty deciding even after going through the entire menu. With the presence of photos as visual aids, this allows customers to see at a glance what to expect. In the event that they are interested in a particular item, they can then refer to the detailed menu for a list of what goes into which dish and the spiciness level. For those who may have special dietary concerns due to various reasons as religion, I would recommend that you check the ingredients list before ordering. In my case, I keep a lookout for dishes which contain beef or beef-related items when I dine out so that I would not eat such dishes unwittingly. As such, Chicken Up's efforts in trying to provide the list of ingredients is indeed commendable and helpful to people like me. I wish more restaurants would be more considerate in this regard.
First to be served was the pineapple soju (파인애플소주, $30). Even before the top of the pineapple was removed, the sweet scent from the fruit was hard to ignore and it looked good visually. The small soju shot glasses were used to serve this type of soju. Much as I'm not really into alcoholic drinks, the pineapple soju tasted better than I expected. A note of warning though, because the sweetness of the pineapple soju is picked up by the tongue first before the taste of the soju kicks in, you may be tempted to drink this at a faster pace than your body can take it. It would be recommended to go easy on the drink because soju's alcohol content varies from 16.7% to 45% so there is a risk of getting drunk before you finish your meal. Perhaps not drinking on an empty stomach and pacing yourself would be the best way to ensure that you can enjoy this drink without causing any undesirable effects after your meal.
The watermelon soju (수박소주, $38) was served in an entirely different manner though. First of all, one bottle of soju was poured into half a watermelon with the fruit removed which set off the first wave of white smoke flowing out and collective responses of amazement among the participants. Another bottle of the soju was then emptied into the watermelon as seen from the picture. The soju was then served in droplet-shaped bowls which were much bigger than the soju shot glasses. Comparatively, this may not go down well with the casual drinker because the strong soju taste hit the tongue in such a manner that it felt like scalding due to hot water. The watermelon taste was not as noticeable when compared to its pineapple counterpart which I assume to be that the soju overpowered the taste of the watermelon.
Frankly speaking, for people who can hardly drink or only drink once in a while, the watermelon may not be suitable for you. For those who can hold their liquor well, this would be good if you are eating in a group and the aesthetic appeal of this item would definitely lift the atmosphere of your meal outing as soon as this gets served on your table. On the other hand, if you are new to soju and can't really boast about being a good drinker, go for the pineapple soju which is less intimidating and easier on your palette. Portion-wise, it would be less likely for you to get drunk since the volume of the pineapple should be lesser than that of the watermelon.For those who may be wondering, the type of soju being used here is Sodal 쏘달 from Jinro which contains 16.9% of alcohol.
Makguksu (막구수, $12) which is essentially cold buckwheat noodle salad, was one of my Top 3 favourite dishes during the food tasting. Besides buckwheat noodles, there were vegetables such as cabbage and carrots, seaweed shreds, one-half of a hard-boiled egg and a vinegar-like dressing. Even before the ingredients were mixed, this dish already gave off a refreshing aroma even though it was not a hot dish. Despite being slightly cold, the makgusu offered an unique combination of sour vs. spicy (the dressing) and soft vs. crunchy (the noodles and the vegetables) thus making it a very appealing appetiser to begin the meal with. Portion-wise, it's good enough to be shared among a few people so for people who must have their greens and carbohydrates, this would be a pretty good choice to get started.
Topokki with cheese and seafood (해물치즈떡볶이, $20) would be a dish popular with those who like spicy food. Most topokki dishes in Korean restaurants tend to have just the deok (rice cakes), the odaeng (fish cakes) and hard-boiled eggs or with ramyeon at times. However, Chicken Up's version chooses to do away with this convention and adds seafood such as squid and scallops along with glass noodles and onions to the standard ingredient of deok. A generous amount of shredded cheese is placed on top thus giving the dish a thick and gooey texture once it is mixed into the topokki's spicy sauce. Be warned that this can be quite stimulating on your tongue so for those who are not too good with spicy food, you may wish to reconsider your choice. For those who relish spicy food, this should be a very attractive option. As for those who can't take beef-related items just like me, note that there is beef seasoning used in this dish.
The seafood pancake (해물파전, $18) here was also somewhat different from the traditional version elsewhere. In many Korean restaurants, the seafood pancakes are usually thin with crisp edges and presented as a big full circle. Sometimes, they are cut up in pieces of different sizes in the kitchen while at times, they are only cut and served at the table. The version here lined up the four square pieces of the pancake neatly on the plate and each slice was comparatively thicker than the norm. However, I found that the proportion of the batter was more than what I would have preferred so I could hardly taste the spring onions and seafood bits within the pancake. The dipping sauce was also modified to become somewhat similar to chili sauce with a savoury twist as it contained chili sauce, sesame seeds, soy sauce, sugar and undisclosed spices. This is quite different from the usual soy sauce with spring onions and chili used elsewhere. Perhaps it's a matter of old habits die hard but I do prefer the traditional sauce when eating this dish. Given the price of this dish, I also feel that the portion may be too little and the small number of pieces will probably mean that it's going to be harder to share this dish in a large group setting unless multiple portions are ordered. For a small group though, this will be just nice as compared to the larger traditional version. I guess the suitability of a dish really depends on how big your dining party is.
There are two types of fries being offered here i.e. the bulgogi fries (불고기프라이스, $18) and the kimchi fries (김치프라이스, $18). As the bulgogi fries contain beef, I would not be able to give an accurate assessment of that since I did not sample this dish. However, the kimchi fries which are covered in a mayonnaise-based sauce with melted cheese, spring onions, shallots and shredded chicken which had been cooked in chicken stock contains a mixture of different flavours coming together to deliver an unique taste. The sourish kimchi coupled with the sweet mayonnaise and cheese, the crunchiness brought about by the vegetables and the texture added by the flavoured chicken shreds combine to create a new type of fries that isn't so common out there. The only flaw I notice is that the fries at the bottom of the tray tend not to be covered by the sauce thus it might be good to have an option of ordering more dipping sauce for those who find themselves running out of sauce or would prefer to have more of it. Surprisingly, despite the use of kimchi in this dish, there seems to be a lack of the signature spiciness from the kimchi so for those who are concerned about spiciness, it looks like it won't be an issue for this dish.
Jabchae (잡채, $14) is a stir-fried dish made up primarily by glass noodles, spring onions, carrots, onions, capsicum and sesame seeds. The version here which I also chose as one of my top 3 favourites, was nicely flavoured without an oily aftertaste. Even when left to cool (because we were busy taking pictures), the glass noodles remained springy instead of becoming a messy lump. Although there are some versions of this dish which contain pork or beef, Chicken Up's version doesn't. As such, for those who are looking for a noodle dish to satisfy their carbohydrates need and yet doesn't want to consume more meat or wants to eat some vegetables, this would be another viable option just like the makgusu introduced earlier on. However, the key difference between both dishes is that the makgusu would be more suitable to be an appetiser while while the jabchae is more like a side dish to be eaten together with the main course.
During my last visit to Chicken Up, I did not notice that there was budae jjigae (부대찌개, $30), also known as army stew on the menu. I'm not sure if this was newly added recently though. The strange thing is that, it is known as Ugly Tang Stew even though the Korean name printed on the menu remains as budae jjigae. Apparently, this name was given to represent the mixture of the ingredients in the stew which look rather messy because there are many types of items inside the top. Budae jjigae apparently started as a food item for soldiers where they added anything they had into the kimchi-based stew because food was scarce then. There are no fixed rules on what must go into this dish but as far as I could see, the standard items of ramyeon, deok, ham, luncheon meat (not sure if this is the SPAM canned meat from Korea), chili, spring onions, onions, macaroni and cheese were all there. As for the soy beans (not baked beans) and enoki mushrooms, they probably aren't considered to be part of the menu for budae jjigae. The soup is also a bit different in the sense that the gochujang (chili paste) is mixed into a kimchi-based soup but here in Chicken Up, a clear stock made of chicken is poured into the pot while the gochujang is shaped into a sphere, placed on top of the ingredients and blended in when the soup boils. As such, the taste here is somewhat lighter and not as spicy than the usual budae jjigae.
Looking at the photo, it is evident that the pot was almost full by the time the soup was poured in. It can be a bit difficult to stir the contents without some of the soup flowing out of the pot. As such, it might be better to use a bigger pot if possible e.g. the flat-type big pans usually used for budae jjigae. Otherwise, it would be best to pour in the soup over several times to avoid the contents from overflowing.
Finally, here are the leads at Chicken Up i.e. the fried chicken! There are three flavours available i.e. ganjang (soya sauce), yangnyum and spicy. During the tasting, we were given the first two flavours to try.
Korean fried chicken is done differently from the usual style of fried chicken we get elsewhere as it is deep-fried twice and coated with a sauce using a brush after deep-frying. As such, this is said to be the reason why Korean fried chicken is less greasy and crunchier than its competition. It is also said that Korean fried chicken restaurants tend to use small or medium-sized chickens which have more tender meat thus contributing to the popularity of this dish.
The ganjang chicken wings (진짜 유명 간장 지킨윙, $12) which interestingly is listed as "very famous ganjang chicken wings" in Korean on the menu, had a light sheen on their skin due to the glazing of the soy sauce which also played a pivotal role in making the skin moist to the taste. Unlike other deep-fried chicken wings which may tend to be either too oily or dry on the surface, the presence of the ganjang helps to accentuate the flavour to a certain extent and retains the moisture in the skin. In addition, the deep-frying method used to make the chicken wings also played a key role in sealing the natural juices of the chicken meat without drying it out. Although it would be good if the flavour of the ganjang could also be tasted in the chicken meat rather than just at the skin level, this might make the entire dish a bit too salty to my liking so I think the current method of just coating the ganjang still works best. On the whole, this version of the chicken wings ranks in my top 3 but I think that there is a limit to how many I can eat these at one sitting because the soy sauce becomes a bit too heavy on the palate after a while.
On the other hand, the yangnyum version (양념치킨윙, $12) looked very different from the ganjang version as the chicken wings were coated in a red and sticky sauce which typically consists of gochujang (Korean red chili pepper paste), ketchup, garlic and corn syrup. White sesame seeds were then sprinkled on the chicken wings as shown in the photo. For those who prefer a slightly spicier version of the chicken wings, this should be suitable for you. Even for people who may not be a fan of spicy food, the level of spiciness in this dish is still manageable to a certain extent. Similarly, the meat of the chicken wings was still tender and juicy just like the ganjang version. Personally, I think that this would taste best when eaten with alcoholic drinks such as beer and it doesn't feel as overwhelming on the palate even after eating multiple pieces.
In conclusion, the entire tasting event was very enjoyable and I found it to be a great eye opener. This review turned out to be much longer than I initially expected so if you have read this till the end, thank you for your time and attention and hope that you were not bored by this. Special thanks goes to the staff at Chicken Up who tried to make us comfortable and answered the numerous questions we had and Open Rice for giving me the opportunity to try this new outlet. Till the next tasting event then!
Makgusu,Jabchae,Ganjang chicken wings,Yangnyum chicken wings
Date of Visit: Dec 08, 2015
Dining Offers: 試食活動Other Ratings: