Chicken is the undisputed champion of family meat consumption, with Australians estimated to consume 49 kilograms of chook per person each year. Gone are the days where getting takeaway chicken was limited to the local chicken shop or a fast food outlet. In Sydney’s world-class dining scene, stepping out in search of chicken presents a dizzying array of options.
Classic charcoal chicken with stuffing remains popular, but its Lebanese and Portuguese-style counterparts, butterflied before hitting the grill, are gaining ground. Chicken dishes in Asian communities are often cooked on the bone with the skin on, retaining the true taste of the bird. But whether steamed, grilled, fried or baked, Sydneysiders’ obsession with takeaway chicken deepens by the year. Good Food has rounded up 12 chickens you need to taste.
Old-school chook from Dulwich Hill Chicken Shop. Photo: Janie Barrett
Dulwich Hill Chicken Shop
With 34 years in the business, Dulwich Hill Chicken Shop is staying true to the art of cooking over charcoal. About seven years ago, Jim and Rose Chronis took over from Jim’s parents, John and Dafni, who watched as most of Sydney’s takeaway chicken shops moved from charcoal to rotisserie ovens.
”Charcoal chicken is a dying art,” says Rose. “With charcoal, you need to manipulate the charcoal and fire every five to 10 minutes, so there is a skill to it.
“You can taste the flavour. It’s just completely different to an oven chicken.”
Their chickens are delivered fresh every morning, before being seasoned and filled with stuffing made to a secret family recipe. Then they are marinated overnight so the flavour infuses the birds before they’re cooked over charcoal for just over an hour.
At $17.50 for a whole chook, that’s excellent value for decades of knowledge, care and attention.
566 Marrickville Road, Dulwich Hill, 02 9560 6906, instagram.com/thedulwichhill_chickenshop
When you mention Lebanese charcoal chicken in Sydney, El Jannah is usually the first name on everyone’s lips. But Charcoal Kingdom, run by brothers Ali and Kassem Bedran, has quietly built a flock of chook lovers over the past 15 years.
Ali is a chef by background, working in fine diners such as the now-closed Pier in Rose Bay as well as overseas.
“[I] had never cooked a chicken in this sort of way over charcoal, but I felt like it was something missing in Rockdale,” Ali says.
What makes this chicken Lebanese in style is the way the whole chicken is butterflied, similar to the Portuguese and South African methods.
“It gives you double the surface area of charcoal cooking. There’s more paprika, lemon, garlic flavours – we pre-rub our chickens in a wet marinade for 48 hours and baste our chickens once they come off the heat,” Ali says.
And don’t forget the toum (garlic sauce) and pickles. “It’s not Lebanese charcoal chicken without it,” Ali says.
451 Princes Highway, Rockdale, 02 9567 8888, charcoalkingdom.com.au
Ayam Bakar 7 Saudara
Dining at Ayam Bakar 7 Saudara feels like having dinner at an old friend’s home. That’s exactly the experience owners Susanty Lim and Ridwan Layantara want to give to their customers.
Susanty’s family has five restaurants in Jakarta, and she’s the only member of the family to operate a restaurant outside Indonesia.
Armed with decades of cooking knowledge passed down by her mother, Susanty’s expertise lies in traditional dishes such as gado gado (Indonesian vegetable salad) and beef rendang. It is her husband, Ridwan, who handles the namesake ayam bakar (roasted chicken in Indonesian and Malay), which has made their restaurant a popular destination for Sydney’s Indonesian community.
Layantara cleans and prepares the chicken then marinates it using a family recipe involving onion and herbs before it then hits the grill, where margarine and kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) are brushed over the skin. This gives the grilled chicken its signature sweet flavour and crispy texture.
Ayam bakar is available in three styles – thigh, breast and spatchcock – but Layantara recommends the thigh for extra juicy appeal.
34 Penshurst Street, Penshurst, 0414 420 988, instagram.com/ayambakar7sydney
The steamed, salted, free-range chicken at Eaton Restaurant in Ashfield. Photo: Janie Barrett
Eaton Chinese Restaurant
Executing Cantonese-style steamed chicken is a fine art, according to many Chinese food enthusiasts. Indeed, Merivale’s executive chef, Dan Hong, believes it is “the true taste of chicken”.
It’s a dish that seems simple but requires care and attention.
Hong’s favourite version of the dish, which goes by various English names, including salted steamed chicken, is at neighbourhood stalwart Eaton Chinese Restaurant in Ashfield. Owners Roger Wu and Yvette Li have run the Hong Kong Cantonese diner for 12 years. The original owner and head chef remains at the restaurant as it approaches 30 years in business.
They say “more and more Westerners” are coming in to try their free-range chicken, which is cooked on the bone, having been poached in a Cantonese master stock for 25 minutes before being hung and dried. It’s served with a ginger dipping sauce and ginger and shallot oil.
“We want to retain the true taste of the chicken,” Roger says.
313 Liverpool Road, Ashfield, 02 9798 2332
Red Pepper Bistro
“You know that place in Strathfield, next to the tennis courts, inside the club? Yeah, they serve the best Korean fried chicken there.”
Korean fried chicken (nicknamed KFC) is a serious business in Sydney, especially among the Korean community. If you ask many Korean-Australians their pick for KFC, they’ll rattle off places in Eastwood, Strathfield, Lidcombe or the CBD. But one place reigns supreme: Red Pepper Bistro.
Located inside the Strathfield Sports Club, Red Pepper features a dazzling 13 styles of fried chicken. Purists go for the original (crispy battered pieces) or spring onion, buried under a mountain of greens to take the edge off the savoury chicken. Snow cheese – a sweet, umami powder that’s tossed onto the chicken after cooking so it covers the skin – is another a popular choice.
If you crave something sticky, sweet and juicy, the garlic soy is a saucy marinade tossed onto the crispy fried chicken after cooking so it oozes into the batter, with spicy gangjung a version with more heat. With three sizes – regular, large (whole) and boneless (whole) – it’s best to visit with a gang of friends.
4A Lyons Street, Strathfield, 02 9701 0911, redpepperclub.com.au
Super Nash Brothers
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ross Kemp, Joe Avers and Will Kierath co-founded Super Nash Brothers after tasting Nashville-style fried chicken for the first time in the US.
“We were like, wow, we’d never had anything like this in Australia,” Kemp says. “It was intense and balanced all in one. That’s what got me. That’s how much flavour there was in it compared to other fried chicken I’ve had before.”
Nashville fried chicken originates in the capital of Tennessee and is known for its signature cayenne and hot sauce kick. “We have a seasoned oil, dip the chicken in that oil and then season the outside of the chicken with raw seasoning including cayenne,” he says. The end result is a fiery red batter that coats the chook.
“It’s not too hot – about a 6.5 out of 10,” Kemp says.
There are ambitious plans outside of its existing three stores, with the trio aiming to have 200 stores by 2025 and about to launch a meal kit range for Harris Farm and IGA.
Three locations: Willoughby, Waterloo and Waitara; supernashbrothers.bopple.app
Double Bay’s 21 Espresso keeps things simple when it comes to chicken schnitzel. Photo: Steven Siewert
Australians love a good chicken schnitzel, and 21 Espresso in Double Bay is a Sydney institution that’s been slinging flat discs of breaded chicken for decades. “The secret is that there is no secret,” says co-owner George Schiffer, 75, when asked about their iconic schnitzels.
Their chicken is simply dunked in flour, eggs and breadcrumbs. “We don’t do anything to it. We serve it with two side dishes, that’s it,” he says.
Speaking of sides, he says the most popular combinations are creamed spinach and mashed potatoes, with two batches of the latter made every day.
Schiffer’s father, Jansci, started 21 Espresso in the late 1950s after migrating from Hungary, and George bought the business with his son, Michael, just over 11 years ago. Schiffer’s daughter has also joined the business, keeping the family tradition alive.
21 Knox Street, Double Bay, 02 9327 2616, 21espresso.com.au
Auburn’s New Star Kebab has mastered the art of chicken skewers. Photo: Edwina Pickles
New Star Kebab
When visiting Auburn, one of Sydney’s most multicultural suburbs, you might think that there was a tasty bushfire burning somewhere nearby, or perhaps a massive barbecue block party.
Emitting plumes of smoke and an enticing scent of charry meat, New Star Kebab is one of the key culprits.
Specialising in Turkish cuisine, New Star Kebabs is approaching three decades in business, making these guys experts in charcoal grilled meat.
The mixed shish plate – skewers of lamb, chicken and Adana (lamb mince) paired with tomato, red cabbage, onion and Turkish bread – brings a great tasting platter of owner Attila Tok’s life’s work.
For chook lovers, the chicken shish plate features one skewer of tender, bite-sized pieces of thigh fillet, perfectly charred every single time. And for regular kebab lovers, the chicken kebab can be ordered in a roll or over rice.
15 Auburn Road, Auburn, 02 9643 8433, instagram.com/newstarkebabrestaurant
Signature crispy chicken with egg noodles at Tan Viet Noodle House. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Tan Viet Noodle House
Tan Viet Noodle Restaurant’s flagship store in Cabramatta, in Sydney’s south-west, usually has a line out the door, and they’re all waiting for its iconic dish – crisp yet juicy chicken, served with either tomato rice or noodles (egg, rice, clear or drop noodles).
Tan Viet was established by a Chinese-Vietnamese-Australian family more than two decades ago, and consistency remains the key: the staff blind tasted all types of chicken “from free-range to Steggles” to find the perfect supplier many years ago.
“We use the maryland cut because brown meat is preferable to white meat, especially when deep-frying and keeping the juice in,” a spokesperson says.
With three stores now, all of the chickens are prepared at a central kitchen before being transported to the restaurants.
“That way we can guarantee a consistent product. The menu is simple and we haven’t changed the recipe [from day one].”
Three locations: Cabramatta, Eastwood, CBD; tanviet.com.au
Filipino-style chicken sandwich with fries from Inasoul. Photo: Flavio Brancaleone
Inasoul Filipino Chicken
Starting a business during lockdown is a terrifying proposition, but Gee Bautista and her husband Peter Tran took the challenge head-on.
Starting at the Chatswood markets before entering the permanent space, Bautista, who is of Filipino heritage, wanted to make the food of her homeland more accessible.
Their specialty is chicken inasal – Filipino-style grilled chicken. Inasoul serves the chook with either chips or rice, or their own invention: an inasal sandwich.
The burger bun is inspired by pandesal, a popular Filipino bread roll.
“We just married what we know together,” Bautista says. “For us Filipino food is soul food so we incorporated those two words together for our store.”
Inasoul’s original sandwich comes standard with pickles and mayo, with a spicy version also available, and the chicken legs are marinated in a blend of Filipino spices and herbs before hitting the grill.
“Inasal is definitely laborious,” Bautista says. “The base recipe is garlic, ginger, lemongrass, soy and vinegar. It’s not a piece of chicken you can grill on the spot. There’s a lot of work behind it, from marination to cooking.”
Shop 3, 370 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood, 02 9411 1427, inasoul.com.au
Malaysia Small Chilli Restaurant
The suburb of Campsie, sandwiched below the inner west and south-west Sydney, has quickly established itself as the city’s Little Malaysia, with almost a dozen Malaysian restaurants in the suburb.
Malaysia Small Chilli on Campsie’s Beamish Street presents an unassuming facade to the world, but inside it’s a flurry of Malaysian hawker energy. A good litmus test for any Malaysian restaurant is captured in two dishes: Hainanese chicken rice and Hainanese chicken laksa.
Hainanese chicken rice is served in a pool of sweet soy sauce, its skin glistening and the meat super tender. The laksa version has slices of chicken swimming in an aromatic coconut broth with a choice of noodles (thin rice noodles or egg). Both are excellent.
148 Beamish Street, Campsie, 02 8068 2433, malaysiasmallchilli.com.au
Frango combines traditional Portuguese cooking and a spice blend from Angola. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Frango Portuguese Charcoal Chicken
Drive past Frango in Petersham at dinner time and you’ll be greeted by a sea of people waiting outside for a taste of its Portuguese-style charcoal chicken. Second-generation owner Luis Fernandes grew up in the original Petersham shop and took over the business from his parents in the early 2000s, continuing a long family tradition.
“The main difference with our chicken compared to others is the origin of the flavours and recipe for the marinade – they date back generations. It’s a blend of traditional Portuguese cooking and a spice blend from Angola,” he says.
Frango’s butterflied birds are marinated in a blend of herbs and spices that Fernandes says “takes it to the next level” before being cooked over natural charcoal. He holds the family recipe close to his chest, but there are certainly heavy notes of garlic and lemon.
And it’s not complete without the house-made chilli sauce that comes on the side, Fernandes says. “The chilli sauce is still a family secret. It’s handmade and used in all our restaurants. It’s part of what makes the chicken special and different,” he says.
Seven locations: Petersham, Bella Vista, Concord, Penrith, Gregory Hills, Edmondson Park, Smithfield; frangos.com.au