MAD EGG, 2 & 3 Charlotte Way, Dublin 2. (01) 558 5221, madegg.ie
Moist. It's the most universally hated word in the English language, always at the top of the lists of the words that give people the heebie jeebies. And yet, of the 390 synonyms offered by an online thesaurus, almost none can be applied to food. So the word 'moist' will definitely be appearing in this review, as I can't come up with a better one to describe the fried chicken at Mad Egg, a new-ish restaurant on Dublin's Charlotte Way, which lies at the upper end of Camden Street as the road curves around towards Harcourt Street.
Mad Egg is a venture between Conor Sheridan and his business partner, Stephen O'Reilly (who is also behind Blockburger and Pitt Bros) and has been open for five months now. A second branch is scheduled to open on the northside at the end of July, the location secret for the moment and the subject of an 'egg hunt' on social media.
Conor Sheridan, who worked in hospitality before selling his soul to mammon and pursuing a career in investments and trading, says that the venture took the pair two years to bring to fruition.
"We didn't have key money to go for a premises that was ready to go," he explains, "so we had to go through the process of applying for planning permission to amalgamate two adjoining spaces into one."
Inside, Mad Egg shares an aesthetic with establishments such as Bunsen and its ilk, all battleship-grey paint and few frills, with cutlery in a tin on each table and a roll of kitchen paper by way of napkins.
While the premises were coming together, Sheridan and O'Reilly worked to perfect their product - essentially fried chicken - from a production kitchen in Clontarf, starting with the chicken and, once they got that right, moving on to the coating and the buns.
The chicken is Irish and free-range and comes from Manor Farm, and it is brilliant to see what is essentially a fast casual restaurant choosing to make quality and higher animal welfare fundamental to its offering. For anyone who has sworn off eating non-free-range chicken, and is thereby precluded from ordering chicken in the vast majority of Irish restaurants, this alone is cause for celebration.
"We wanted to look at the standard of chicken that you'd get in any of the well-known fried-chicken places or a chipper and elevate that to a more premium level," says Sheridan.
Give that man a medal, someone.
At Mad Egg the chicken is brined in breakfast tea - Sheridan's not saying what brand - for 48 hours to tenderise the meat before taking a dip in buttermilk and being fried in rapeseed oil. The result is chicken that's impeccably moist (sorry) and flavoursome within, and properly crisp on the outside.
Which is why I come to regret my choice of the Heart Breaker chicken sandwich (or 'Bird' as it's called on the menu), as the chicken is doused in 'dripping cheese, house hot sauce and pickles', which together combine to obliterate how good the core product is. No matter, I'll know the next time to go for the OG, a more subtle affair with a lemon and herb mayonnaise, lettuce and pickles, as ordered by my daughter and sampled by me.
The menu offers five different chicken 'Birds', plus one vegetarian version: a fritter of cauliflower, corn and shallot that sounds good. Alternatively, there are chicken tenders, served without a bun. (The buns come from Coghlan's and are described as 'soffft AF Amish'; it would be a shame not to have one.)
Chicken Salt Fries are excellent; they taste the way that a really good packet of chicken crisps does and are properly crisp on the outside and fluffy within, but Mac & Cheese with Candied Bacon is insipidly bland, and Charred Corn on the Cob with Jalapeño Butter disappoints in that it lacks char, flavour or chilli heat. On a menu as short as the one at Mad Egg, there's no room for duds.
There's just one dessert on offer - a DIY cheesecake. Essentially, this is a slice of plain cheesecake (quite good) to which you add a choice of toppings, starting with a milk or white chocolate 'spill' (a little jug of melted chocolate), followed by a sprinkle (roasted hazelnuts, peanut butter pieces, Oreo crumbs, honeycomb nuggets or smashed Maltesers) and something sticky (Nutella toffee or caramel).
Self-assembly desserts are all the rage these days - controversial because they are doing away with the need for pastry chefs in even relatively high-end restaurants - and remind me of nothing so much as the ice-cream cakes that I used to throw together for children's birthday parties. That's appropriate, though, because the demographic that Mad Egg is after is a youthful one, and mid-afternoon on a Tuesday they are there in their droves, and they're all having the cheesecake.
I very much like what Mad Egg is about. At a time when the future of middle- market restaurants is under threat, it's down to places in the fast casual sector such as Mad Egg to up the ante in terms of sourcing and provenance.
The bill for two 'Birds', three sides, one DIY cheesecake and two sparkling waters comes to €41.70 before service.
9/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
Chicken tenders for two with a couple of sides will set you back €23.80.
ON A BLOW-OUT
If you were to have fried chicken in a bun with a side and cheesecake each (which would probably be too much food), your bill for two would be €41.70 before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
It's great to see a fast casual joint putting provenance front and centre of its offering. The Irish free-range chicken is seriously tender, thanks to lengthy marinating.
THE LOW POINT
Dinosaurs - not me, of course - may find the music too loud.