I have a friend who, when he is very hungry, goes into a restaurant and pretends that he is waiting for someone to join him as a justification for ordering an unseemly amount of food. He's prepared to suffer the ignominy of the staff and other customers thinking that he's been stood up rather than order too little.
He was on my mind last week when I visited Chimac, the new Korean fried chicken restaurant on Dublin's Aungier Street. The name Chimac comes from the words for fried chicken and beer ('chi' short for 'chicken' and 'mac' from 'makeju') which the website describes as a national obsession in Korea. It was a miserable wet Tuesday afternoon and I hadn't been able to persuade anyone to come and join me so was dining solo - something that I don't mind per se, but when I'm working it necessitates ordering more food than appropriate for one so that I can give a fuller picture as to what's on offer. I have found on occasion that other people (customers, staff) can have opinions verging on the judgemental about this. Sometimes I get looks.
I'd heard about the queues since Chimac opened a few days before and seen on their social media channels that they had run out of chicken more than once, so I was one of the first in the door when the restaurant opened at 5pm. (Its regular opening hours are from 12.30pm until 9.30/10.30pm depending on the day of the week).
I ordered enough food for two, planning to eat half of each dish. The people at the next table understandably thought that I was incredibly greedy, which was embarrassing. Guess I need to grow a thicker skin.
So, what did I eat? Well, there was the KimCheese - a twice-fried, 18-hour-brined free-range chicken breast sandwich in a potato flour bun with ssamjang (a spiced Korean dipping paste) and cheddar cheese sauce, kimchi spring onion and gochujang (fermented red chilli sauce) mayonnaise. Sweet, savoury and rather delicious, although if I'm quibbling I'd have liked a little more kimchi punch. Korean Hot wings were vibrant, flavoursome, with great texture and a little side of crunchy pickled daikon radish, while skin-on house fries were as good as I've encountered anywhere recently, and way better than most. A cucumber salad in a spiced nutty dressing had a fine kick to it; I could eat a lot of this. In fact, I could eat a lot of Chimac's food, full stop.
When I spoke to co-owner Sofie Rooney, she told me that she and her partner, Garret Fitzgerald, first became fixated on fried chicken when they visited Seoul for a wedding. They returned last November and traversed the city on foot eating different versions of the dish as many as five times a day.
"Everyone does it their own way," she explained, "so there is no such thing as an 'authentic' [a controversial word in food these days] version. There are lots of different sauces and combinations, some even use olive oil to fry. In Korea, it's a national pastime to try as many different ones as possible."
Sofie and Garret were part of the opening team for Bunsen and have experience working in everything from food to branding to brewing, which sounds to me like the perfect recipe for a home-grown mini-chain. The decision to use Irish free-range chicken, sourced from Manor Farm in Co Cavan, is commendable. "We don't eat non-free-range chicken at home," says Sofie, "so we didn't want to serve it to our customers."
My bill came to €24.65 for easily enough food for two - unfortunately I wasn't able to bring the leftovers home as Chimac were still waiting for compostable take-away containers to be delivered. Hopefully they have since arrived, along with the promised Teddy's ice-cream sandwiches which will be Chimac's sole dessert option. I'll be back soon, hopefully with some friends (I do have some), to try more of the options and the frose (frozen rose) that sounds exactly what I'll be wanting to drink when the sun shines, or perhaps some of the rotating selection of craft beers.
ON A BUDGET
The Classic Sammie is €8.50.
ON A BLOW OUT
Double burgers, fries and ice-cream sandwiches for two will cost €41.70 before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
Chimac uses free-range chicken and still manages to be uber-affordable. Why can't others?
THE LOW POINT
The sniggers from the table next to mine when they saw the amount of food that I'd ordered.