Korean fried chicken comes to town
What’s the story?
Has Dublin ever been more excited for chicken? It feels like we've been waiting for Chimac for an actual eternity (in reality it's been about a year), but after very long delays with the site on Aungier Street, they finally opened their doors two weeks ago. Owners Sofie Rooney and Garret Fitzgerald first discovered Korean fried chicken while living in San Francisco, in a predominantly Asian neighbourhood, and the addiction was solidified after a trip to Seoul in 2016. Back home in Dublin they couldn't find the sweet, spicy, salty chicken that they loved anywhere, and the idea for Chimac was born.
Sofie had been working in branding and marketing but has a background in hospitality, while Garret is a chef and brewer, most recently working in Masa and Bunsen. The couple have spent the last two years experimenting with a commercial fryer at home, trying different brines, batters and flavour combinations, before settling on the menu for Chimac. The chicken is free-range (they wanted organic but couldn't find anyone supplying it on a commercial basis), the sauces and pickles are home made and the beers are Irish, which is a lot of boxes ticked before we've even gotten in the door.
What’s the room like?
Long, narrow and basic. It's probably not somewhere you'll linger, which is just the way they want it. There's bench seating at one wall and small two-seater tables at the other. We would say plump for the tables near the window for the light and the Aungier Street people watching, but you'll probably only have a choice of tables if you're first in the queue when they open.
What's good to eat?
The menu consists of chicken burgers (made from breast meat), wings, and XL nugs (deep-fried chunks of chicken thigh). They also have panko tofu burgers and cauli wings for any veggies or vegans in tow. They say they're not trying to be completely authentic to Korean food, and wanted to introduce aspects to make their food "uniquely Irish".
There are four burgers on the menu - the classic, the kimcheese, the K-BBQ and the 4-in-1 with curry sauce and rice (there's that Irish influence). We fell hard for the kimcheese with ssamjang & cheddar cheese sauce, spring onion kimchi and gochujang mayo, with a gargantuan piece of chicken in a potato bun. All the flavours, crispy, crunchy chicken, and a cheese sauce that reminded us of McDonalds in the best possible sense - finally a way to get that taste without the need for a full body cleanse afterwards.
We also tried the 4-in-1 with house curry sauce, crisped rice, pickled chilli and gochujang mayo, and if you're a fan of those multi-layered trays from the Chinese this will be right up your street. Unfortunately they brought the wrong sauce so we ended up dipping it into pickleback mayo instead of gochujang, which jarred against the curry flavour, but alone the burger did exactly what you'd think it would.
One thing they do need to figure out is the differing sizes of the chicken fillets. Some are quite literally double the size of others, and while it might be a bonus to get a bigger one than you were expecting, it probably won't be welcome if you get a smaller one than those in the pictures. We can imagine there were probably unhappy customers showing up in the last week expecting to get something like the kimcheese (above), and instead getting something the size of the 4-in-1, below.
The XL nugs come in three flavours - Korean hot, K-BBQ and naked with sriracha caramel pourover, and you can get three, six or nine, so the option is there to try all of the flavours in one sitting. Our favourite was the K-BBQ, followed by the sriracha caramel, a tasty combination of sweetness and heat.
We were less keen on the buffalo hot, finding them a little dull in comparison. The chicken was so tender and juicy and the batter perfectly crunchy - if you're not into meat off the bone these are for you. The pickled onions on top were a refreshing touch too.
The wings come with the same flavour options, and again were finger lickin' good, with the same juicy meat and crispy batter. They come in six or twelve, and are ideal for anyone who enjoys getting every last morsel of meat and batter off a chicken bone. Finger bowls or wipes would be appreciated though - napkins don't quite cut it with this type of eating.
They do sides of house fries or cucumber salad. On both times we visited they had no cucumber due to delivery issues, and on one occasion they had no fries, but the time we did manage to nab them they were outrageously crispy - maybe the crispiest chips in the city. They lose this crispness as they cool so get stuck in fast, but at their peak they're special. They're supposed to have cookie ice-cream sandwiches on the menu for dessert, but as of writing they're still trying to catch their breath and find time to add them into the mix. In the meantime Scoop is a few doors down, or you could try the new nitrogen ice-cream shop, Three Twenty, on Drury Street.
What about the drinks?
One word. Frosé. The whole concept might be based around fried chicken and cold beer, but we think their frozen rosé slushies in enamel cups are going to be one of the drinks of 2019 - cold, limey, winey perfection. They're working on other slushies too, but this one is far too easy to drink. The majority of the craft beers are Irish and all in cans, with Whiplash, White Hag and Rascals amongst others, and there's a short wine list of prosecco, two whites, two reds and a rosé, which isn't going to have the wine nuts running, but is functional nonetheless. We'd be sticking to the beer or the frosé.
And the service?
Owner Sofie is running front of house and all of the staff were lovely, but it's clear they are still finding their feet and struggling to cope with initial demand (blame those amazing pictures taken by Sofie's brother Max). The first weekend they opened saw them close several times due to running out of chicken, something that continued into the following week, and one of the lunchtimes we ate there they were full by 12:35, despite only opening at 12:30. They will take your number and let you know when your table is ready, so least you don't have to stand in a queue outside and can go for a wander or a drink, and it is a fast turnaround type of place. At times customers were struggling to get their server's attention, but this was more to do with busyness than ambivalence.
Chimac has the makings of being the next Bunsen. The menu is sleek but punchy, the low prices make it accessible for everyone, any night of the week, and they've pretty much nailed the food, which is the most important element in the equation. They're definitely having some teething issues with stock control (and probably labour), so if you want to see it at full force we'd hang back for a few weeks and let them iron out the creases, but at €12.50 for a chicken burger and chips this is somewhere you'll be likely to come back to again and again. We certainly will be.
76 Aungier Street, Dublin 2 www.chimac.ie