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Lockdown food review: No finger lickin’ at the Colonel’s as KFC reopens

Everybody loves fried chicken but this KFC was a greasy experience with chips as rubbery as cheese string, says Andy Richardson

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Takeaways are open. Woo-woo. Roads are blocked as we swarm the doors of Maccy Dees to order unhealthy burgers and sauces made from sugar and chemicals.

Forget provenance, terroir and seasonality. Clear the decks of fresh and local – what we want is factory food that’s been fried on a griddle by 1,000-yard-stare workers. And don’t forget the sauce.

And yet. And yet.

Before we get accused of being elitest – don’t worry, we didn’t visit a takeaway in Barnard Castle, we stayed in the Black Country – our region is dotted with McD’s, Burger King, KFC and the like. Though the nutritional value of their, erm, output, is dubious at best, takeaways are a huge part of the region’s food scene.

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As we move through covid, they’re likely to be among the last restaurants standing. The hospitality industry is fragmenting rapidly with colossal multi-national corporations toughing it out and tiny independents surviving. Those in the middle may not be here come Christmas.

The biggest players have the corporate muscle and infrastructure to survive anything. They are to gastronomy what locusts would be to a nuclear war.

The tiny family businesses are sufficiently light on their feet and can adapt quickly enough to make things work by offering delivery, click and collect, hampers and more.

It’s not just ability to withstand the worst economic shock in 300 years that makes takeaways important.

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When my partner and I visited for our authentic, in-car, meal we were surrounded by brickies and plumbers, chippies and engineers, salespeople and more.

All were grabbing a bite to eat while on the move; eating as they kept the local economy moving. Quite apart from the frisson of excitement that takeaways bring to their customers, they also help to keep the region fed.

The queues that characterised a nearby McDonald’s were thankfully absent at KFC Oxley when we stopped off during a midweek lunch.

While cars and vans were bumper-to-bumper at their nearby rival, literally stacking up back to a traffic island and beyond, KFC had a not unreasonable queue of four or five vehicles.

I ought to declare my hand. I’ve not eaten at a British McDonald’s for between 10 and 15 years.

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The last time I ate there, the bread was so pappy, the chips so soggy, the burger so undesirable that I thought better of ever loading my mouth with something so undesirous.

Then there’s the ethics, the lack of support for guys who do it better. I could go on, but you’ll have heard all of those arguments before and already formed your own views.

And, like I say, the purpose isn’t to castigate takeaways – far from it. There’s nothing so finger lickin’ good as a decent bag of street food.

I’ve probably visited KFC more recently. After all, who doesn’t like a piece of fried chicken? Though like bad Chinese food, it always promises more than it delivers.

It’s invariably too greasy, too limp, too pointless to be worth eating. The being-full sensation lasts for a minute or two, only to be followed by guilt.

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The after effects of over-indulging are the culinary equivalent of a bad night out clubbing, after which you wonder whose bed you’ve ended up in and why your mouth tastes of cigarettes and alcohol when you don’t normally drink or smoke.

The trick with takeaways, of course, it so to get us to eat more than we need. So why not order an extra side with that, sir, or upgrade to an XXL? How about a flippin’ dippin’ box, or whatever they hell they’re called, with more, more, more of what you’ve already ordered. Fine. I’ll take it. Here’s my card.

At KFC, new hygiene standards were in place. The restaurant itself was closed and motorists were diverted to the drive-through to place an order then collect.

The waitress at the first window was wearing mask and gloves – and smiling with her eyes. She took our order: Loads of carbs with a soupcon of protein, a swizzle of fat and a glass of fizzy sugar – or something like that.

We drove round to the next window, as though we were playing a life-size game of Scalextric, to collect our food. The waitress handed it to us on a tray – and I’m so out of practice with takeaways that I tried to take the whole thing.

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“You don’t get the tray,” she told me. “Just the food.”

Damn. Another £2 and it would have been mine.

The table had already been set: a pair of Levi’s trousers and a steering wheel, without the starched table cloth. And there we sat. Food on our laps, windows open to prevent the condensation from making us imagine we were enduring a misty day on the North Sea.

She ate a burger with a hash brown, plastic cheese, a sloop of red sauce and a single piece of chicken. The chicken was dripping with fat; as she lifted it, it literally drip dropped back into the box.

She smiled as she ate, sauce dribbling down her hands, murmurs of approval emanating as trousers became tighter.

I’d gone for a lots-of-boneless combo, or something. There was popcorn chicken, though it had been left in its own steam for long enough to turn what might have been a crisp batter into something altogether soggier.

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The flavour was fine, as was the texture. Three chicken tenders were similarly uncrisp, though you can’t go wrong with the Colonel’s blend of herbs and spices. The chicken was cooked well; neither dry and overcooked nor tender and springy. It was the best part of my box.

The fries were awful, they always are.

Cooked in the preceding minutes and left under a lamp to stay warm, they’d become as rubbery as cheese string and had no taste to make us glad. It’s had to be positive when chips taste so bad: a waste of calories, fat and potatoes, simply.

There were beans, though they’d separated by the time we got them so it was like a small bowl of tomato soup with small bean islands beneath.

We skipped dessert – result – and wiped down our fingers, rather than lickin’ them clean.

Takeaways are back. I didn’t miss them when they were gone.

Sample menu

Meal deals (for sharing, delivery prices, check your local branch for deals or discounts)

10 pieces of famous Original Recipe Chicken for £10

Party Bucket: 14 pieces or Original Recipe Chicken, eight mini fillets, eight hot wings, large popcorn chicken, two large sides and sharing drink, £24.99

Individual items, delivery prices

Zinger stacker burger, regular side and drink, £6.29

Filler burger, regular side and drink, £6.29

Sides, delivery prices

Regular fries, £1.59

Regular gravy, £1.59

Regular beans, £1.59

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