One would be forgiven for thinking that opening a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic would be a bit of a misstep, but as we have been so reliably informed by numerous action movies that which appears crazy often work very well indeed.
Such is the rather uncurious case of Really Happy Chicken, the brainchild of Owais Amiri, cofounder of the Kindly supermarket and founder of Totally Vegan Buzz.
Positioned slap bang in the middle of Preston Street, Brighton’s unofficial food epicentre, this plant-based chicken shop has been causing waves in all the relevant social media circles and as such I trotted on down one sunny Thursday full of expectation and no little excitement.
For those that don’t know, Preston Street is a rather unique little stretch from Western Road down to the i360 (bleugh) and features the most restaurants-to-metres in all of Brighton. The road is a bustle of Deliveroo drivers, holidayers and now thanks to Really Happy Chicken spectacled, tote-bag wearing vegans (and that was just me).
Truth be told I misjudged both the walk and the temperature so arrived in less-than-glamorous fashion, but such did little to dampen the spirits of the immediately lovely staff who greeted me with smiles aplenty as I took in the surroundings.
With a handful of seats inside including a number of window stools for people watching, the space is low on clutter and clearly designed to offer little obstruction to the ordering and consumption of delicious food.
As with all good chicken shops (real or otherwise) choice cuts of the headline product are proudly housed in a golden box of loveliness at the front of the kitchen, something which completely distracted me from the small matter of ordering.
Still gazing lovingly at the surprisingly-large chunks of deep fried goodness behind the till I entrusted my lunch choice to the wonderfully-attentive Michelle who recommended the Buffalo burger, classic wings and a milkshake to boot. I had walked into Really Happy Chicken determined to stick to water (lest MyFitnessPal shout at me) but unfortunately I am a man of little restraint so I picked the Biscoff shake off the list and sauntered out to the streetside seating to impatiently await my feast.
As I basked, trays of food came for those around me, the cruelest of all fates for the hungry, so I sought to quell my jealousy by taking in the sunshine, sea views and enjoying a cyclist riding over some stray bubble wrap.
In a flash the food came and the food was good. Very good indeed.
The classic wings came adorned with visible flecks of sea salt, fresh chilli mix and a generous helping of the single best vegan slaw I have ever had the pleasure of dropping down my shirt.
Easy on the mayo and with the wonderfully vibrant addition of beetroot shards, the slaw acts as a perfect foil for the peppery, unctuous chick’n wings, which themselves are a thing of wonder.
The seitan inside is rich in flavour and has just the right amount of give when pulled at by greedy little fingers, whilst the coating is light on the flour (so often a downfall) and golden and lovely and crispy and crunchy in all the right places.
I was overjoyed to see that the burger patty had been given the same level of attention, the ratio of coating to body maintained despite its larger size. The bun held up to the slaw and various wonderful sauces thrust upon it and did so without ever being overly dense nor cloying.
Any burger aficionado worth their salt will tell you that the key to a great experience is the ratio of patty to topping to bun. For far too long restaurants and takeaways alike have sought to burden you with ludicrous heaps of this that and the other, or burgers the size of steaks. This takes is ever the more precarious when seitan is involved.
When overcooked, or even poorly mixed, it can go as tough as old boots, but it seems that the chefs at Really Happy Chicken have done their homework for it is a true delight.
The portions are sized for sharing if you can stand the thought of it and even the chips are a feat of pure artistry. I don’t know who is in control of the fryers at Real Happy Chicken but I would very much like to shake their hand, and then later have them apologise to my personal trainer.
Whilst the quality of product is without question, it is apparent that this is a restaurant still finding its feet in terms of service; in my forty minutes perched outside there were two instances of confused orders and seitan stores ran out during the first two days of opening.
Such teething problems however are entirely defensible. The order confusions appeared to have been caused by people moving seats and on both counts the staff were brisk in their problem solving and apologetic without being saccharine.
Moreover, I was informed that on the first two days of opening the kitchen’s seitan stores were depleted by an unprecedented level of consumer demand, which as any restaurateur would attest, is hardly the worst the problem to have.
Some time after my visit Really Happy Chicken went on to complete its first dinner service, so it would appear that the chef brigade had nailed down their daily stock levels at the third time of asking, which is fine work by any margin.
As I tottered off down to the seafront with a milkshake gladly in hand I messaged no less than four friends a glowing recommendation, informing them that they must visit as soon as possible and awaited replies of untold jealousy.
As confirmed by a number of family units walking to the door and then leaving at the sight of the word “vegan” Really Happy Chicken will clearly not be for everyone, but I would assume that was never the businesses plan to start.
There are plans to expand delivery service in the near future, but an in-person visit is a must before the summer deserts us once more; there will be time aplenty to have these delights sped to your door by some poor soul in a winter storm, but precious little to eat outside in t shirts and shorts.
It is a simple joy to tear into beautifully breaded, deep fried things sat on a sun-drenched pavement and that is precisely what Really Happy Chicken has brought to our fair city.
Revolutionising the wheel this is not, but when the wheel tastes this good there is little point in changing it.