The concept is soul food, and they really lay it on thick (unlike the well-judged sauce levels). The Twitter account never goes out of the character of a Southern chef-mother, responding to praise with comments like “Ahh, you’ll make an oul hen blush.” Just look at the sexualised anthropomorphic hen mascot-character-logo they have. Isn’t it a bit weird when restaurants make out as if the main ingredient in their food is actually an enthusiastic booster of it?
The theme is carried on inside, with tasteful plain wooden tables and benches, and a wallpaper that is so evocative of cardboard fried chicken boxes you feel like you’re in one. There’s space for about 30 covers; the toilets are downstairs, darkened and with big neon lights in them (blue for men, pink for women); plus ça change for a small Soho restaurant, you might reasonably think.
It’s not surprising they offer frozen margaritas from a slushie churner. These margaritas are tasty, if a bit sweet and, as with anything frozen, a bit lacking in alcoholic bite. We also drank iced tea, both hard and soft, and Goose Island pale ale. Altogether a well-chosen drinks menu, and everything costs about what you’d expect.
Ma’ Plucker’s food menu is a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure book. You start with the base: bun, maple waffle, or salad (why would you do that to yourself?). You choose a sauce from a wide variety, including gravy, chilli sauce, and maple syrup. Then you get some chicken, or, if you forgo flesh, the ubiquitous vegetarian mainstay: halloumi. The chicken comes in three kinds: rotisserie (choose quarter, half, or whole); buttermilk fried (choose wings, thigh, or breast); and pulled (choose 125 g, 250 g or a giant pile suitable for a greedy family). Every portion that might reasonably be for an individual is less than £10.
Other than the mains, you’ve got a bunch of assorted sides: pickles, fries, corn, collard greens, jumbled together in a list, all priced somewhere from £2 to £5.
The 250 g of the pulled chicken in a brioche bun with the maple-chilli sauce. Pulled chicken is not typically considered a natural choice of cooking style: why would you cook chicken slow and low when it tastes so good cooked hot and fast? Common wisdom dictates that we pull pork, or some of the more difficult and fattier beef joints – but not chicken. In spite of this, Ma’ Plucker do it well. It doesn’t taste grainy and dry as pulled chicken can, and it’s not overpoweringly slathered in BBQ sauce. With the generous portion of maple syrup, and the well-chosen brioche, which compresses to density but does not come apart like inferior members of its genus, the pulled option is glorious.
The breast piece of buttermilk-fried chicken on the maple waffle—actually two large breasts in mid-brown batter—hits a thickness sweet spot similar to KFC’s mini breast fillets. Gravy makes a great sauce, and comes in an ample gravy boat. It is the perfect synergy of chicken, sauce, and bread: the waffle is fluffy, light, soft, and tears easily. The chicken is tender, juicy and well-seasoned. The gravy spread a light umami flavour everywhere.
The pickles are just pickles: zingy, sharp, sour; normal slabs of pickle. A nice clear respite from the chicken. The corn on the cob is terrible. Not only had it not taken on any of the butter and lime flavours promised by the menu, but somehow the cooking had zapped it of the natural corn flavours you’d get if you simply boiled it. Really a chore to eat. The only big mis-step, and possibly just a one-off.
Boy, is Ma’ Plucker’s cherry pie good. Thin layers of super-pliable and delicate pastry top and bottom, thick filling of juicy and sweet American cherry—in proportions reminiscent of a New York Jewish salt beef sandwich. Perfect in every way. They offer apple pie, too (of course) but the popcorn sundae offers something different. The ice cream itself isn’t perfect, with little bits of ice spread through the scoops, but the trifecta of popcorn, ice cream, and chocolate sauce is wonderful. What is it about popcorn in desserts?
Sceptics might view the opening of Ma’ Plucker with raised eyebrows. But you know what? Kitsch is not over, and being more kitschy than the rest can actually be a winning strategy – at least if it’s combined with an excellent location, very reasonable price point, and delicious Southern American comfort food.
Ma’ Plucker, 75 Beak Street, London, UK, 0207 096 2046