Just 12 months ago we were expected to swallow the idea of a fancy burger for €8, and not even get a portion of chips for that price. This year, the traditional fast food staples of fried chicken and hotdogs are getting the gastro treatment, also with price tags to match. Foodie joints are opening, with only a cursory nod to their poor relations over at Chicken Cottage, KFC or the mobile stalls selling greasy onion-topped hotdogs outside clubs at two in the morning.
Last week, an outfit called Roost trialled a range of chicken snacks at Street Feast, in Dalston, east London, while Dach & Sons, an eaterie dedicated to hotdogs, burgers and sliders, opened its doors in Hampstead. Next month will see the openings of Bubbledogs – champagne and hotdogs – in central London, and Wishbone, a fried chicken joint in Brixton. Meanwhile, the Soho House Group in central London is moving into rotisserie chicken, opening Chicken Shop in Kentish Town in September.
Mark Hix’s Tramshed, which opened earlier in the year, sells only chicken and steak, while Primo’s, which opened a hotdog outlet in the Corn Exchange in Leeds two years ago, expanded into the out-of-town Xscape family entertainment centre in April. It is now planning to open hotdog outlets in Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield.
Nick Julian, operations manager of Primo’s, said his firm was rebooting junk food for the middle classes: “We’re taking a product and moving it along in quality, taking it up a notch. There has been a rise in single-dish restaurants, as people want something more niche and original than faceless chains.”
William Leigh, co-founder of Wishbone, has similarly spent a year perfecting his recipe for fried chicken. “It’s important to get a well-sourced, great-tasting product. People are choosing one product and doing it well – and diners are voting with their feet.” He said the queues outside the central London burger joint Meat Liquor and the barbequed ribs outlet Pitt Cue Co reflect their popularity.
Simon Anderson, co-founder of Roost, said he believes the rise of gourmet junk food comes from people wanting to eat childhood favourites, but, “cooked really well, using amazing cuts of meat”.
James Knappett, former chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant The Ledbury, is co-founding Bubbledogs with his wife, Sandia Chang, and agreed that the emphasis is on the quality of the meat. “We thought it would be fun to put something as humble as hotdogs with champagne. Our buns are handmade, we use the best ingredients and no food contains preservatives.”
Elizabeth Carter, consultant editor of The Good Food Guide, said gourmet junk food is “a really big trend”. She added: “They’re casual, fast, snappy and busy. It’s cheek-by-jowl dining, and we have a huge gap in the market.” She believes that the UK has given hotdogs a bad name. “We’re only just catching up that people will pay a little more for quality.” She said the no-booking policy, common to gourmet fast-food restaurants, can be “very annoying” but “helps to create a buzz”. But, rather than taking customers from chains such as KFC, she believes customers at gourmet junk food outlets would otherwise have gone more upmarket.
The traditional fast-food chains do not share this view. A spokesperson for KFC said: “All of our chicken on the bone is Red Tractor-assured. In terms of taste, we don’t believe that anything comes close to Colonel Sanders’s secret recipe.” He added that meals at KFC are cheap enough to feed a family of four for £10.