If you’ve been scratching around Instagram recently, you have no doubt, by now, come across Ma’ Plucker. Fittingly cooped up on Beak Street, this Southern-style American eatery has been ruffling feathers and creating more headless chickens on social media than they have in the confines of their kitchen. Indeed, after several photos of crispy fried chicken and towering sundaes, I could feel my own head beginning to fall off.
Themed around an anthropomorphic mother hen (who technically, is a cannibal), and her renowned homemade recipes, Ma Plucker serves up a simple menu that revolves around three different forms of chicken, and a handful of tantalising desserts. Whatever the reason for Ma’s remorseless desire to cook up her own species, we decided to head on down to Soho, and see, for ourselves, what all the eggcitement was about. (I do not apolothighs for any of the terrible chicken-puns that will feature in this review. Please consult your medical practitioner before reading). All the chicken here is halal. Alcohol is served on the premises.
As I’ve already mentioned, Ma Plucker offers three choices of chicken – fried, rotisserie, and pulled – and on this occasion, I decided upon a combination of “maple waffle” and “buttermilk-coated fried chicken-thigh”. Given that I had already experienced the culinary epiphany associated with this seemingly-unholy, (but ultimately divine), combination at Stax Diner, I was eager to see how Ma Plucker’s incarnation would compare.
The chicken-thigh arrived with a crispy buttermilk coating, which seemed to have spent just a little too long in the fryer, resulting in a slightly crunchier texture than I would have liked. Luckily, the thigh itself was wonderfully soft and moist, and carried plenty of strong flavours to stave off any sense of boredom. However, the two quarters of waffle that accompanied the chicken were of an average quality, with a soft, but doughy texture. I had also misinterpreted the word “maple” in “maple waffle”, and assumed that the waffles would come with a pot of maple syrup as standard. Instead, the “maple” element referred to a light drizzle of maple syrup, and although it added a subtle, sweet touch to the waffles, a significantly larger volume was needed to add greater depth to the otherwise bland waffle, and to harmonise it with the chicken. I did however, have an adequate amount of chipotle sauce at hand, which possessed strong flavours and a deep, musky essence, and combined well with the chicken. Even still, I reckon I should have ordered the maple-glazed chilli, (or just plain maple syrup), as it would probably have brought out the “breast” of what this dish had to offer. (Still not sorry). For now, the version at Stax, in my opinion, remains far superior.
Fried chicken with maple waffle and chipotle sauce
Steak meanwhile, had opted for the “chicken and halloumi bun”, which was essentially a fried-chicken and fried-halloumi burger, with a dash of “Ma’s slaw” thrown in for good measure. The brioche buns, though slightly dry and dessicated in nature, managed to camouflage amongst the other components when eaten in combination, and did well to soak up the accompanying sauces and flavours.
The fried-chicken was, again, crispy, crunchy, tender and moist, but one must brush this bird aside and pay homage to the true star of this performance. With its soft, rubbery texture, encased within a delicately-crisp, but suitably soft coating, it was the fried-halloumi that sent the gustatory and mechanoreceptors into overdrive. Ma’s slaw meanwhile, was a complete bore, possessing no significant flavour to deliver alongside its otherwise pleasantly crunchy texture. Instead, the majority of the flavour within the burger came from the fried halloumi, and the herbs and seasoning embedded within its coat. Normally, I never really look twice at a chicken burger, but on this occasion, I was secretly delighted when Steak passed over her leftovers.
Chicken and halloumi bun
The fries on the other hand, offered slim pickings to say the least. They were of an average quality, and though well-seasoned with a pleasantly crispy skin, they were extremely thin and rather scarce in number for a portion costing £3.50. One can only wonder whether they peeled the skin into the fryer and threw out the potato by mistake.
Seeking more worthy candidates of our carbohydrate intake, we ordered the popcorn sundae, which, (thankfully), wasn’t quite as towering as photos had made it seem. It was comprised of thick ice cream of a reasonable quality, drizzled in chocolate sauce and littered with a combination of sweet and salty popcorn. The popcorn worked surprisingly well, delivering an initially-crisp and subsequently-chewy texture that both complemented and contrasted with the ice cream. However, the ice cream itself lacked substantial depth in its flavour. It’s certainly not a rich dessert by any means – (which may be a good thing), and it isn’t nearly as exciting as it looks. In fact, the majority of the satisfaction to be had with this sundae lies in its assorted textures, rather than any significance in taste.
Value For Money: 3/5
My fried chicken thigh and maple waffle cost £7, whilst Steak’s halloumi bun amounted to £9.95. The fries meanwhile, cost £3.50, and the popcorn sundae cost £6, (as do all the desserts at Ma Plucker’s). Including service charge, this amounted to a final bill of approximately £30. As for other items on the menu – the rotisserie chicken ranges from £6 to £18, (from a quarter piece to a whole chicken), whilst the pulled chicken costs between £6 to £12.50, (for 150g to 500g), and all other items cost between £8 to £10. Putting the abysmal, chicken-feed-worthy fries and the mediocre waffles aside, the food at Ma Pluckers is served in sufficient portions, is of a reasonable quality, and – relative to other eateries in the Soho area – is of a reasonable price. If you’re a big-eater however, your grizzly stomach may not be completely satisfied with a single main-course alone.
Staff members at Ma Plucker are friendly and welcoming, but service can, at times, be rather slow. Granted, we had taken seats in a slightly enclosed area towards the back – (to minimise casualties should my stomach explode) – but, given that we were the only customers for almost the entire duration of our visit, there wasn’t really much reason for the occasional delays we encountered. This mute point aside, there was little else to fault.
Whilst Ma Plucker’s menu and branding takes inspiration from the greasy spoons and diners of the American-South, the venue itself seems to better resemble a playful nursery for chickens, (one with a seriously sinister secret, given the nature of the menu). Bright colours and polished tiles adorn much of the restaurant, with simple, wooden furniture at hand. It’s small, cosy, and probably gets a little cramped when at full capacity, but the colourful decor does well to create a seemingly open environment. The closest underground stations are Picadilly circus and Oxford circus, and public transport is advised, given the obvious lack of parking nearby.
Even when completely devoid of other customers, Ma Plucker manages to deliver an extremely upbeat and laid-back atmosphere. The stiff, wooden seating is offset by the the comfortable and welcoming environment, leaving ample opportunity to get lost in conversation with your dining companions.
New halal eateries are always shrouded in excitement and intrigue, and quite often, that excitement is well-founded and unquestionably deserved. In Ma Plucker’s case, I can’t be sure as to whether that’s entirely true. The food here is good, but it’s not quite out of this world. Of the items we sampled, the only one that really grabbed our affections was the chicken and halloumi burger, whilst the others more or less slipped away into the void of the average.
Restaurants specialising solely in soul-food are always numerous and highly-popular, and whilst Ma Plucker won’t be ruling the roost anytime soon, it’s worth remembering that they’re still relatively new, and have ample time to build upon the foundations they already have in place. For now, there’s really no need to flap your wings and wind up as roadkill trying to get to Ma Plucker, but, should you be willing to cross the road and face the questions on the other side, they are certainly still worth chicken out. (Yes, I’ve used that pun before, and no, I do not feel any remorse).
Address: 75 Beak Street, London W1F 9SS
Telephone: 0207 096 2046