I walked from Granton into Leith specifically to check out Chicking, the new fried chicken restaurant on Bernard Street.
The walk was long and rushed into a busy day, and I nearly did an about-turn when I discovered the franchise hails from the United Arab Emirates. My mind raced through what I could remember of human rights in the UAE, but I lost confidence in my current affairs knowledge and told myself it might be a locally owned franchise, and this was the first ChicKing in Scotland.
I pushed on, perhaps unwisely.
Right now, ChicKing Leith gets great Google Maps reviews, with several dozen 5/5 stars praising the food, staff and atmosphere. The venue has been open for about a week, meaning it has been scoring about a half-dozen 5/5 stars every day since opening, making it the most dynamic of all of Leith’s popular eateries.
Perhaps it had an opening party and encouraged all the attendees to write a quick review.
When I arrived, the place was nearly empty; the till system was taking money but not talking to the kitchen, and they didn’t have any knives or forks.
The staff, though, were friendly and helpful and made a difference.
ChicKing’s food and drink
It’s a lot like KFC, at least, from what I remember of KFC! There’s chicken in burgers, wraps and in buckets. It’s halal, which I doubt was part of KFC’s founder’s vision.
The menu shows pictures of Pepsi (a cola brand which hasn’t sponsored the Olympics in China and Russia while we’re talking about human rights) in fast food, typically branded paper cups. However, they only have cans and 1.25l bottles.
My fries were tasty but a little cold, and in the style, we’d expect from somewhere like McDs. I suspect that’s exactly the right call for ChicKing.
However, my 15 pieces of flaming sweet chilli bites were delicious! Even if I did have to eat them with a spoon.
I’d try the chicken fries or a rice bowl if I return. The novelty of a shawarma burger also tempts me. In fairness, I suspect if I visit again, the restaurant will be through its first week (ish) teething problems, and things will be running much more smoothly.
No calories are mentioned on the menu, which is a shame, but perhaps ChicKing doesn’t need to put them there legally. ChicKing is international, but ChicKing UK has only a handful of locations and perhaps under the 250 employees in England rule that triggers the requirement.
I’ve described the place as being pretty empty save for me and the staff, and this is on a Friday lunch, but I’m okay with that!
Importantly, ChicKing has made big and sensible changes – I think there is a clever manager around.
After China Palace left, Dionysus had an ill-fated bash of making the big building work for them, and one of their mistakes was a floor that bounced and wobbled when you walked on it. ChicKing has fixed that.
Even more significantly, ChicKing has a fast-food-style counter at the back of the main room, a bright and easy-to-see menu, a kitchen in view and group-friendly tables with loads of space in between. Bring your friends here, kids, pram and schoolmates. It’s a good location.
Furthermore, the old bar is still there. It’s empty for now, but I spoke to the staff and believe there are plans to turn that into a drinks counter with chai and other goodies planned. That’ll be a great way to get people in for the afternoon and evening.
I did like the food, even the not-quite-hot-enough fries, and I wasn’t bugged terribly by the technical problems and the “fast-ish” speed of the fast food.
However, I especially liked the staff. I asked questions, and they could answer. Okay, my questions weren’t challenging and basic about the ChicKing brand, locations and plans for ChicKing Leith, but they could answer. Some fast food employees could not.
Furthermore, ChicKing’s team seemed to care about me. They wanted me to have a good meal and a good experience. They cared.
Things to do in Leith
The choice of the old Bernard Street building is a bit of a surprise, but it might prove to be a genius decision. Going to Leith, though, makes sense, and ChicKing is just a few dozen metres from the tram stop.
There’s plenty to do in Leith. I doubt you’ll get booze in ChicKing but the Moonwake brewery and taproom is nearby, as is the Lind & Lime Gin Distillery and the UK’s first vertical distillery with The Port of Leith distillery. All three offer tours.
Ocean Terminal is (for now) nearby, and with it the Royal Yacht Britannia, on Saturday the Leith Market is open, and the Leith Theatre has just had its lease renewed by the Council.
I’m not 5-star impressed with ChicKing yet and can’t understand why dozens of people have fallen in love with the place according to their reviews on Google Maps. You may have your own theories.
But, I am impressed with the staff.
I do think I tested the location during opening week jitters and complications. I think those will ease, and I think we’ll have something like a KFC in the heart of Leith. I think Uber Eats, which ChicKing UK uses, will determine whether or not the location lasts.