There has been an explosion of chicken in Sydney as of late; see newbies Butter and Thirsty Bird, established favourites like Chicken and Sons and The Chicken Institute, and now Juicy Lucy, the second venue from the crew behind highly reputable, Thai-inspired restaurant Sugarcane. Things are a bit different here though; rather than ride the American-inspired fried chicken wave, Juicy Lucy is cruising in a slightly different lane, championing the rotisserie-style Aussie chicken shops of yesteryear with a bit of a South-East Asian twist.
Located on Elizabeth Street in a small, colourful shop just before you reach Wentworth Ave, the new joint seems destined for the type of queues neighboring businesses would dream of. This little strip of Surry Hills isn’t the most exciting line up, so Juicy Lucy is a welcome addition based on the colour scheme alone, illustrated by adorable art and a funky bright neon sign with an innocent looking bird watching over diners as they mill about the very small shop. There’s enough room here for maybe 10-15 people max, though the shop is mostly empty since the majority seem to lean towards the takeaway option.
Juicy Lucy surely functions as a kind of hyper-bright tuck shop; the menu is small, as is the counter behind which you’d spot juicy whole cooked chickens. The only drinking options are the standard soft drinks, and strangely enough, sports drinks. It’s like a corner shop in Western Sydney, only it’s not, and rather than the dank stench of day-old chiko rolls, there’s a subtle smack of sweet and spicy Asian flavour in the air.
You’ll find co-owner Griff Pamment behind the counter tending to the chickens, getting excited when one comes out just right, with so much juice dripping off of it you’d think it was just dipped in brine, when in fact it’s slow-roasted overnight with Sichuan pepper, cloves, coriander seeds, and cassia bark, right before it’s stuffed with garlic rice. It’s known as the Aunt Lucy’s Large Seasoned Chicken and is available as a whole ($18), half ($10), or quarter ($6.50), along with the Tai Gai Yung which is butterflied and prepped with garlic, coriander, white pepper, and fresh turmeric before going into the rotisserie. If you’re not to hungry then just go for the quarter, Pamment will carve one of these perfectly succulent birds up for you and serve it in a takeaway box with salad, cassia bark, and rice.
You’ve got the smaller sides of crinkle-cut chips seasoned with Sichuan salt and pepper, drumettes, tenders, and wings to, with the most valuable being the incredible Sticky Wings ($8/$12), packed in a simple takeaway box, battered and deep-fried with crispy, golden skin, glistening with a sweet and spicy caramel glaze. You’ll get a sweet, honeyed taste from these right before you bite into the tender, steaming hot flesh, made even better when coupled with a house-made chilli sauce that packed as much flavour as it does heat. The fried drumettes and chicken tenders come with a special Asian-style tapioca batter to bring in even more crispiness and flavour.
And then you have the burgers and wraps. Two burgers, three wraps. I find it hard to pass up a good burger so my guest and I ordered up the Lil’ Kim ($12) as a double (extra $3), and the signature Juicy Lucy ($12; extra $3 for a double). Perhaps a single better serves the Lil’ Kim as the golden battered fried chicken is massive, sitting in between a lightly toasted bun with crunchy kimchi and Korean BBQ sauce. Congratulations if you get through the double and still have room for sides, a feat only made possible because of how motivating that beautifully crispy, tender chicken is and how delicious it is with the slight tang of the sauce which you won’t be able to keep from dripping onto the table. The bun seems made for a single though, so if you go for the double make sure you have several napkins on hand.
The Juicy Lucy (headline image) comes with salad, sriracha, and cheese and is clearly the most popular order there, especially amongst those looking to quickly duck in and duck out with a burger and coke in hand. It’s the most common thing I see coming away from the shop, with the second place going to the juicy looking Big Bang ($12) which is a wrap holding in fried chicken, rice, slaw, and sriracha – definitely at the top of my list for any subsequent visits.
Keeping it simple seems to be going strong for the team at Juicy Lucy, putting it right up there when thinking about the best chicken shops in the CBD, fitting in snugly and brightening up the otherwise miserable strip on Elizabeth Street near Central Station. Chicken, burgers, wraps, sides, daily-changing salads, and soft drinks is pretty much all you need when you’re committed to the high standard that’s obviously been carried over from Sugarcane.
Address: 232A Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills
Hours: Monday to Saturday 11am – late