The soul of London is visible through an unlikely window: Chicken Cottage
It’s a place that makes us all the same
Last August, Sadiq Khan – Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London – went in on fried chicken. Speaking at a hustings put on by the Evening Standard he said: “We’ve got too many chicken shops in our town centres. We’ve got too many pawn brokers in our town centres. We’ve got too many gambling shops in our town centres. Elect me to be the London Mayor and we’ll sort all those three things out.”
Khan could well be Mayor and he might even turn out to be a capable one, but what he says about chicken shops betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of this city. Nobody is going to dispute that bookies and pawn brokers are a social blight and a shorthand for the deprivation you’ll find at the bottom of society. But chicken shops?
Chicken shops like Chicken Cottage are a window into London’s soul. In Chicken Cottage I’ve seen 30 people start singing Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, at the urge of an drunk, fat, Greek bloke, with ketchup down his shirt. Most people didn’t know the words, most people couldn’t speak English. It didn’t really matter. I’ve seen a group of teenagers throw chips at an old Sikh gentleman for about ten minutes, until patience exhausted, he turned around and pulled a blade on them. The boys ran away and the rest of us applauded. In Chicken Cottage I’ve seen people fall in love and I’ve seen people beat the shit out of each other. I’ve seen some of the things that make us all the same. Claudia Winkleman eats it, my mate Uwais with four E’s at AS Level eats it.
And yeah they flog boxes of chicken and chips to school kids at two quid a go. And yeah the inside smell like hospital disinfectant and the lighting is reminiscent of laboratories where they test on live animals. Wing bones litter the streets when you walk home after a night out, as the sun comes up you can see purple flakes of chicken stuck to them and you wonder if chicken should ever really be purple. But it doesn’t matter because wings are the perfect, salty, spicy drunk food. What you should really wonder about is how the wings still come in that eternal orange box with fried chicken written on it in yellow letters, the same box it came in when you’d buy chicken and chips after school for two quid.
London is various and vital, a place of perpetual change. It’s the European capital and arguably the global capital as well. Nothing symbolises this non-stop mutation in the way Chicken Cottage does. It thrives in areas where immigrant populations put down their roots. Which is probably why Sadiq Khan was so glowing about the chain when he spoke at the Chicken Cottage Awards in 2012: