From Taipei’s Shilin Night Market, to the streets of Melbourne and Sydney, the latest hype in the world of fried chicken is Hot Star.
Sydney’s first Hot Star store has opened up on Liverpool Street, across the road from World Square and is expected to expand around Australia on a franchise model.
So what’s all the fuss about? I chat with co-owner, Kyle Lam –
What inspired you to bring Hot Star to Australia?
Once you have tried Hot Star, you can see how easy it was to be inspired! Hot Star has a cult following in Taiwan, and indeed across Asia. It is a unique take on an ubiquitous product, with fried chicken being universally loved across all cultures, we didn’t think Australia ought to miss out on Hot Star Large Fried Chicken experience!
I’ve seen photos of side dishes like deep fried chicken cartilage grace the web, are there intentions to expand the menu to include these delicacies?
Hot Star international does in fact have quite an extensive menu on offer. We believe Australians subscribe to, and appreciate businesses that are dedicated to doing one thing, and doing it well.
Our menu does include a number of sides like Chicken Bites, hand cut sweet potato chips and deep fried king oyster mushrooms. We intend to rotate several different items (including the cartilage) on a specials promotion, and if there is significant traction, we would then add it as a permanent fixture on the menu. So watch out for the specials!
Now onto a more controversial question… can we call Hot Star’s chicken a schnitzel? What makes it special?
TBH, we have been struggling with finding an adequate descriptor. How would you describe a single piece of tender chicken breast, hand cut to 30cm in size, covered in our secret batter to keep in all the moisture, juicy as hell, crispy on the outside, and stands vertically when held at the bottom by the bone? Try compare THAT to a schnitzel!
The literal translation from Chinese is “large chicken steak”. Though calling it a schnitzel does in some way implicate it’s size, and the fact that it is battered, it also conjures up images of it being plated, and eaten with knife and fork, and served with a wedge of lemon, which is contrary to the Hot Star experience.
In my mind, calling it a schnitzel in some ways undersells the uniqueness of Hot Star. From it’s origins in the Shih Lin night market, it is essentially a snack item (despite it’s size!), to be eaten on the go. We are open to suggestions for descriptors =P
The Sydney and Melbourne stores currently offer spicy powder, salt & pepper or plum salt. Which would you recommend for first-timers?
For me, definitely the spicy powder. The current spicy powder offers a nice amount of heat upfront, and decent kick once you tuck into the chicken. To me, this creates the right amount of salivation to whet the appetite, and for the Umami of fried chicken to really shine through. Salt and Pepper is the safe, and most popular option, and plum salt are for those who enjoy a tangy dimension to their food. All very good!
We are in the process of sourcing a reliable supplier that can offer us a chilli powder that packs some real heat, that will totally go nuclear in the mouth, and scorch the tongue with it’s Scoville units, for those who are addicted to heat (and pain!).
Hot Star Large Fried Chicken has roots at the Shih Lin night market in Taipei, if we want a taste of Taiwan in Sydney, what eateries would you recommend?
I think Hot Star and Gong Cha definitely capture the street food/night market vibe the Shih Lin and Taiwan are famous for. But to me, in terms of restaurants, Din Tai Fung is the only game in town. In terms of absolute authentic Taiwanese experience being transplanted from Taiwan to Australia, and the world over, look no further. The service, atmosphere, ethos, and most importantly, the food, is quintessentially Taiwan. Can’t get enough of their Xiao Long Bao!
Of course we have to taste test everything for you, so one of everything please!
Behind the scenes, it’s a fairly basic operation. Batons of fresh cut sweet potato and king oyster mushrooms are stored in single-serve sandwich bags beside a large mixing bowl of batter. They’re mixed through the batter upon order-in and then thrown into a fryer basket.
Similarly with the fried chicken, there’s surprisingly a lack of fast-food-artificalness. Butterflied chicken breasts are marinated for a minimum of 12 hours then individually hand coated with a secret flour blend the old fashioned way and stacked onto a tray, ready to be deep-fried.
Like any fast food restaurant, the prep and cooking system is extremely methodological. 200g of curly fries are fried for precisely 3 minutes; 150g of sweet potato are fried for 4 minutes; 5 – 6 fresh Thai basil leaves are meticulously added to fried chicken bites after 3 minutes in the fryer.
The extra-extra-large chicken steaks are notorious for being up to 30cm in length. Each crispy fried piece gets a few minutes of limelight as it rests on the shelf in all its golden glory.
There are a few varying levels of spicyness you can choose from if opting for the chilli powder, or there’s the original pepper seasoning. They’re sold for $7.90 a pop or combo meals start from $9.90. Be prepared to queue.
The sweet potato chips ($3.90) are deliciously lifted with sour plum powder, and the curly fries ($3.90) are topped with a drizzle of the house specialty spicy mayo.
Chicken bites ($5.90) are also a favourite, particularly with the refreshing notes of the Thai basil leaves.
As for the size of Hot Star’s large fried chicken? Well, it’s true. They’re the side your face!
No, make that the size of your head!
The chicken is so succulent, we could easily be fooled into thinking it’s a thigh cut. The crust is insanely crispy and there’s a nice depth of flavour from the marinated chicken within. This could be the beginning of a serious addiction guys.
96 Liverpool Street, Sydney NSW
Opens: Sun-Thu, 11am-12pm and Fri–Sat, 11am-2am
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Hot Star