If you’ve ever worked in retail or a public facing service based environment, you’ll know that you end up in a prescribed relationship with people who you see on the regular, and yet, never get close to. There’s that lady who comes in nice and early every morning in a Millwall onesie for five bottles of Soave and 40 Rothmans. There’s the awkward teenager who set off the fire alarm that one time. There’s that lovely house husband that comes in every Sunday night to treat his kids to ice cream after their choir practise. The problem is you don’t really know these people, but you end up spending some time making small talk with them in a way you hope doesn’t come across insincere. Because you don’t really learn their names, you end up giving them shorthand nicknames based on some superficial thing you observe about them; “Rothman Karen“. . . “Fire Alarm Fred“. . . And we’ll called the Dad Jeff, good guy Jeff. “Choirboy Jeff” Has a beard. Makes his own jam. Reads the Telegraph, but he’s sort of a “nice” Tory, really.
(Ed note: DELETE THAT LAST SENTENCE IMMEDIATELY)
So anyways, for some time now, off and on, there has been a curious little chap who has frequented Ely’s Square wearing a pair of marigolds. He must have looked a right twit to the vendors they frequented. Were I working in an incredibly delicious chicken wing venue I’d nickname that dude That Twit With The Marigolds. I can now come forward as that said twit. Sitting there, in the middle of Brick Lane, eating chicken wings, with a pair of nice, bright marigolds on. Why you may ask?
Well really, there’s two answers. Firstly, I just don’t like having food-gunk on my hands. But let’s go over the second answer more thoroughly. Its worth being a social pariah over. This place is absolutely incredible. Orange Buffalo sell New York style chicken wings, in four increasing levels of heat. Naturally, it goes from mild to so-hot-you-need-to-sign-a-legal-waiver-in-order-to-eat-it. They’ve been going since 2012, with a vendor in Brick Lane and a restaurant in Tooting.
“. . . It’s tangier and tomato-y, almost akin to a BBQ-Currywurst sauce taste. Smokier, it gives you a far more tangier, “grungier” kind of taste . . .”
So Ely’s Square is right on Brick Lane, or more, behind Brick Lane. It’s a little corner where a bunch of vendors sit. I get the feeling this corner is like a little Avengers Assemble sort of gig – the aVendors – or something? . . Okay, I won’t give up the day job. The staff of Orange Buffalo are chatty, but also advisory. More than once we’ve witnessed them talking someone out of their order and getting something from the menu with less heat. One of the staff, is also a writer with a fantastic and hilarious Instagram, including some behind the scenes images of the vendor. I dread to think what they’d say about food critics!
We can hear bubbles popping, from the fryer as we sit on the picnic tables under the tarpin and wait for our order. The queues are noticeably numerous, it’s obvious Orange Buffalo are quite the hit here. I’d say the cooking time is just about a punchy ten minutes. Plenty of time to sit there and with that homely sound of fizzling and stew in that smell of freshly cooked chicken and a brew of spices.
Let’s talk about the meat itself for a moment. They’re both drumettes and flats. You get the wings within a minute of them after they are done cooking, so they always come fresh off the grill and nice and hot. Muscly meat. Succulent. Compact and bulky. And as flavour goes it’s strong and is a good vessel for the sauces. The wings come in a polythene container which covers them up. According to Field Marshal Marco, that prevents the taste from escaping, because as soon as you open the box, the steam and that delicious smell of cooking chicken hits you. They don’t go cheap on the sauce as well, something we’re certainly a fan of! It completely smothers the wings, not just as a little drizzle or garish such as how Tattershall Castle do them but something that each wing has really been swimming in. Lovely. And if you want more? They sell bottles of the sauce for you to take home! Which I thoroughly recommend you do. And for drinks, mainly we went with a Bundaberg. It soothes the heat without killing it altogether. But coca cola, with that high sugar content, is also an advisable way of neutralising the heat if it gets too much for ya!
Now in case you don’t know, Korea has it’s very own take on fried chicken. The K-Town has fantastic this Asian fusion, being a mix of soy, and ginger, with some tamarind. And it’s such a great dish. You can certainly taste the soy! Not a complaint though. Again, it compliments the spice, adding salt to acidic heat, it’s definitely more BBQ-esque, the conventional, New York style wings but with that lovely Asian flourishing of gochujang. The coriander and seeds on top certainly help with presentation and give it that extra layer of taste. Coriander we know, adds that great savoury taste with spicy food.
Each order comes with a little pot of blue cheese dip and a few sticks of celery so let’s talk about this dip. The blue cheese sauce itself is such a perfect sauce for the wings. The fat coats the spice for those who have bitten off more than they can chew. But as taste goes its pretty dam good itself. Lovely bit of savoury tang to round off the flavour. The cheese has all that creamy, soothing goodness and there’s a hint of depth to it too. And with K-Town wings? With that Asian umami spice flavour, with blue cheese sauce? An unexpected match made!
The Woof Woof wings are fiery and have a “dark” taste and appearance. The meat has a nice crisp on it underneath the sauce too. It’s tangier and tomato-y, almost akin to a BBQ-Currywurst sauce taste. Smokier, it gives you a far more tangier, “grungier” kind of taste, although a few sprinklings of coriander on top to round it off would definitely work. It’s saltier too, but definitely not in a bad way, but it is present, and also still, you’ve got a vague undercurrent of a citrus bite. So; grungy tomato, saltier, and undercurrent of citrus. And they make it work so dam well. The heat is a nice, firey taste, it builds very well, with a blend of scotch bonnets and a small hint of naga. But no where near as bad as you’d believe. Just a lovely warming in the mouth and gut.
“. . . the mango has so much sweetness, then the heat comes through and they fight it through and has this incredible, dynamic balance. . .”
And I’d like to go on record and confidently say that the Vincent wings is one of the best things we’ve ever tried for this blog. It’s gorgeous balance of spice in a mango-citrus blend that soaks through meat. That mango flavour comes straight from the fruit pulp that they use. It works in the same dynamic as a vindaloo: that spice and heat bounces off the acid and you’re left with this gloriously punchy, hot, and sinus clearing flavour. The smell and taste is a tiny bit lemony too, something my cohort picked up on also. And when I say spice, these really are a step up. They’re not as hot as Da Bomb, but rather than being just a garish heat, these have Dutch chilli and scotch bonnets. But it’s clearly a high concentration of seasoning. The skin is a lot crisper too. These are the tastiest hot thing we’ve eaten so far. It packs so much flavour. You’ve got a gorgeous yin-yang here; because the mango has so much sweetness on top too, then the heat comes through and they fight it out and has this incredible, heated dynamic balance. I cannot stress how much I love these wings.
What we loved about this place is how each flavour isn’t just the same sauce with more and more heat added. It’s four different styles of how to do wings. Comparatively, these guys aren’t doing wings the same way that Thunderbird Fried Chicken do, where they’re going left-bank with delicate salted caramels, or tamarind blends. Nor do they half ass it with aforementioned Tattersall and the pub grub take on it. They’re playing it safe in terms of experimentation, sure, but they still manage to take a formatted staple of fast food – the wing – and make it bold and distinct and a very popular favourite, as their queues will attest. Of the handful of visits I’ve made here over the course of say 18 months, I spoke a few times to the staff. That wing that is so hot you’ve got to sign a paper to agree to eat it? They had to stop selling it at their vendor because “too many ambulances were called” (We’re not too sure that’s simply prestige, personally.) But if you want that, you need to get to their Tooting restaurant. Which will eventually prompt a second post for us further down the road. One suggestion we’d make is we’d really appreciate if Orange Buffalo had their Scoville units written out on their menu/board. It would help people make a decision on how much their heat tolerance and make comparisons. I asked the staff a few times which dish had how many but they literally didn’t know. If they’re going to use their heat levels as a USP, that would surely help, no?
Nevertheless, Orange Buffalo are a glowing triumph. It’s perfect summer food. Come here with a group and you can re-enact Hot Ones yourself with your friends, if you’d enjoy that novelty. But more importantly, come here if you love wings, because these guys are for you. It’s not BBQ exactly, it’s very much their own beast and so much more vibrant for it. I feel quite confident this company are going places. Fans of wings can come here confidently, and it’s always a pleasure to join them and come through Brick Lane to pick up another box of Vincent.
Just remember to pack your own marigolds.