The man who ate Lincoln Rd is studied, like Shakespeare or measles. I tucked into morning tea at Burger King on Lincoln Rd on Tuesday with a communications student from AUT, who recorded an interview as part of his latest assignment. The subject: this series, "the most exciting column in New Zealand". That wasn't his description. It was mine, but he didn't disagree, and he asked a number of thoughtful questions based on his actually very careful reading of the previous eight columns. Plus he paid for the food.
I'm giving the guy an A+.
His timing was exquisite. He was there to witness the man who ate Lincoln Rd stuff his face for the first time with an item which has swept the country and earned its place as the most exciting new food in New Zealand - chicken fries.
Chicken fries! Like all great ideas, it's at once simple and audacious. It's chicken put through a machine until it assumes the shape of fries. They look like fries, but they're made out of chicken. It's what happens when you breed a chicken with a potato.
Genius. Also, the packaging and advertising campaign are first-class. The fries come in a box shaped like a chicken's head. The fries emerge from the top of the head, as though the chicken is losing its mind, or something. They're heavily advertised on my favourite space in Auckland - bus shelters.
They were launched - this will almost certainly remain the most significant date in New Zealand food in 2016 - on January 24. "Limited time only," claimed Burger King, and the people rushed to place their orders. The chap at Lincoln Rd Burger King confirmed they were a smash hit. In fact they're now a permanent item on the menu.
But are they any good? Critical response has been varied - and that's just on the woefully unmoderated Burger King Facebook page, which is full of bros using bad language to curse the f*** out of Burger King Tokoroa ("the worst in NZ"), Burger King Albany ("sucks...served by a child no more than seven"), and Burger King Rotorua (unprintable).
Wrath, too, poured down on the chicken fries. "Soggy, conjoined and disgusting." What does "conjoined" mean? And: "Not properly cooked." Also: "Limp and soggy."
Furthermore: "My sister and I were so disappointed in them we didn't even eat them."
Damning. But I went to Burger King Lincoln Rd with an open mind and a tidy hunger. As well as the chicken fries, I ordered onion rings, hash bites, and - like I said, it was morning tea - a cup of tea. The bill: $11.35. Let's break that down, and do a quick compare and contrast with McDonald's, because BK and McD are the two big kahunas of fast food in New Zealand, and it's useful to have a pricing index.
Hash bites at BK: $2.40. Hash browns at McD: $2.20. Hm. Cup of tea, BK: $1.50. Cup of tea, McD: $3.40. Woah! Only BK do onion rings. So let's get to the real versus battle - the things they do with chicken at BK vs the things they do with chicken at McD.
Six-pack of chicken nuggets, McD: $5.70. Box of chicken fries, BK: $4.95.
Yo McDonald's YOU LOSE BRO. For cost-efficient sides and snacks, Burger King is the better option.
But I repeat: are their chicken fries any good? The onion rings certainly were. They were sweet, and tangy, and crunchy, and crumbly, but perhaps a bit small - they were definitely a lower-case o, not the wide-mouthed upper-case O.
The hash bites were soggy when eaten hot. That word again! What is it with Burger King and "soggy"? Is there like a dude going around the BK kitchens pouring water on everything? Stop it at once, water dude! But when eaten cold, the hash bites were awesome. The water must have evaporated.
Enough of the tease. To the chicken fries. But first I have to point out that it's likely quite a lot is riding on the success of the chicken fries. Things haven't been great these past few years for Burger King New Zealand. Its parent company Tango Holdings posted a $4.4 million loss in 2013, and $7.5 million in 2014. As well, there was an unseemly and costly legal feud with Kiwi Pacific Foods, which made meat patties for Burger King.
Anyway, the chicken fries were fantastic. They were firm and juicy and kind of like totally bizarre - there you are, eating chicken shaped like fries. It takes a bit of getting used to. Like maybe 30 seconds. In essence, chicken fries are just chicken nuggets stretched out; they're the extended version of chicken nuggets, the sequel that's better than the original.
Such a great idea - and the reality is a winner. They look cool and taste good.
Rating: 9 out of 10.
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•All views expressed are the author's.