Upping the heat on chicken

Chef Morgan McGlone (above) started Belles Hot Chicken, which has seven fried chicken shops in Sydney and Melbourne.
Chef Morgan McGlone started Belles Hot Chicken, which has seven fried chicken shops in Sydney and Melbourne.PHOTO: BELLES HOT CHICKEN
Chef Morgan McGlone (above) started Belles Hot Chicken, which has seven fried chicken shops in Sydney and Melbourne.
Chef Morgan McGlone (above) started Belles Hot Chicken, which has seven fried chicken shops in Sydney and Melbourne.PHOTO: BELLES HOT CHICKEN

The letters G, B and D are everything to chef Morgan McGlone. Together, they stand for Golden Brown Delicious, what the 44-year-old works hard to achieve in Belles Hot Chicken, his chain of seven fried chicken shops in Sydney and Melbourne.

Belles is popular among Singaporean visitors to the two Australian cities, he told The Straits Times. He is in town for a pop-up at the Andaz Singapore in Fraser Street, happening on Saturday and Sunday at the hotel's Alley on 25 cluster of restaurants.

On the menu is Spicy Chicken Sandwich ($22), an homage to KFC's Zinger burger. He launched it in 2015 to add variety to his menu and has made it in pop-ups in Copenhagen and Tokyo, among other cities.

It sums up GBD perfectly: Japanese milk bun toasted a golden brown in clarified butter; a skin-on, boneless chicken thigh deep-fried for 12 minutes and then dipped into Masala chicken fat, the oil, butter, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper combo that also lubricates his fried chicken.

A dusting of more spices, a special sauce made with mayonnaise, ketchup, pickled jalapeno and dill pickles; American cheese, shredded white onion and cold iceberg lettuce complete the sandwich.

"Every component has to be perfect," he said.

The New Zealand-born chef, who grew up in Australia, decided to set up Belles after a perfect afternoon in Nashville in 2014. He and a friend had fried chicken from a famous local shop, together with a bottle of white wine from the Loire Valley. He worked in the American city as head chef of chef Sean Brock's Husk, a spin-off from Husk in Charleston, where chef McGlone had worked for two years.

Later that year, he decided to return to Australia and, with business partners, turned a diner in Fitzroy in Melbourne into the first Belles Hot Chicken, pairing the homespun dish with a list of natural wines.

It took off quickly and today, he has three other stores in Melbourne and three in Sydney. They serve six to seven tonnes of chicken a week, and the Barangaroo outlet in Sydney serves up to 600 customers at lunch time and 300 at dinner.

It all started with hot chicken, a Nashville speciality. Chef McGlone uses halal wings and tenders, the strip of white meat on the underside of the chicken breast, for his fried chicken. These are brined, coated with a spiced flour mixture, rested in the fridge for 12 hours, brought to room temperature, floured again and then fried.

The hot in the chicken refers not just to the temperature of the chicken, but also to its spiciness. The levels at Belles go from Southern to Really F*****g Hot, although he has just introduced Sex Panther, which takes heat to another level with Grim Reaper chilli powder.

He said that a group of Indonesian women, who frequent his Fitzroy shop, would order chicken with the hottest sauce.

"They don't even break a sweat. They don't ask for milk. But they thought the Sex Panther was too hot for them," he said.

He has limited quantities of Really F*****g Hot sauce in Singapore for those who want to try it.

At the pop-up, a Belles Basket with three tenders, three wings, two side dishes and two sauces costs $28, while a Baller Basket with six tenders, eight wings, four side dishes and four sauces costs $60. Diners can choose the level of heat they want for the chicken.

Chef McGlone, who is in Singapore with his wife, fellow chef Trisha Greentree, 34, is looking to open Belles Hot Chicken outside Australia, and has had offers from Dubai and India, among other places.

"If I had a listen to my heart, I would have opened overseas three years ago," he said, adding that he was not ready at the time.

"But I am a lot smarter in the business now. It took five years to work out what customers want. The chicken has to be hot, the ambience fun. The drink offerings have to be right and it's 100 per cent about location."

He is scouting possible sites in Copenhagen, where he did a pop-up with Noma, and also in Singapore and Hong Kong.

In the meantime, he is working on expanding his offerings and has added fried oysters to his menu as a snack. After a meal at Butagumi, a tonkatsu restaurant in Tokyo, he was inspired to create a chicken katsu sandwich, coated in panko and fresh bread crumbs. He might launch it next year or serve it in Japan.

"Belles is about doing simple things right," he said.

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• The Belles Hot Chicken X Andaz Singapore pop-up takes over the hotel's Alley on 25 from noon to 9pm (or until sold out) on Saturday and Sunday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2018, with the headline 'Upping the heat on chicken'. Print Edition | Subscribe