START SPREADING THE NEWS ABOUT LOST BOYS CHICKEN
Lost Boys Chicken Brighton probably knew licking sticky sauce from your fingers is part of any New York chicken shack experience. They must have known they were sitting on a tasty secret when they they took over the restaurant deep inside The Joker pub in Brighton. The public certainly approved, as with a few short months and a sprinkling of pixie dust later, The Joker was collecting a BRAVO award for best food pub.
Arriving with my wingman for the night (haha!), my first thought as we flopped down in one of those huge, comfy leather railway booths was, “Ooh, I hope they don’t scrimp on the spice.”
I was quickly distracted from this ill-informed thought by the cosiness of the little pub, despite the bustling madness of Preston Circus crossroads right outside. With warm lighting and handfuls of river reeds here and there, plus an inviting selection of board games, no one is scrimping on atmosphere inside The Joker. Since November, Lost Boys’ kitchen has occupied their corner – although in true laid-back style, you can eat from the menu anywhere in the pub.
CHILLI – CON OR SIN CARNE
Lost Boys’ signature dish is Buffalo Wings, but these are no ordinary wings. They are coated in marinades that celebrate some of the best chillies Sussex has to offer, sourced from as far afield as the local greengrocer next door.
“This way, we can support local businesses and guarantee the quality of the chillies before we make the sauces..”
..Says Eme, one of Lost Boys Chicken’s enterprising team, as he talks us through the menu. We’ve just met, but he’s so endearing I’ve already decided we’ll be mates. But surprisingly, it’s not all chicken. I judge a restaurant by the love it shows to its veggies and Lost Boys Chicken delivers vegetables packed with Soulfood satisfaction.
MILD AND A BIT FRUITY
The Wings arrive to loud frat-boy cheering from me and my mate, but the silence that ensues tells the whole story. We start with Lost Boys’ original and milder Wendy sauce, which Eme explains is the foundation of all their sauces and a great option for those who are timid of spice.
STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
Next up is Thuddbutt, a combination of cayenne pepper and habanero so appealing I suspect that “Thuddbutt” might become my new nickname. I’m game to try Rufio, which is spicier still, but I’m told it isn’t even the hottest thing here on offer. Each sauce has its own distinct flavour, the hallmark of having been made with a variety of real chillies. I’m given the honour of trying Lost Boys’ new Carolina Reaper sauce and it’s so superb I can no longer maintain my reviewers’ veneer.
VEGGIE SOULFOOD SATISFACTION
We tuck into Halloumi chips and Spiced Aubergine Nuggets. I detect a warm hint of Sichuan in the sauce. “Arghhwwaaaw,” I say munching away vigorously. “Wwwhummm,” replies my friend. No FOMO for veggies or vegans here. No decorum left among us either.
It’s already a blur when the burgers arrive. You know, I can’t remember when I last had a chicken burger this tender? The bun is soft like brioche. I taste lettuce, pickles, swiss and blue cheese, all of which just happen to be best friends with the habanero sauce I’ve elected to add. The combination is absolutely irresistible.
More wings arrive, this time with a sweet, fruity mango sauce to try, and finally messy gochujang-coated Korean chicken which we shamelessly demolish too, along with a side of curly fries and ranch sauce. I might actually explode, and yet somehow there seems to be more food left over to take away with me.
As we lean back in the booth, finally defeated, I notice Lost Boys Chicken is full of chatty groups of friends, enjoying steaming baskets of wings and chatting away happily. Judging by that, and the steady flow of helmeted Deliveroo drivers, we might be the only people who didn’t get the memo about this place.
Lost Boys Chicken is not the place to lightly dab away the consommé from the corners of your mouth with a napkin.
It’s the place to blindly aim your teeth into a sticky drumstick or dripping burger and then systematically finish off every bit of sauce from every finger. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been created with care, finesse and attention to detail. There are options for vegetarians and vegans that are fantastic, like burgers with beetroot and mint patties; spice lovers and fighters are equally represented through the sauces, dips and sides.
Things are definitely heating up near Preston Circus.