134 Ferguson St, Williamstown. Phone: 9397 0146
Want to know what Australia eats on a Saturday night?
Forget your fancy pants cooking and lifestyle shows, glossy magazines, newspaper reviews, food guides and food blogs.
Sit, instead, at one of the few inside tables at Hot Wings in Williamstown at the start of rush hour … and watch an amazing, ceaseless flow of customers come and go.
These are not groups of teens fuelling up for a night of movies or mayhem, or couples of any age grabbing dinner on the way home from a day out.
Nope, almost without exception these are parents popping in to grab obviously family-sized meals for family-sized families.
Think of this same scene unfolding at all the good chicken shops across Melbourne, then Victoria and then Australia – it’s amazing to contemplate.
There’s no doubt this is spectacularly unhealthy food.
But I doubt it’s any worse than, say, fish and chips, which seem to have acquired a patina of righteousness in the past decade or so, or the unfood of the franchises.
I doubt even that a chicken shop feed is much more of a no-no than the kebab and dips approach, or the whole five-course deal at a French establishment.
In any case, these places are hugely popular – a mainstay, for better or worse, of the Australian family food routine.
I’d love to know more about them.
When did they start? Where did the inspiration come from?
Are there equivalents in other countries, apart from the fried chicken of US fame?
You still find quite a broad spectrum of people running such businesses, but my impression is that these days they are dominated by folk of the Chinese persuasion.
And then, too, there’s hybrids – chicken ‘n’ pizzas, chicken ‘n’ burgers, chicken ‘n’ F&C, chicken ‘n’ kebabs, chicken ‘n’ the lot.
There’s nothing hybrid about Hot Wings – it’s a classic of the genre.
It’s all here – the scalloped potatoes, deep-fried chicken if you’re perverse enough to desire such, the gravy, the salads.
A couple of the salads look like they’ve been mayonaised to death, but there’s a decent looking Greek salad and even – wow! – a tabouli.
When the mood strikes me for this kind of food – about once a year – I prefer to head for the shop in Racecourse Rd, Flemington, or some other place that does eat-ins with metal cutlery and real plates.
But as I chow down at Hot Wings, I have no regrets – as what I experience is a peak chicken shop meal.
Timing is vital in visits to such food outlets.
If, when you enter, a new batch of chips is on the way and the final, bedraggled remnants of the previous lot are sitting there looking unlovely, head for the door … walk around the block or go somewhere else.
Tonight, I’m in luck – the chips are fresh, hot and wonderful.
The downer of having to use plastic cutlery is substantially decreased by the juicy quality of my half bird – even the deepest part of the breast meat is moist, requiring no help from gravy or such like.
This, in my experience, is a rarity.
As is coleslaw that is neither gloopy with or drowning in mayo.
That said, this one doesn’t quite back up its good looks – it’s plainly on the dull and bland side.