KFC is the latest fast food giant to launch an experimental "upmarket" restaurant in a bid to evolve and diversify. The swanky Parramatta-based outlet features an all-new menu, an open kitchen and (pending council approval) alcoholic beverages. We headed down to the grand opening to try some of its deluxe finger-lickin' offerings. Are Zinger patties and quinoa seeds a good mix?
Over the past few years, the fast food landscape has been changing. The rapid-fire success of "fast casual" chains like Nando's and Grill'd has amply demonstrated that customers are willing to pay a premium for higher quality food — and the big franchises are starting to take notice.
Last year, McDonald's quietly launched "The Corner"; an experimental outlet that features cafe-style food and almost no McDonald's branding at all. The company is also in the process of updating its regular restaurants with deluxe dine-in service and premium burger choices. (You can read our tour of its maiden store here.)
Like McDondald's, KFC Australia had been following the same basic modus operandi since it launched in the 1960s. While its menu items, cooking methods and logo have all received extensive tweaks, the basic look and feel of the restaurant has barely changed. Until now.
Yesterday, KFC opened the doors to its first Burgers/Wraps/Bowls store; a new concept that puts fresh produce, heartier servings and menu customisation at the forefront. The new menu has been specifically tailored to Australian workers who want something a bit fancier during their lunch break.
Naturally, we were among the first curious punters to attend the launch. Read on for a full pictorial tour!
KFC's first concept store is located in the heart of Parrammatta's bustling Church Street food hub. At first glance, the outdoor signage doesn't look hugely different to a standard KFC store. But hang on... what are "bowls"? That doesn't sound like anything on KFC's menu.
The menu is smaller than a typical KFC and lacks several notable favourites. (Indeed, we witnessed several exasperated patrons attempt to order a three-piece feed to no avail.) Instead, the outlet boasts a streamlined menu that puts an emphasis on all-new products and ingredients — including (hnngh!) frozen custard.
The new store uses a three-step ordering process similar to the ones at Mexican and noodle eateries: customers choose the type of chicken they want (grilled, Zinger or Original Recipe), a fillings/flavour combination and whether they want it served in a burger, wrap or bowl.
There are a few old school options available for customers who fear change. Hurrah!
KFC is adding an extra-friendly touch to its service at the new store: caterers wear personalised aprons and ask for your name while ordering.
The customer's name appears on their receipt — another nice personal touch. Cleverly, dessert orders can be picked up after your main meal so it doesn't melt. You simply exchange the supplied voucher when you're ready.
KFC has taken a leaf out of Subway's book with an open kitchen layout: fresh ingredients such as red quinoa, jalapeño sauces, basmati rice and corn salsa are ladled out in front of the customer.
The concept store uses large, crusty bread for its burgers that are completely unlike KFC's usual fare. The bread is sourced from Laurent Bakery; a Melbourne-based patisserie that specialises in French/European style breads. (Also pictured: steaming quinoa entering a bowl.)
The store is capable of seating around 50 patrons at once. In addition to standard restaurant tables, there are a few intimate booths tucked into corners for those who desire a more private dining experience.
You can peruse the menus from your table. However, customers are required to order at the counter.
The decor is an interesting mix of fancy cafe stylings and kitschy memorabilia. The Colonel Sanders mural in the toilet is probably the highlight.
KFC salt addicts take note: there are self-serve shakers at the tables! Something tells me these will be disappearing from the store at regular intervals. A handful of USB chargers are also provided for those lengthy bucket-scoffing marathons.
This is the Creamy Aioli Grilled Chicken Bowl. It comes with diced chicken, aioli, avocado, cos lettuce, diced carrot and quinoa. As mentioned, you can also apply the same concept to a wrap or burger: the choice is up to the customer.
The quinoa seeds aren't a typical fast food menu item; even in the fast casual space. I found it complemented the chicken nicely. It has a pleasantly light flavour and is probably the healthiest thing on the menu.
This bad boy is the Jalepeno Mayo Zinger burger. It comes with Jalepeno mayonnaise, tasty cheese, shredded slaw and a monster Zinger patty. KFC uses extra-large breast fillets for its concept outlet. With an average weight of 125g, they are roughly one third bigger than the fillets sold at KFC's normal stores. (Interestingly, this forced the company to change its whole cooking process to ensure the thicker meat is cooked the whole way through.) If you're a fan of Zinger burgers you really need to try this thing: everything from the slaw to the bread is a vast improvement while still retaining that familiar spicy taste.
For comparative purposes, here's what the exact same product looks like in "bowl" form. I thought they were both equally delicious; if I had to choose a winner I'd probably plump for the burger thanks to the high-quality bread roll. Incidentally, don't be fooled into thinking this stuff is any healthier than KFC's standard menu: the aforementioned Jalepeno Mayo Zinger burger packs in a whopping 3429kJ — and that's before you add chips or a drink.
The frozen custard comes in vanilla or chocolate varieties and it is truly glorious. Despite not being much of a dessert person I polished off the lot and demanded seconds. (On the right is a "regular" Zinger burger which uses the over-sized patty and bread buns.)
I was thoroughly impressed with KFC's new dining option. Unlike McDonald's The Corner, it's not trying to hide its origins via obscured branding or a completely alien menu: instead, it's just a slightly fancier take on the same flavours that KFC is famous for.
I think the success of the store will come down to pricing: at $10 a burger, this isn't a particularly cheap feed. There are also no lunch combos or specials to entice penny-pinchers into the store.
With that said, I can definitely see KFC carving out a niche for itself in the fast casual space; especially if beer gets added to the menu (KFC's application for a liquor license is currently under review with the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing.) Whatever happens, I sincerely hope that we get the frozen custard on KFC's regular menu. That stuff is "I-gotta-sit-down" divine!