So there’s another fried chicken joint. This time, the theme’s Korean by way of NYC. But the folks behind this new fast-food entrant reckon there’s more to 4Fingers Crispy Chicken than deep-fried poultry on the cheap. “Globally, we can see that many consumers are fed up with the established fast-food chains,” says CEO Steen Puggaard. “We want to appeal to these consumers who seek better quality and better service, rather than just speed and affordability.”
Puggaard describes 4Fingers’ offering as “fast casual”; higher quality food than you’ll find at a standard fast-food chain, but still with pay-at-the-register service.
Despite the claims of being “disruptive” (and even, on the company’s website a “rebellion” and a “revolution”), much of the 4Fingers menu is familiar: chicken burgers on charcoal buns, deep-fried wings in spicy sauce, battered shrimp with a dusting of dried chilli. But a few elements are interesting and appealing, particularly the chain’s efforts to use higher-quality ingredients. The chicken, for instance, is antibiotic and hormone free, delivered fresh daily. It’s used for the restaurant’s staple offering – crispy Korean fried chicken. “It’s a traditional recipe the founders got from a small shop in New York’s Koreatown,” says Puggaard.
Likewise, 4Fingers gets its sauces from a family-owned and operated company on a small island off Penang, Malaysia. “The soybeans are naturally fermented in the Malaysian sun for five months,” explains Puggaard. “So long as they’re able to meet our growing demand, we’d really like to work with them for many more years to come.”
In addition to the Korean fried chicken, 4Fingers blends a variety of different flavours and creations from Japanese cuisine, Chinese and Western cultures; there is a seaweed-spice dressing for the chips, Chinese soft buns called mantou and “kimslaw” – a mixture of Korean kimchi and Western coleslaw. As an alternative to burgers, chicken, seafood and tofu can all be ordered over rice.
Since opening in Singapore in 2009, the company has expanded quickly. Twenty-one 4Fingers stores have opened across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and now, Australia, with Los Angeles in sight for the future. Bourke Street Melbourne is the first destination in Australia, and will be followed by Westfield, Chermside and a third on Albert Street in Brisbane in a matter of weeks.
4Fingers’ business philosophy pillages from both franchise and fine-dining. Puggaard’s had a diverse career: in the mid-’90s he was responsible for opening new markets for McDonald’s across Central Europe, and did the same for Burger King across Asia shortly after. Then, in 1999, Puggaard moved to Singapore where he applied his skills to the fine-dining market with two-Michelin-star restaurant Les Amis. “Now, I’m combining everything I’ve learned and bringing the best of both worlds to 4Fingers,” says Puggaard.
The store designs revert back to more traditional times with the use of peg boards to display the menu, rather than glossy TV screens or anything electronic. But there’s also an odd element of co-opting the language and aesthetics of social justice, protest and socialist kitsch throughout the restaurant; there are paste-ups of Che Guevara and Guy Fawkes, Banksy knock-offs and stencil art that implores us to “Resist!”. The company has also commissioned Singaporean street artist Samantha Loh to paint the store facade.
4Fingers may appear to be an unusual name choice for a chicken restaurant. Puggaard doesn’t disagree. The explanation, apparently, is that there are four original founders of the company, so there’s one finger to represent each founder. It also signifies how one typically holds a piece of chicken when consuming it, with your thumb, index, middle and ring finger.
Whether you choose to “resist” or not, it’s a name you probably won’t forget.
189–191 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Mon to Fri 11am–10pm
Sat & Sun 11am–11pm