As the weather turns frigid, our thoughts tend to drift to indulgent foods that can provide a temporary balm to the outside world. There’s no end to restaurants offering special seasonal variations to tempt us, from gravy-oozing turkey lunch sandwiches to a plethora of sickly hot chocolates.
YO! (formally YO! Sushi) might not seem the obvious choice for anyone looking for a piping hot Christmassy pick-me-up. But its JFC seasonal bucket, available in both meat and plant-based options, is not only the best meal on its extensive menu but might also be my new favourite midwinter tradition.
In Japan, where Christmas day isn’t an official holiday and only around one per cent of the population is Christian, families still gather and celebrate but the traditional meal is slightly different - a bucket of KFC.
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First launched in the country in 1974, the KFC party barrel was a marketing promotion that became a national sensation and is now a tradition like any other. Now YO! has served up the JFC, its take on Japan’s favourite festive meal, for a few years now. But as I haven’t ventured into one of its restaurants since before the pandemic, I hadn't yet had the opportunity to road-test it to see how it compares to Colonel Sanders’.
Previously, YO! offered the JFC for free to customers in exchange for an empty chicken bucket of their own choice. It's the kind of special offer that belongs to a more innocent, pre-recession era, but, despite this, I can’t fault the price of the JFC. In fact, I’d be shocked if anyone disagreed that the JFC isn’t the single best-value item on the menu at YO! providing a tasty, hot, filling meal with tons of trimmings for less than a tenner.
The JFC comprises four pieces of meat: two Japanese chicken tenders, one sweet chilli wing and a pork corn dog drizzled with cranberry teriyaki sauce. This meaty quartet sits on a bed of fries accompanied by miso togarashi corn and a portion of slaw, topped with what is described in the menu as ‘nori tinsel’. There’s also a tub of curry sauce on the side for good measure.
Unfortunately, when I arrived at the Cabot Circus YO! branch, I was told that the restaurant had just run out of corn and the dish was off the menu. But before I could say cucumber maki or even rebook for another day, a staff member dashed out the door to procure some cobs, so I took my seat at the restaurant's iconic conveyer belt.
Having not visited a YO! restaurant for so long, I was unfamiliar with its new online ordering system and empty conveyer belt trundling past without giving glimpses of dishes to whet the appetite. YO! is trialling a return to the old ways at some locations, including Birmingham Selfridges. Still, the novelty and efficiency of directly placing my order soon grew on me after I requested a mixed sushi platter to tide me over.
YO! has always been remarkably consistent with its sushi offering, and the platter didn’t disappoint with its spice-licked chicken katsu rolls and crunchy boats of savoury kaiso gunkan seaweed. However, had I realised the scale of the meal to follow, I would have abstained.
Because of its size, the heavily-laden bucket arrived at the bar hand-delivered with a large cup of sauce and an empty bowl because, as the staff member informed me, “people usually need an extra dish or two.” Starting with the element most reminiscent of its rival bucket, the chicken tender had a crunchy panko-style crumb with a surprising amount of heat and zingy flavour. Inside the meat was - as described - tender and succulent.
Though it pays homage to KFC and certainly hits the same spot, the JFC version seems more wholesome and less greasy, with a wider range of distinct and more complex flavours. Surprisingly meaty, the wing was treacly and sticky, forcing me to abandon my chopsticks and embrace the inevitable carnage that was about to ensue.
On its handy serving stick, the corn dog was suggestive of chip shop battered sausages with a thick, almost sweet, crisp outer shell flecked with touches of tangy glaze and a delicious porky interior. The all-important corn on the cob was juicy and sweet and similarly christened with its own topping, adding a touch of subtle umami to the bucket.
Cooling and fresh, the slaw provided some welcome respite from all that heat and meat, while the fries performed perfectly as potato soldiers bound for the unsung hero of the JFC, the katsu-like curry sauce. This was a superb cross between chip shop curry sauce and gravy, evoking fond memories of takeaways gone by and forcing me to order a few gyozas to dip in it, despite being well and truly full at this point.
This December, when you make that inevitable marathon trip to the shops and find yourself sapped with energy because it took two hours to travel there in the first place and everything is considerably more expensive than it was last year, may I suggest pausing for a moment to locate the nearest YO! and ordering yourself this delicious and restorative bucket of joy to help your power through the Christmas mayhem. Just make sure you bring a wet wipe.
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