The Pengest Munch, the viral YouTube chicken shop review channel by “chicken connoisseur” Elijah Quashie, appears to be broadening its remit. In a video review of Chicken Diner in Old Street, Quashie announced that his channel will now be called The CNSR. He said that “I’m still gonna be chicken … But there’s gonna be some other stuff, so now I’ll be going by The Connoisseur … You’ll see me exhibiting other facets of connoisseurism in other areas of my pseudo expertise.” For the record, Chicken Diner offers 4.1 strip burgers and wings. On Quashie’s scale, that’s pretty good.
The Pengest Munch marked five years on the strip burger beat with a best of video in September, promising new episodes of what remains some of the most interesting criticism in the city every fortnight. In December, Quashie did a three-part review of Borough Market, looking for a “festive rendition” on his signature trio of chips, wings, and a strip burger. Fish! Kitchen’s chips — “I can see my heart palpitations already.” Rudie’s Jerk’s wings — “the chicken was bland. The chicken was dead.” Wyndham’s chicken burger — “the flavours … Air.”
While he started in 2015, it was September 2016 when his channel went viral, precipitating a series of media appearances in which presenters struggled to handle his directness — “If I start being a critic, then I’m a critic” — and he, like so many, questioned Gregg Wallace’s role on Masterchef. “I wondered to myself, what makes his opinion more valued than anyone else’s? Is it because he’s been eating more food, so he has an experienced palate? I’m not sure. I thought, no one is doing this for the type of people who eat at chicken shops.” He didn’t call Gregg Wallace Gregg Wallace; he called him “the bald one on Masterchef.”
As Navneet Alang observed on Quashie’s rise in 2017, The Pengest Munch’s arrival questioned the “because I said so” methodology of largely white, upper-middle class restaurant critics in the U.K. and U.S.A., both in terms of value judgements and the blindspots in where they choose to review. Chicken shops are woven into London’s social fabric; as Alang notes, they are also particularly egalitarian, admissible to to the many Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Sikhs in the city by not focussing on pork or beef. They are, and have been, a very big blindspot.
The Pengest Munch expanding its remit beyond fried chicken shops would represent a yet stronger challenge to this critical status quo, at a time when the role of U.K. restaurant criticism is particularly contested. Concerned about delivering negative reviews, making light of the risks facing staff having not covered what those risks are, and unable to explain why it should be trusted over its competitors, its response to what restaurants are doing and experiencing during COVID-19 has largely continued to treat them as a place of refuge or escape, rather than economic and social spaces affected by the pandemic like any other. Thus far, Quashie has just kept reviewing places that stayed open because they had to, for their owners to make a living and for the people that come to eat their chips, wings, and strip burgers, and he’s being true about the realities. In his five year anniversary video, he visited the shop from his first review. It had closed: “the rent got a bid mad over here.”
Perhaps the most striking thing about Quashie is that his strengths — subjective, highly defended if not defensible criteria; clearly communicated methodologies for reviewing; and a willingness to critique establishments that are overlooked by his discipline at large — are so refreshing, when they’re really parameters that any rigorous critical culture should take as read. If he broadens his remit to more foods and restaurants, as implied, this arresting alternative to a form that has not yet really been meaningfully challenged in the U.K. will surely only grow more powerful.