Freebird is an Asian-style chicken shack, one of the newer additions to famed local chef Angus An’s culinary empire. It opened a few years ago in New Westminster’s River Market, but never seemed as busy and popular as his other ventures, such as Longtail Kitchen which was literally around the corner from Freebird. It then closed in 2019 and moved into a cafe-like space in Chinatown. That location closed too this past summer, with Freebird becoming a takeout-only restaurant operating out of Maenam‘s kitchen.
The Take-Out Experience
Freebird has always advertised takeout even at its original location. Coupled with the fact that it’s now being run out of award-winning Maenam, my expectations were pretty high.
Ordering can be done direct or through Uber Eats. Although I try to support restaurants by ordering directly when possible, it’s great that they also offer both delivery and pick-up through Uber and don’t mark up any of the prices. The chicken is roasted to order so it takes about 30 minutes. Unfortunately they don’t support scheduled orders through the app, so you can’t simply order in advance for a set pickup/delivery time using Uber.
Pickup is done at Maenam. There’s a cozy waiting area at the front and the hostess retrieved my order immediately upon arrival. Packaging was excellent and I loved that they tightly stapled the bag shut. This simple act keeps the contents from tipping over in the trunk of your car when nobody’s holding the bag.
Everything was packaged nicely and they even saran-wrapped the soup containers to prevent spillage!
The menu’s pretty simple and offers good value. The salt cured roast chicken is available as half ($21) or whole ($37) and comes with rice and soup for a complete meal.
They use Loong Kong Chicken, which is a free-run Taiwanese breed raised in the Fraser Valley. The meat is denser and leaner than conventional chicken and much more flavorful. Unfortunately in this case it came out a little overcooked and tough… even the drumstick was pretty dry and hard to cut into. However the salt curing and spices resulted in a delicious flavor that penetrated all the way through the meat. The skin was delightfully salty and the chicken wing was the best part since it got crispy and soaked up all the delicious spices.
The soy bean sauce was quite salty and overpowered the flavor of the chicken. I didn’t end up using any.
The ginger scallion sauce on the other hand complimented the chicken well and gave some much needed moisture to the drier pieces of chicken.
I’m not sure if the thai chili sauce comes with this or the Hainan Chicken (see below), but this really added another dimension to the chicken. It’s full of umami but also sweet, sour and spicy at the same time. I guess sauces like this is the benefit to having one of the best Thai restaurants in Vancouver as a sister-kitchen.
The rice is the same as what you would get with Hainanese Chicken Rice and really addictive. It’s normally cooked with chicken fat and chicken stock (instead of water), so it sort of tastes like an Asian rice pilaf, but with the chicken flavor dialed up to 10.
The broth soup was satisfying but had a really pungent flavor I couldn’t quite identify. Perhaps it was the cilantro and daikon with the addition of some spices.
The Hainan Chicken is poached instead of roasted. You can only get this as a single portion which comes with rice and soup, but it’s great for a quick meal for one.
This is a pretty typical Hainan chicken which is available at many restaurants in Vancouver. It’s great that they serve it boneless the way it should be, and the use of poached Loong Kong chicken makes this both flavorful and juicy at the same time. Instead of the traditional chili sauce you would normally expect from this type of dish, Freebird provides their Thai chili sauce which gives it a unique twist.
Since the roast and poached chicken have contrasting flavors and the spicy, sweet and sour flavors in Thai sauces are notoriously difficult to pair with wines, I decided to go with a cider tonight. I came across Annapolis Cider Company while visiting Nova Scotia, stopped in for a tasting, and immediately signed up for their Cider Club when I got home. They send six random bottles of various small batch ciders twice a year and I feel like a kid at Christmas every time a package arrives.
Purists would scoff at the fact that they add fresh juice at the end, but there’s a freshness, drinkability and uniqueness to their ciders that keep me coming back. The Haskap was a dry sparkling apple cider with the addition of juice from local haskap berries which gave it the color and some tannins for a medium body and ripe berry notes. These ciders are my go-to when I can’t figure out a proper wine pairing and don’t feel like having beer.
I’m glad Freebird didn’t close completely and still lives on in the kitchen of Maenam. Considering you get an entire meal to go and the roast chicken can definitely feed more than one person, it’s a pretty good value for a healthy and wholesome meal at home. However it loses some points for inconsistency. I’ve actually ordered from them on three separate occasions recently: the first time it was juicy, second time it was really overcooked and dry, and on this occasion it was slightly overcooked. It’s still delicious, but considering they specialize in roast chicken and it’s coming out of a kitchen with such pedigree, I was perhaps expecting a little more.
1938 W 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC
Price Range: $$ ($15-$30)
Rating: *** (3/5 – Average)