The only time I’d heard of Jollibee, before seeing its logo pop up at 136 Princes Street a few months ago, was on an episode of the late chef Anthony Bourdain’s travel and food documentary, Parts Unknown.
He tried the Manila branch of the 44-year-old Filipino fast food chain, and called the restaurant the “wackiest, jolliest place on Earth”.
Now Scotland has its first branch, which opens on February 24, in the former premises of Santander.
They've planned a day of celebrations, and their smiling and stripey red and yellow bee mascot may even make an appearance.
In fact, on my pre-opening visit, he was having his photo taken in front of Edinburgh Castle, so they could send the pic back to the expectant team in the Philippines. On March 25, Glasgow will also have its own branch on Sauchiehall Street, as part of this brand’s huge expansion, which also includes the European market and the US. Across the globe, that adds up to over 1500 stores across 17 countries.
It’s pretty massive, for a name that I’d barely heard of until now.
I visited the capital’s branch the day before opening. People were already trying the door, then looking disappointed when they were told that it wasn’t quite there yet. Indeed, it’s a jolly honeypot inside. There’s a bright colour scheme, especially downstairs, where there are comfortable booths and prints that are inspired by traditional fabrics. The biggest table has a strip of pina material along the top, under glass, and there are new fangled charging ports for phones.
As someone who grew up on kids parties at Princes Street’s branch of Wimpy, this is very different.
While Jollibee in the Philippines is very much a family chain, they’re pitching the UK and European equivalents to Generation Z and younger Millennials. It sits alongside Nando’s, rather than the other burger chains.
Their focus is Chickenjoy and Spicy Chickenjoy, which has a crispy coating and comes in their logo-emblazoned bucket. Apparently, everyone in the Philippines has it with a helping of their special hot gravy. However, I prefer the Chicken Tenders, with their russet-coloured crumb and an Asian Ginger Chilli dip on the side.
The menu has a few interesting options too. I remembered, from Parts Unknown, Bourdain tried an especially intriguing pasta dish. Jolly Spaghetti is a combination of pasta topped with a sweet red sauce, with chunks of hot-dog and grated cheese on top. It’s comfort food.
“Deranged, yet strangely alluring,” said Bourdain, in the programme.
Other interesting signature options include the Jollibee Tropical Chicken Sandwich. It’s like their best-selling Chicken Sandwich, which features fried chicken and lettuce in a bun, except with pineapple on top. Alongside the ubiquitous Coke and Sprite options, you can also order pineapple juice, and there are dips including their Sriracha Mayonnaise, and a Chicken Rice Bowl with a spicy sauce on top. Rice even comes as a side, wrapped up like a burger.
There are also lots of familiar fast food offerings, like fries and the classic Yumburger - a beef patty topped with mayo.
Also, just for their Scottish stores, they’ll be offering Irn-Bru.
That and a bowl of the Jolly Spaghetti sound like a pretty effective hangover cure.