By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
Call me sentimentalist, call me old fashioned – but like others, I’m sure, turkey (the bird) is something that I do not generally associate with the month of July. Generally reserved for Christmas time, often sentenced to hours withering at the bottom of a hot oven, turkey has gained a negative reputation for being dry and generally unexciting – unless you are a child and enjoy eating food that has been cut into the shape of dinosaurs. So when I heard about the opening of Strut & Cluck in Shoreditch – a restaurant that serves no meat other than turkey – I’d be lying if I were to say that my visit wasn’t inspired mainly by sheer curiosity, not to mention a touch of scepticism.
Launched by husband and wife duo Amir and Limor Chen, Strut & Cluck is stylised as a ‘healthy restaurant’, with the foundations inspired by home cooking and healthy eating, all of which is instilled by the pair’s Eastern Mediterranean heritage. Upon entering, a central bar is the main focus, while the rear dining area has a palette of green, blue and tonal hues. The use of light, meanwhile, lends similarities to the gardens set in the middle of traditional Moroccan homes. As for the food, the menu’s main draw – turkey – is all free range and sourced directly from carefully selected farms that practice sustainably farming in East Anglia.
To start, we ordered Strut & Cluck’s ‘Far East-Middle East’ (£7.75), a trio of lettuce cups encasing portions of hand pulled cold turkey. The freshness of the leaves worked in harmony with the meat, while the addition of bean sprouts, spring onions, roasted almonds, pomegranate seeds and lashings of labneh provided further depth of flavour, as well as depth of texture. An impressive start, although a little spice (or at least some more generous seasoning) would have considerably propelled the dish’s excellence, nonetheless. A dish of charred cauliflower, on the other hand, was one of the highlights of the entire evening. Not dissimilar from the wildly popular cauliflower shawarma that’s served at Berber & Q in Haggerston, the cauliflower is available by the quarter (£5.50), half (£8.50), or indeed whole (£12.50), with the humble vegetable having been grilled and the leaves singed to encapsulate a tremendous smokiness, paired with lemon zest-infused crème fraîche instead of tahini, nigella seeds and sour pomegranate seeds. Looking as though crafted especially to be photographed and plastered across social media accounts, this dish was an absolute triumph, providing further evidence that vegetarian cooking does not have to be boring and lifeless, juxtaposed to the beliefs of so many other restaurants.Strut & Cluck’s Charred Cauliflower
With the larger turkey dishes, the menu is split into two sub-headings: ‘On The Bone’ and ‘No Bones’. Both of our dishes were chosen from the former, having been marinated for 24 hours with a secret mix of herbs and spices and cooked slowly. ‘Limor’s Classic Slow Roast Thigh’ (£12), was in fact, the menu’s closest dish to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, fairly detached from the rest of the Eastern Mediterranean theme. Served with sweet potatoes and sweet caramelised onions, while a deep turkey gravy was also employed to bring each element together. Better still were the sticky wings (£9.75), three comically large turkey wings were smothered with a glaze of harissa, honey and rosemary to create an outer bark in sharp contrast to the soft, surprisingly succulent, meat underneath. Desserts at Strut & Cluck are also impressive, with absolutely no turkey in sight. A paste traditionally made from nuts and fruits to be eaten during Passover – Haroset is used here, albeit baked into a cake with almonds (£5.50). The result is absolutely inspired, though it is the range of habitually tedious sorbets and gelato (£1.85 per scoop) that are most impressive as an end to the meal. Pistachio and orange blossom was particularly delicious, incorporating the two flavours in such a way that the exceptional balance prevented one from overshadowing the other.
Somewhat miraculously, the experience at Strut & Cluck manages to prove that turkey can be enjoyable outside of the festive season – when cooked and prepared properly. What’s more, the restaurant is a refreshing break from the East-End’s uncountable spaces that specialise in trendy fried chicken.
Strut & Cluck can be found at 151-153 Commercial Street, London, E1 6BJ.