The First Turkey in the Shop Window

Strut and Cluck l l151 Commercial St, London E1 6BJ, UK l +44 (0)20 7078 0770 l Visited September 2016

Two. I would say that’s probably about right. It’s definitely at least one. I think three might be pushing it. So it seems about right to settle at 2. That would be my best guess at how many times I have turkey in a year. It’s Christmas dinner, and then possibly a family Easter roast. Sure, it might occasionally get thrown in a stir fry. Then there was the period where I ate a lot of it as part of a new training regime. But really, it’s twice a year that a turkey is treated with any kind of revelry in my eating.

It’s not that I have anything against the noble bird. After all, it’s the lean protein that the cover of Men’s Health yells at you to consume all day. It’s more that, unless my mum’s taken the festive trip to Copas farm, turkey tends to be pretty bland and leaves me wanting more. Initially, when I walked past the windows adorned with the name Strut and Cluck on Commercial Street, I assumed we were getting another go at an upmarket Nando’s. These often miss the point of Nandos. A chain that has thrived by keeping it simple and giving us chicken and hot sauce with little fuss. So it more than peaked my interest when the restaurant opened and I learned that its sole focus was on turkey. What’s more, its determination is to make it desirable again.

Location-wise, S&C has a head start in spreading the good word. Settling just opposite the Commercial Tavern on Commercial Street, it’s a short walk from Liverpool Street station. Near the bustle of Old Spitalfields market and down the road from the ever popular Shoreditch. It’s never going to be short of passers bye. The restaurant’s big, open-front windows giving a glimpse into a warm, but sparse interior. It looks equally welcoming and informal. The perfect combination for catching up with friends over a few drinks.  

If you’re thinking that all of this means that a trip to Strut and Cluck is going to deliver Piri Piri then you’re in for pleasant surprise. Instead, the focus is Middle Eastern fare and sharing plates. Who doesn’t offer the later now? You’re more likely to find labneh, tahini, and harissa than you are hot sauce.

Strut and Cluck Cauliflower

A Head Start – Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Zest, Creme Fraiche and Pomegranate Molasses

As with all middle eastern food, ‘greedily’ is really the only way to order starters. Things falling into two categories; dips and things to dip. Piping hot, pillowy pita to go with smoked aubergine and tahini dips. Lettuce cups are stuffed to the brim with fibrous hand-pulled, brown turkey meat. The hard, ‘dipping’ work has been done for you as the turkey is enveloped with labneh, pomegranate and harissa. If you’re with someone who shuns dark meat, this might just make them a believer. If there’s one essential here, it’s the whole head of cauliflower. Beautifully tender, and sticky from pomegranate molasses. If my mother had made cauliflower like this when I was a kid, I might have been more agreeable to it.

Mains are grouped simply into ‘bones’ and ‘no bones’. Our waiter instructs us that after the bounty of starters, ‘two will probably do’. Well on your head be it, my friend. Koftas are accompanied by okra and a large vibrant purple smear of beetroot. They’re succulent, far from the dry, under seasoned meat patties served elsewhere. One bite of these fills your mouth with spice, the kind that sticks in your mouth until the sweet, earthy beetroot cools the edge. The charcoal grilled turkey escalopes don’t quite match the same heights but have a nice crust to them and are well marinated in za’atar.

London Restaurant Review

Blushingly Beetroot – Turkey Koftas with Beetroot Purée

It’s not just the food here though, with a well-stocked bar offering plenty of suitable options to wash the poultry down with. The cocktail list, in particular, continues the middle eastern twist of traditional mixes. A ginger and lemongrass gin and tonic provides a clean and refreshing take on a G&T, with a real zing of spice from the ginger. I ended up finding little reason to change my choice for the duration. A word on the pricing; the food is not dissimilar, per dish (£10-12 for a main) than some of the chicken places they’re attempting to provide an alternate for. Meaning if you’re not going mad on cocktails, your bill should remain reasonable for a mid week meal. Though, as always, sharing options can add up.

It’s tough not to find Strut and Cluck as the kind of experience perfect for an idle Thursday catch ups with friends. We’re often told that a restaurant’s food is ‘family style sharing’, only to realise that it’s a lazy attempt to make you order more plates. Here it feels warranted. Just like real family dining, you’ll find yourself eyeing the final kofta, hoping that someone doesn’t get there first. It’s going to be a tough sell for British turkey to properly replace chicken in restaurant chains, but this attempt is certainly far from poultry.