31/07/2016

Strut and Cluck

 

Last year I raved about Café Murano Covent Garden to anyone who would listen. (It has now become my boss's favourite restaurant.) On our visits we made friends with the flame haired Kelly, who was the Manager. She has the knack of making you feel like you’ve just dropped in for dinner with old friends, whilst still looking after you like a valued customer.

Sadly in the December she left Murano (on good terms I might add) and I thought we’d lost touch, but then she resurfaced on the Instagram feed of a restaurant in Shoreditch whose photos I’d been ogling. Hooray! 

Yes, Shoreditch. I know, I know, hipster central. Well it is, in some ways, but it still retains a goodly chunk of the old East End spirit. It’s also one of those places that I get lost in, almost every time, so I was a little wary of heading that way, but the menu, and Kelly, made me absolutely certain that I wanted to go.

I loved the name as soon as I heard it. Strut and Cluck. Male turkeys strut, and the females cluck. Clever, eh?

They offer turkey (free range) based dishes, inspired by their Eastern Mediterranean roots, though vegetarians are also easily catered for. The mere mention of using turkey hooked me first, because I adore it, and the words Eastern Mediterranean ensured that I absolutely had to go. For the record, I will now state that contrary to popular belief, turkey is not a naturally dry meat. I think it has suffered from years of overcooking at Christmas, and I promise you faithfully that you really do not need to cook one for 6 hours until it turns to sawdust. Following supermarket cooking times will overcook it. Buy a meat thermometer, and go by that. (If a supermarket packet instruction says 20 minutes per pound plus 20, I never, ever use the extra 20. I suspect they are covering themselves for legal reasons.)

I needn’t have worried about getting lost, as I found a bus that went from my work pretty much all the way to Commercial Street, and then it was a 5 minute walk, if that. They are right opposite Ted Baker (who are very happy about this) and quite easy to find. The olive trees outside give it away slightly.

It’s a small place, as are many of the commercial units in the East End, but they’ve done the very best they can with the space and made it beautiful without being twee or going the full Cath Kidston.  Pale wooden high  tables in the bar area, and simple squares and rounds in the restaurant itself, combined with plain walls serve to make the space look large and airy.

Photo taken from their Instagram feed:

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My welcome there was warm, and very friendly. People who know instinctively to greet you with a kiss on both cheeks always makes me feel at home straightaway, plus I think Kelly may have mentioned me to the owners. Smile

Look how lovely they all are! Photo also from their Instagram feed which I was not stalking at all in any way.

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I happily ogled the furniture, wondering if I could fit one of their high tables into my kitchen.  (The answer is no. Rats.)

It wasn’t long before my dining partner arrived, and we went through to the restaurant part. Then came the menu, and oh my…how on earth was I going to choose? There wasn’t one single thing on there that didn’t appeal to me. Making a decision was going to be tough. I had a Rose Lemonade to  drink while I was trying to make up my mind, because rose is a flavour that I can never pass up, and spent a few minutes getting pomegranate seeds stuck in my straw while I tried to decide what to order.

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“Olives, we’ll get olives.I know we always get olives but those do look good…”

“Yes.”

“Ok…and oh look, butterbeans with cumin. Yes?”

“Yep, we can share those too.”

“Ok…um…oh…slow roast thigh with sweet potatoes…but then there’s sticky harissa wings…and the kofta with currants and cashews and and…”

“I KNOW.”

Eventually we narrowed it down and managed to make a decision or two.

Olives and butterbeans for nibbles.

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These beans were a revelation.  If you are only used to tinned butterbeans, these are a serious step up.  Smooth in texture, and not grainy or mealy, with a good bite to them. I am not a fan of whole seeds, I admit, but these were soft, not crunchy, and perfumed rather than overpowering, which cumin can sometimes be. I might have to try making this at home.

Watermelon, feta and mint salad as a starter for me:

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This was beautifully fresh, and the olives worked extremely well with the watermelon. The mint was just enough to add a zing to the fruit, and didn’t overpower as it can sometimes do. I think I have found a new addiction in toasted pumpkin seeds, and immediately went out and bought some. I will admit, they do conflict a little with the watermelon seeds, but I managed to pick most of the black seeds out. I’ve never been able to eat them, not even as a kid. All in all this was a mouth-watering starter. Not too much, light and cleansing.

Grilled sourdough sabikh style with aubergine, soft boiled egg, tahini and sumac for Simon. 
 

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Given the speed at which this disappeared, I assume that it was absolutely delicious. I tried a piece of the bread and tahini together, and it was the perfect combination of crunchy, savoury bread and silky smooth, slightly sweet tahini. Another one for me to try next time I go, that’s for sure.

When the mains came out, I was just bowled over by the heady mix of scents. Spicy and rich; the rounded warmth of the turkey juices, plus the spiced smells from the shawarma bound together to form a lovely cloud between our plates. Of course we took photos, because it all looked so delightful, but I was also busy inhaling those scents as much as I could. I kept sticking my nose in the jug that contained the turkey juices, and sniffing happily.

Slow roast turkey thigh on sweet potatoes, red onions and sweetzingy barberries for me:

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Poultry thigh meat has always been my favourite part to eat. It just holds so much more flavour, and easily stays more juicy. This particular turkey thigh was absolutely gorgeous. The fat from the skin had completely rendered out, leaving the skin golden and crisp, and the meat below it saturated with seemingly the essence of turkey taste.

Turkey, date and green freekeh shawarma with labneh for Simon:

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This was a beautifully rich dish, but not at all heavy. The sweetness of the dates worked with the spices, not against them, and the sweet didn’t overpower. Freekeh has a fresh and slightly smokey flavour, which is the perfect partner for the heady spices of the meat. Yet another one for me to try next time. I did mention to Kelly that I think I should just move in, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind, I wouldn’t be any trouble.

We had a bit of a rest before the dessert. To be truthful, we weren’t actually going to have any, but then we saw the menu…also the staff are so enthused about their food, that decisions were made harder because they sell it ALL to you. It’s a treat to find people who not only know their menu, but love it, too.

I went for the Levant Milk Pudding. Anything with treacle and pistachios was going to be the winner, no matter what. Pomegranate treacle, doubly so.

This was smooth, like panacotta, and with just enough wobble to make me smile. The treacle was tart, but with a sweet edge that went perfectly with the pistachios. I could happily have eaten another, and another.

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S went for the ice cream and sorbet, and my goodness, they were outstanding.

Pistachio ice cream, ok, lots of us have had that, but this one had a deep, roasted flavour to it, and a beautifully creamy texture.

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The sorbet was smooth, and with a good back tang of mint. Extremely light, and just the thing to be a palate cleanser after a rich and spiced meal.

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This is a place where I felt at home straight away. The menu is varied, light and fresh, and certainly not run of the mill. The seasonal changes already have me excited and looking forward to the next time that I can go. Life needs to stop getting in the way!

Sitting there in the twilight, with the buzz of conversation surrounding us, and the lights just starting to come on, I could have been in a Tel Aviv café, or one in Cyprus.

We all eat bread, we all eat houmous. Celebrate that together, and eat well.

(They are also open for brunches now, so if you are lucky enough to work near there, pop along. You will get a warm welcome, and amazing food.)

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