‘Vegan chicken shop’ might be an oxymoron verging on the ridiculous, but it’s now a thing and it’s in Hackney (obviously). If you’re scoffing (and not in the stuffing-your-face sense) then stop. It’s about time the meat-free crowd got a taste of one of the city’s greasy glories. And say it quietly, but Temple of Hackney might even convince a few carnivores that delicious junk food doesn’t have to involve dead animals.
This is the sequel to a street stall called Temple of Seitan – seitan being a meaty vegan substance made of wheat gluten. Moving to permanent premises, they’ve sadly ditched the pun, but what they’ve lost in Seitanic majesty they’ve more than made up for with a proper chicken shop-style atmosphere. There’s no indoor seating, no booze and plenty of bustle. It’s bright and spartan with blaring music and a rich, greasy smell. In fact it’s like every other chicken shop from Enfield to Croydon, except hipper, whiter and totally animal-product-free.
The menu on the wall lists seitan served in various ways, plus gluten-free soya nuggets and vegan sides. If you’ve never tried seitan, it’s tougher than tofu, and chewier and less stringy than your average chicken wing – and of course bone-free. Since no sane person gets fried chicken for the high-quality meat anyway, the substitution is pretty irrelevant. What matters is the batter: it’s light, salty, peppery and moreish. Served popcorn-style or in a sub with chilli sauce and vegan mayo, this totally hits the chicken spot.
The roast roll – seitan, flavoured but not battered – was also a winner. Add zingy red slaw with parsley stalks or vegan mac’n’cheese with smoky seitan bacon cubes and you’ve got a properly delicious, not-at-all-wholesome dinner. This temple isn’t just for the vegan faithful. Hail, seitan!