An American fantasy at The Turkey Cafe

The Turkey Cafe is one of Leicester’s architectural gems. Built by local architect, Arthur Wakerley, at the turn of the 20th century it has a jaw-droppingly extravagent Art Nouveau facade and is decorated throughout with bespoke Royal Doulton tiles. 

Since its creation its had a number of uses, but is now in the hands of a lovely family who have created a great bar with one of the most interesting cocktail lists in Leicester and a US inspired menu which of course suits that turkey theme as the birds are native to the Americas. Well, that’s probably a bit of a stretch really and it’s not something they say, but I find it pleasing.

Anyway, they invited us down to check out their new menu, which was an opportunity I leapt on as I have to confess that I haven’t had the chance to visit since the Turkey Cafe re-opened a year ago under new management. I have no doubt this makes me a bad person, so I have managed to pop back with friends since then to share the delightful cocktail menu and I will certainly be back again in the future!

The building has been well restored, with many later additions being stripped back to reveal the original features beneath, including some of the original tiles and the original flooring. It has been carefully handled and the building looks lovely. They have used an eclectic mix of vintage furniture and interesting interior decor touches which really build on the quirky character of the building. Ryan, the owner, let me know that this is still a work in progress so over the months and years to come we can expect to see even more lovely touches inside, adding to the feel and the comfort of the place.

Our wonderful hosts, owner Ryan – and his mum Wendy (the brains of the operation, naturally)

As I mentioned, there is a family team masterminding the refurbishment and running of the bar. You can see that they have absolutely put their heart and soul into making the Turkey Cafe the very best that it can be and I felt that their passion shines through. The main bar of the Cafe is quite a dark, subterranean space where clever use of lighting features and candles creates a cosy atmosphere. The seating area around the entrance is much brighter in the day and the style of building means the whole thing is open and airy. There is another floor as well, which I understand can be hired for special events.

I adore these original tiles

“But what do they have on offer?” I hear you cry. Well, lots actually. They are now in the Happy Hour Directory as they do 241 on selected cocktails (lots to choose from) from opening until 8pm. 

Currently they open at 4pm, but they are hoping to extend there hours to open from midday, perhaps as soon as this coming week. They also do a 241 special between 1am and 2am on a Friday and Saturday, so bear that in mind next time you find yourself out late and everyone else in town is charging you a premium for the privilege!

I started off with the Buffalo Bill, an amazing combination of Buffalo Trace bourbon with apple juice, home infused cherry brandy and amaretto. I was really blown away not just by the overall taste but the subtle layering of flavour that it has. The amaretto comes through right at the end and leaves just a delicate hint. 

It really is stunning, and of course has quite a significant apple garnish which would put you well on your way to one of your five a day. Or something.

My favourite by far though was the Morgan Teaman (ha! geddit?) which combines yet more bourbon in an Old Fashioned inspired cocktail with tea and Teapot Bitters and is served in a teacup with dry ice, so it looks just like a steaming brew. It may verge slightly on the side of twee, but I loved it and the flavour was awesome. It’s quite a powerful tasting drink though so do bear that in mind!

There was a whole punch of other cocktails available as well, from the wild (like a colour changing mojito) to the more well known (like this Porn Star Martini, served with an actual star). Ryan, the owner, appears to be the Willy Wonka of the cocktail world and is continually sourcing unusual ingredients and coming up with extremely technical ideas for new drinks. The secret of the colour changing mojito, for example, which I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing with you is Butterfly Pea Flower, which he imports especially. Not Butterfly Pee Flower, which was what I originally heard.

He is also playing around with some new ideas, including an Old Fashioned that comes encased in its own perfect sphere of ice and also homemade cocktail bubbles (like the pearls that you get in bubble tea). So keep an eye on their cocktail menu, it is sure to develop with new wonders over the coming months.

Naturally we sampled the menu as well. It is a compact affair, with all dishes freshly prepared on site and has been greatly inspired by Ryan’s visits to cocktail conventions in Vegas (baby). Wherever possible, ingredients are locally sourced and we certainly felt that this freshness shone out from the food. 

There are a selection of small plates which are simply, yet eloquently appointed. I went for the Italian Meat Board, which had a lovely mixture of good quality meats served with fresh, warm and crusty bread, a small dressed salad, some nice pitted olives and a pot of olive oil and balsamic for dipping. 

The oil and vinegar were both of a good quality, so this tasted really great. I adore the combination of salty cold meats with the light fruitiness of olive oil. I think the prosciutto was my favourite of the bunch. It is just the right portion for one, indeed I could probably have that as a lunch and be perfectly satisfied. This dish comes in at £5.95, which is about comparable for the area, although maybe another slice of delicious meat wouldn’t go amiss. But then, can there ever be enough salami?

The Boy couldn’t resist the opportunity to search once again for the perfect chicken wings, and so that was his order, currently £4.95 on the menu. You can have them served with a choice of Frank’s Hot Sauce or BBQ sauce and, being American inspired, of course they come with a blue cheese dip too, which I tried and had a great balance of creaminess and blue cheese flavour. I was certainly impressed with it.

The wings were crispy and Frank’s is an excellent choice of sauce which does approximate to the American buffalo sauce, although we both agreed that the wings could have been more coated in the sauce for greater authenticity – although you would lose some of the crispiness in that case. The portion was 3 full wings – which would have been split absolutely anywhere else in the city to make 6 ‘wings’, another point for authenticity. The Boy was happy and made positive noises throughout, although he was too busy eating to be able to get actual words out of him. I take that to be a good sign.

The choice of mains is also simple, but very typical of American menus. There are a selection of sandwiches, burgers and hand-pulled flatbreads. The sandwiches include pulled pork and an antipasto trio, while the burgers range from your standard smoked cheese and bacon to the more unusual Mexican Nacho Burger. Intrigued, The Boy ordered this. It involves spicy cheese, salsa and guac with jalapenos, homemade nachos and what I can confidently assert is the fattest burger in the city! The Boy also pimped his yet further with an extra order of bacon. As everything is made fresh to order they are quite happy to accommodate menu change requests if they are able to.

A lot has been made of the burgers on offer in Leicester recently, not least by me, and we really are getting spoiled for choice as the bar gets higher and higher in terms of quality and creativity. I would happily contend that the Turkey Cafe’s burgers are right up there with the best though. Fat, juicy and difficult to eat without dislocating your jaw, the ingredients are fresh, the flavours are spot on and the triple dip fries are just perfect. At £7.95 for the burger and fries it is also a serious contender in the value stakes, undercutting most of the other ‘gourmet burger’ joints in the area. I’ll just give you a moment to look at the Mexican Nacho Burger and reflect.

In the interests of variety, I ordered the hand stretched pizza which was more of a flatbread style pizza in the event. I went for the goat’s cheese and caramelized onion, which was a delicious topping choice – a classic combination of sweet and sharp which is difficult to resist. I have to say this was the menu element I was least impressed with, I think that the dough perhaps has a little way to go before it is just right, being a little thick and hard at the moment. 

Just a little less dough and a little more goat’s cheese and it’ll be pretty much spot on I reckon. However at £6.95 it is really good value for such a humongous meal and comes served with the homemade slaw which I was particularly impressed with – normally coleslaw ain’t all that memorable, but this was great and perfect to eat with yer crusts!

We also ordered a portion of the soon-to-be-legendary Garbage Fries to share with our mains. As the gourmet burger trend has shot to popularity in the city, so too has the appetite for dirty fries grown. I am aware that I am perhaps naturally inclined towards superlatives, but these were by far the best I have had in the UK and possibly in the whole world.

Triple dip fries were served with avocado, fresh tomato, jalapenos, cheese, bacon and all served with a fried egg on top. Not only is this quite clearly an awesome combination of All The Good Foods seasoned nicely and served at a great temperature, but they are the only place that realises that toppings should not just be for the top – they run all the way through the dish, so your last mouthful will be as full of mushy, oozy deliciousness as your first. They are truly epic. Again at £4.95 this would definitely make a perfect lunch dish. Or dinner dish. Or snack. Just order it whenever you can really, you won’t regret it. The Garbage Fries were definitely my find of the day. Just beautiful.

If you weren’t already feeling full, the Turkey Cafe offers a range of afternoon tea options, from a simple cream tea to the full cocktail afternoon tea offering. We were stuffed beyond all question, as you can imagine, by this point but Wendy insisted we tried one of the homemade scones and the one thing I’ve learned in life is that when someone’s mum tells you to do it, you don’t question it. And it was worth it, really perfectly baked scones with just the right amount of sweetness to complement the cream and strawberries. I did have to have a little sit down afterwards though. The cakey goodness ranges from £4.95 to £14.95 with cocktails, so there’s something to suit all appetites and wallets.

So overall we found the Turkey Cafe to be of great value and to offer a surprisingly high quality. I’ll be back for the Garbage Fries and have already taken friends down to sample the cocktails, who were also greatly impressed. It really is a beautiful building as well, so worth visiting to soak up some culture. If you pop along on a Wednesday you’ll be treated to the open mic night – bagging yourself a discount if you perform. We saw a lovely acoustic player perform as well as a really fun poet whose lines had us in stitches. Thank you so much to Ryan for inviting us along, looking after us so well and thank you to Wendy, chef extraordinaire. We very much appreciated your hospitality.


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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