I have a soft spot in my heart for this fancy chain Italian restaurant. I worked there on and off this year to save money for my Masters, and also before, up north in Sheffield after I resigned from KPMG and when I was saving up to move to Italy. Strada has struggled with it’s identity recently: is it still the posh Pizza Express, and what else can it offer to justify those expensive prices? Staff recently were given a missive to “act casual”: Strada, the home of anniversaries and reliable birthday meals became more like an Italian diner. Except, it didn’t really. The food stayed pretty good, and, like any good chain, it’s consistently tasty.
However, as Pizza Express and Pizza Hut make the move to Gluten Free pizza bases, how can Strada compete? Other than invest in some gluten-free pizza dough, I’m not sure I have the answer. However, to all you vegans out there, rest assured that Strada’s pizza dough is absolutely, 100% dairy and egg free-just wheat flour, rapeseed oil and yeast.
Strada’s big draw is the Aglio: flatbread with garlic oil and rosemary. Ask for it with garlic oil, and remind your server not to let it even waft near butter and this is what you’ll levae Strada remembering. It smells divine, and waitressing pre GF and Vg, this was what I craved at the end of every long shift.
The tricolore salad with the mozzarella, tomatoes and avocado can be made into a satisfying bicolore. Ask for extra avocado to make up for the protein deficit, or ask for an egg to be sliced up and added instead. If your server is good, they should be happy to offer you this alternative.
In terms of mains, vegans are well served with the Puttanesca, a cheese less pizza covered with capers, fresh basil and chilli flakes. Bear in mind this comes with anchovies, so ask for the anchovies to be switched with mushrooms to make a satisfying meal. Also, a drizzle of chilli oil and extra garlic comes in handy because without the Mozzarella it can be quite dry. Still pretty delicious though.
For any dairy-free eaters out there, it’s good to note that every pizza can be altered. Tell your server that you’re allergic to dairy and they have a big fat button on the till that says “Dairy allergy.” If they’re super good (and Strada staff are trained within an inch of their life-trust me, they’ll even go up to the pass and have a quiet word with the chef letting him know that table 17 has an allergy).
If you’re after risotto or pasta, make the point that you have allergies to your server again. The verdure is a fail-safe choice (remember to remind your server that you’d like it cheese free, just in case). If you crave the tang of cheese, I would suggest adding a hefty helping of balsamic vinegar and chilli oil to it and a squeeze of lemon. if it’s not busy, ask the bar to fetch you a slice. Mix it all together and you’ve got a pretty neat approximation of the tangy flavour Grana Padano. The addition of as many herbs as you can get helps to add more flavour (extra Basil was always appreciated) and a hefty grind of black-pepper makes the blandest Strada meal sing.
Finally, the pasta. Penne Arrabiata is the obvious safe choice for vegans (not gluten free yet I’m afraid, although, like Pizza Express, if it’s very quiet if you bring you’re own pasta, the chefs will cook the sauce of your choice with it). Otherwise, ask for a vegetarian version of the strozzapreti luganega: no sausage, bacon, cheese or butter, but instead just the spinach, some big mushrooms, lemon and some garlic oil. Ok, so it’s not identical, but the chef’s work better if you alter the menu, than going crazily off-piste. Plus, your server will have to press fewer buttons on the till which is always appreciated. There’s nothing worse than having to find out where “extra, extra aubergine” is on the till for a children’s menu.
So there you have it. How to do Strada, the vegan way. if you’re gluten free too, as I am, I’d give Strada a bit of a wide berth unless you really, really like risotto and olives, because that, I’m afraid is what you’re stuck with until they catch up with their competitors.