Our kind of town (Bristol is). We’ve got previous. The overall winners of the 2013 British Street Food Awards now have a restaurant there — Katie and Kim’s on Picton Street – and Bristol Eats are past winners of the Award for Best Street Food Collective. So it felt right to pitch up on Durdham Downs for the first heat of the 2016 British Street Food Awards. With the Foodies Festival. And we were rewarded with the sun.
The Michelin-starred chef Simon Hulstone was mooching around the British Street Food area, looking to bring a little more informality to his exquisite food, and fell in love with Baked In Brick – and their 48-hour marinated chicken. Barbecued on spits, over coals, in the dug-out engine of a Mini, it was the most photographed set-up of the day. But the team were too busy working the dough, and baking their wraps fresh, to notice all the fuss.
Rosemary Shrager worked her way through the food and drink of all 13 traders to choose a judge’s wild card for the final. With a little restorative help from Mini Bean Coffee. She loved the flavour of the crab patty at Your Plaice Or Mine, the oozing béchamel interior of the croquetas from Croq And Balls, and the buttery texture of Angus and Mitchell’s pork – who else would think of sous vide at a street food competition?
She couldn’t believe that the boxed-up margherita from the Pizza Bike had been cooked in an oven that was pedaled to the heat on a bike. “Proper pizza” she said. “Honestly. Bloody good.” And she was delighted to eat the vegan sushi from Happy Maki. She remembered it from a work trip to Dubai. “I had two!”
But Rosemary came to the first heat of the 2016 British Street Food Awards armed with a very strict definition of street food. She wanted it to be about small mouthfuls. Sharing. So faggots from Nelly’s Barn, and mac and cheese from The Mac Factory were never going to win her vote. Even though she called them both “seriously good – if I hadn’t eaten for a day”.
She was impressed by the seasoning from The Breakfast Club. And the ribs from Smokin’ Lotus. She even liked the crispness of the tofu rinds from Feral Food Store, and Rosemary isn’t known for her love of a vegan menu. But her winner was Cracking Nuts – seasoned and cooked on site, served warm with home-made syrups and icecream. “Oh” she said. “This I LOVE.”
Cracking Nuts will be joined in the final by the TWO winners of the heat’s public vote – The Breakfast Club and Smokin’ Lotus. A draw! Smokin’ Lotus has the longest queue all weekend, and The Breakfast Club made friends with their waffles – and great customer service. And maybe some of the other traders will be invited to the final but that depends on the other heats. For now, it’s on to Leeds….
Competing in Bristol were….
Feral Food Store
It’s the next big thing – dirty vegan. FFS take healthy, delicious vegan ingredients and turn them into finger lickin’ food. “We put the humble vegetable at centre stage” they say. “Nothing pre-prepared and nothing frozen. Everything is made from scratch by hand on site.” Love yourselves, people. Go vegan.
The Pizza Bike
A bike. That carries round everything it needs for pizza in a wood-fired oven. Seriously. The Pizza Bike is probably the lightest and most technologically advanced catering unit out there. Sure, there are quicker offerings out there. But not one that will make you smile as much.
It started with a 200 year old German recipe, a trailer, and a family that wanted to bring hot nuts to the people of Devon. Jonny ‘Nuts’ – Main man and nut maker Jax – Creative support Oli – Mini nut seller, likes to put the stickers on the cones and take the money! (aged 6) Evie – In training (aged 3) They have created a range of sweet cinnamon, salty and chilli-roasted peanuts, cashews and almonds, all warmed over with homemade syrups and ice creams. Oh my.
Mini Bean Coffee
We remember a time when coffee tasted like tea. When a ‘free refill’ was a threat rather than a promise. I remember industry insiders talking about toasted bran and chicory as “the new coffee” because coffee was dead. But then came Frasier and Friends, and all of a sudden we were ordering double skinnies like we knew what it actually meant. Meet Mini Bean Coffee. Amazing high-end coffee served out of a Mini. There are just too many Citroen H vans and Piaggos on the street food circuit — why not upcycle one of Britain’s favourite cars into a great mobile cafe?
Croq & Balls
Oh! Croquetas! Crisp little mouthfuls of joy, you hail from the mountains of Spain — where the cliffs are dotted with farmhouses and scented by orange trees. Made by hand, and paired with homemade salads and sauces, you’re like a holiday in the pueblos blancos. Y viva Espana!
Your Plaice Or Mine
A trader from Devon won the Best of the Best at the 2015 British Street Food Awards. Looking to repeat the success in 2016 are Your Plaice or Mine? – a humble ‘fish and chip’ van (if you count Charred Harissa Cornish Mackerel on Dukkah with Rose, Pomegranate and Mint and Lebanese Beetroot Chutney as ‘fish and chips’). Yes they will have beer-battered ling on the menu. But it will be fresh from St Ives. And the flakey white curds will taste of the sea – not the deep freeze.
The Breakfast Club
The Breakfast Club are a family-run caff business (note — caff not café) doing a mean old all-day food and drink offering. They say they invented breakfast. Those rumours are unfounded. But whether it’s the bright yellow junk room that is their Soho caff or the Wigan Casino inspired Canary Wharf caff – their joints are all different. And their street food offer? Come see.
The Mac Factory
Not just any mac and cheese. ‘One of London’s favourite mac ‘n cheeses’ according to Time Out, and ‘Probably the best mac ‘n’ cheese we have ever tasted’ said Instyle Magazine. You get the message. Pimped and pumped, this is mac and cheese that takes and breaks the American standard – and reinvents it as a comfort food classic for the streets of Britain.
Happy Maki were the first sushi street food van in the UK — and they’re still the only van offering rolled to order sushi wraps. The menu is vegan, their packaging 100% compostable and they support Mary’s Meals (so when you buy a meal from them you’re also feeding an undernourished child in a developing country). Happy Maki made the BSFA finals last year at London’s O2 but didn’t take home Best Vegetarian. “I’m keen to try and claim that title this year” says Happy Maki’s founder Anna MacDonald. “Although the competition is really amazing, I truly believe that our vegan sushi is as tasty as any meat or cheese laden dish out there. To win would really be out of this world.”
Nelly’s Barn were the winners of Best Looking Mobiler at last year’s British Street Food Awards. This van is a one off. As Ben Mills, Nelly’s founder, puts it, “We have a crooked chimney, and I’m not sure anyone else has.” Now Ben wants to win Best of the Best – and he’s trying to do it with an old-school Bristol favourite. “Big copper pans with faggots simmering in gravy used to flavour the streets of this city” says Ben. “We’re paying homage with our own home-made faggots cooked in a cider gravy with local potatoes mashed with West Country salted butter.” Who cares about the chimney…
There’s a lot of excitement in London around Smokin Lotus and their six-hour slow smoked char sui ribs. Their concept – an itinerant Asian smokehouse — was born out curiosity. As a young child growing up in China, Rosalind Chik, the founder, was fascinated by the food markets in Yunnan. “I then moved to America where I experienced the precision BBQ techniques which have come to define the Southern style of cooking. This is what makes my food unique! I bring precision smoking methods from America together with the fragrant flavours of Asia.”
Angus And Mitchell
This team of young pretenders won the People’s Choice at the finals of the British Street Food Awards 2015. But they want to go one better and take home the Best of the Best in 2016. They are all about the WHOLE pig – even the squeak. From sous-vide pork loin to a crispy fried tail — and everything in between. So provenance is vital. One of their signature dishes is a triple-decker club sandwich containing house-made fennel sausage, smoked cheddar rarebit, Primrose Herd bacon, bacon and whisky marmalade, mustard mayo, pickled reds, roast tomato ketchup and round lettuce. But expect an evolving menu of British classics. Nice.
Baked In Brick (Sunday Only)
When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that’s amore. When an eel bites your hand , and that’s not what you planned, that’s a moray. When Othello’s poor wife, she gets stabbed with a knife, that’s a Moor, eh? We all like pizza – that’s why we sing about it. But a definitive thin-crust pizza, cooked on a wood-fired oven in a classic car? Or a chicken tikka wrap, with succulent meat barbecued under the car’s bonnet? Now THAT’S amore.