Northern Ireland Heat
What the Northern Ireland heats of the 2016 British Street Food Awards showed this weekend was the importance of top drawer food producers. Street food can really showcase what farmers, cheese makers and bakers do so brilliantly. London traders can only dream of having access to producers like the traders in Northern Ireland. It’s why street food has such a future here – and in the Republic. But more of that later….
2016 is Northern Ireland’s Year of Food, celebrating the bounty of land and sea, and we were honoured (and more than a little excited) to be invited to park up at the Hillsborough International Oyster Festival. With folk music, dancing and a soapbox derby round the gracious Georgian town, it turned into a big old party for all the family. And we all know that families need feeding.
The weather was wet, but folks here are used to it. In fact, a bit of drizzle seemed to give everyone a bit of an appetite. Whether it was for Wolf And Devour’s scotch eggs, On The Hoof’s bacon loin or Mourne Seafood’s lobster burger — the queues didn’t let up. Unlike the rain. Which explained the business in locally-roasted coffee (and locally blended tea) being done by Café Livanto .
Fabulous Food Factory got their beef from a farm four miles away from the festival. And their bread from round the corner. It showed. So fresh. They led the public vote until the very last minute. They were tussling with Linen Hill (and their porchetta served with an Armagh Bramley jelly), but the eventual winners were Pheasant Hill and their blissful rare breed sliders.
The Krazi Baker proved what a national treasure he’s become – a true artisan, preserving the traditions of Irish baking. On the streets. With old gas griddles he cooked up farls and breads that simply demanded a thick spread of Abernethy butter. No wonder he’s always the busiest man in the farmers’ market. Nothing krazi about his eye for business.
The Cubanos from the Belfast’s Cuban Sandwich Factory were thick, generous and served with a side of salsa. That’s the dance, not the sauce. Their food won them a lot of friends. Like the charming teams from On The Hoof (with lemonade and a home-made BBQ that dated back to World War Two) and the pizza makers from Piccolo Mondo. Track down their toppings the first chance you get.
But the winner of the judge’s wild card were Broughgammon Farm, who impressed with a kid offal and chorizo taco. Their burger was good, but it was the taco, with its fresh cheese base, that food expert Paula McIntyre really loved. They now join Pheasant Hill in representing Northern Ireland in the big 2016 finals on September 17/18. Good luck!
NORTHERN IRELAND 2016 FINALISTS
The Krazi Baker
Mark Douglas is a baker from County Down – a baker with a Big Idea. It came to him on one of his many trips to street food markets round the world. “You’d see every product under the sun — but never bread baked on site.” Eureka. The result was the Krazi Baker. Anything that can be baked on a griddle, Mark does it. From soda farls to potato and apple bread. None of them need yeast, so he can mix all his ingredients on site. Delicious. And not Krazi at all.
Wolf and Devour
Wolf and Devour are purists. From the batter on the chicken to the salsa, the slaw and the flatbread, it’s all made from scratch. Nothing is frozen. Nothing is pre-cooked. Expect an ever-changing menu at Hillsborough, but we won’t hide our disappointment if their signature rosemary and parmesan fries don’t feature.
Rocket van (withdrew for personal reasons)
Nutritious AND delicious? It’s hard to manage. But fat salads – fresh, crisp leaves, loaded with lots of tasty add-ons – could be changing all that. From their Renault Master, Rocketvan are leading the charge in Northern Ireland. Whether it’s their satay chicken, rockamole and cashew nuts or their smoked salmon, avocado and giant couscous, they say “it’s not rocket science – just great food”. Come find out.
Broughgammon Farm is situated three miles from the rugged North Antrim coastline, nestled between Ballycastle and Bushmills. Up a long winding lane. It’s a farm with a mission, set up when the team saw that a majority of male kid goats born to the dairy industry were being put down at birth. It seemed such a waste of life — so they set out to rear the males for kid goat meat. They’ve since branched out into free-range rose veal and an on-site butchery to save the animals a long journey to slaughter. This is one inspirational place.
Linen Hill Street Kitchen
The Linen Hill restaurant has a reputation for chilled out dining. And a passion for local, seasonal ingredients. Well so does the Line Hill Street Kitchen. They bake inhouse each morning, and grow their own salads and vegetables in the kitchen garden at Loughbrickland. Expect a menu that shouts where it comes from, like:
Seared Kilkeel Hake, home fried Comber potatoes, Hannan’s spiced Italian sausage
Outdoor reared Moyallon porchetta, Armagh Bramley Apple chutney,
The disctinctive 1973 Citroen H van was – until recently — used to ferry grape pickers round a vineyard close to Reims. Now Cafe Livanto (meaning a well rounded espresso) have converted the old beauty into a speciality coffee van. But it’s as rooted in Northern Ireland food and drink culture as any of the other competitors. They use a coffee bean that is roasted on a farm in Millisle, County Down and Suki Tea, which is blended and packaged in Belfast.
Cuban Sandwich Factory
These are hot-pressed authentic Cubanos, and the recipes are all authentic Cuban — passed down from generation to generation. There’s a mix of Spanish, African, French and Asian flavours, with a few surprises along the way such as the salted cured beef (for the Reuben Cuban) with pickled cabbage and gherkins brought to Cuba by Jewish immigrants from Poland and Spain. All served in a box of Arroz Congris (Cuban rice and beans), yucca con mojo and fried plantains. Buen apetito!
On The Hoof
It’s liberating to see a wood-fired smoker as the centre of a street food setup. Especially one as eccentric as this. Custom built using a Second World War Army water tank, the On The Hoof smoker is the first of its kind in Ireland. All of the food is cooked using County Armagh apple wood adding a beautiful sweet, smokey flavour to the food cooked inside. It’s all cooked Low and Slow, with times varying from two to fourteen hours Expect beef brisket and smoked Kennedy bacon loins, served with crushed roast potatoes, cooked in local rapeseed oil, deep fried Savoy cabbage, and garnished with parsnip and carrot crisps.
Everyone starts somewhere. And Ian and Martin started by making surprisingly good pizzas in a home-made clay oven on a National Trust allotment near Edenderry Village in South Belfast. Now they have set up Piccolo Mondo, with their own van, and make pizzas using ingredients entirely sourced from Italy, from the yeast to the flour and the special hot pepperoni.
Pheasants’ Hill Farm
How do you sum up the meat from Pheasants’ Hill Farm? Well, they boast it’s “Ireland’s best free range, rare breed, outdoor roaming, naturally fed, additive free meat.” A mouthful, we know, but a delicious one. All the products served by their trailer are butchered and cured at the farm – come and see what a real happy meal tastes like.
Fabulous Food Factory
The FFF Dexter Burger comes with crispy smoked bacon, sauteed onions and an organic horseradish sauce, topped with slow-roasted, pulled Dexter short-rib-served on a soft brioche bun… beef doesn’t get much better than this. Unless it’s the Rex – the FFF home-cured silverside corned beef, with their own homegrown organic cabbage kraut. Or maybe the Kilkeel bay prawn po boy, butterflied and coated with a secret creole rub, deep fried and served on a bed of local organic lettuce.