08 | Dec | 09

Richard Johnson

The Real Happy Meal

I have just found out that Leon want to get involved with the British Street Food Awards. And I’m excited. You see, I can still remember my first Leon meal – in a busy pedestrianised area behind Libertys. Not like Soho, where diners are never more than, say, three feet away from a car exhaust. Apart from the proximity of the Great Marlborough Street public conveniences (which, to be honest, is a plus rather than a minus at my age), it felt like a nice place to set down a few tables.

At Leon, they serve fast food. As in “food that is fast”. Not “fast food”. Although you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Behind the counter was a multi-channelled chute, just like McDonalds. I gave the waitress my order and she turned round to get it, just like McDonalds. But at Leon the chicken is free range, the coffee is fair trade, and – if you sing at the counter – you get a free sticker. Which isn’t just like McDonalds at all.

I decided to eat indoors. Well, even though I love the street, it was raining. The food came in little pots, with no plates. But there was warm pitta to mop up any accidents at the table. The glorious Moroccan meatballs (£2.80) had the taste of grassfed lamb, and the taramasalada (£3) had a clean tang of lemon. But the magic beans (£2.50) were, well, magic. They showed what could be done with just green beans, lemon, rosemary and chilli. And gluten free/lactose free/meat free to boot!

From the two forks the South African waitress gave me, she clearly thought I was expecting company. But I wasn’t. I was just doing my job as a restaurant reviewer. When I ordered two more main courses, she smiled said ‘What you’ve eaten already tonight would feed a family of five for three days where I come from’. She clearly thought I had an eating disorder. I pointed out that I wasn’t finishing every dish I ordered, but she was off serving someone else.

The crunch-coated fish, wrapped in a Lebanese flatbread (£3.90) tasted like a “fast food” fish burger. And I mean that as a compliment. The taste of “fast food” is chemically enhanced, and has more to do with men in lab coats than men in chef’s whites. But the Leon fish burger was cooked in olive oilm and slathered in a tartar sauce, rich with capers. The fact that the fish came from sustainable sources was of secondary importance. This was a really happy meal. I always look out for their entry form when I’m judging the RSPCA Awards http://www.rspcagoodbusinessawards.com/judges.html/.

The Leon idea came from Henry Dimbleby — a former chef at the Michelin-starred Four Seasons Inn On The Park — and John Vincent. The entrepreneurial pair have found a real gap in the market. Their mix of ethical food, that is really big on flavour, has been a huge success. And now they’ve got a chain on their hands. But they still get the whole street food idea, which is why they want to support us instore and online. We are in good company, people……