14 | Jun | 15

Richard Johnson

Wales Of Delight

It was everything we had hoped for. And more. For the Wales and the West heat, we ran away to join the circus — and played all weekend under a candy-striped Big Top. With cocktails that tasted of popcorn and candy floss. The Central and East heat in Oxford had been immense but this was something else. Street Food Circus — the founding fathers of street food in Cardiff — hosted us. And we were at capacity all weekend.

CG_TlRuWcAA-4CDFavourite to win the heat, and an automatic place to come and compete in the final, was Jonathan Williams — the crown prince of Welsh street food, forager of seaweed, and the winner of the British Street Food Awards back in 2011. He seemed to spend most of the weekend driving backwards and forwards to Pembrokeshire to pick up fresh lobster in a bid to reclaim his crown. But, as the count at the end of the first day’s voting clearly reflected, there were a lot of pretenders to the throne.

Like the Purple Poppadom for instance. A high-end Indian, from Cardiff, which pushed out a menu that changes with the seasons. This was street food with stars, from a restaurant that’s Michelin and Good Food Guide listed — and the Welsh Curry House of the Year 2013. Which explains Chef Annand’s ambitions to do more than just serve dun-coloured stews. At the end of the first day, he was in the lead.

But never far behind was Patagonia — another chef venture bringing restaurant techniques (and one hell of a CV) onto the streets of Wales. Jamie O’Leary was offering up Welsh beef, with a touch of Argentinian swagger, and his queue didn’t die down all weekend. The texture of his buttery soft 72-hour ribs might have been down to the use of sous vide. The flavour, however, was all about the green, green grass of home.

What made Slow Pig different was that all the meat on the menu — pork and lamb — was farmed by the team in the kitchen. Which explained why they didn’t want to faff around with too many sauces and reductions. Their crispy pig burger — tender shredded pork in a crispy panko crumb, topped off with an apple slaw in a brioche bun — creates a bit of a stir wherever it goes. And this weekend was no different. But the pork shepherd’s pie is definitely a pretender to the crispy pig’s crown.

Then came Dirty Bird, Street Food Circus’s fried chicken in residence. Does that cock look odd to you? Must be me. But brined, buttermilked and secretly spiced, it’s as crunchy as you like. The logo is what attracts the eye, but it’s the chicken that keeps you coming back for more. Chucks did a roaring trade all weekend with their chips, pimped up with everything from kimchi to truffles. And a Bloody Mary chuck muffin on Sunday morning that had the power to make you forget the night before.

Matt Tebbutt off the telly (and previously the Foxhunter at Nant-y-derry) was our guest judge, and he chose Wild Fig from the Vale of Glamorgan for a wild card to the final. They’re street food traders who live on a fruit farm – a match made in heaven. They served their ice lollies at street food events last summer, but for the British Street Food Awards they brought out their little vintage van with brûlées and ice cream sandwiches. Matt was won over. And booked them a place in the final.

The West Country was well represented at the heat, with Nelly’s Barn leading the way in their beautiful truck, hand-built by craftsmen and framed in old oak to look like a French country kitchen. They specialise in hand-made traditional beef burgers from award-winning butchers, using 28-day air-dried Herefordshire Beef and cheeses from small dairies. A thing of beauty. Rather like their faggots and gravy.

The Cauldron are current holders of Best Sandwich after their victory at the 2014 British Street Food Awards, and they brought their A Game to Cardiff. They buy animals whole, from neighbouring farms in Devon, and do the butchery themselves. So the shoulders and belly are used for pulled pork and bang bang wraps, and the loins are brined and cooked over charcoal – that’s charcoal made the old fashioned way without accelerators and chemicals, and sourced from sustainable Devon forestry.

“We forage for sorrel, black mustard, dandelion root and whatever else we can pluck from the countryside” says Al. “All our power is supplied from the solar panels on the roof of the van. And all our packaging is 100% compostable. Our mission is to prove that fast food CAN be delicious and ethical and give the towns and beaches in our corner of the world a taste of something different from the usual fish ‘n’ chips and frozen burgers.”

The bikes made a good showing. The Pizza Bike, for instance, which is the world’s first portable pizzeria. It can serve customers anywhere that’s accessible by bike. And Chai Guy serves delicious tea from a shiny gold tricycle named Hyacinth. With a serious weight problem (100kg+) and little in the way of brakes, she’s not the ideal first choice for a street food/drink trader in Bristol. But Chai Guy gets a lot of remarks about his thighs.

When it came to counting up the votes, the top trader from outside Wales was The Cheeky Indian. Ash (former Street Food Manager for Jamie Oliver’s “Barbecoa”) and Sundip pedalled really innovative Indian street food. Well, Indian-ish. They have adapted Mumma’s recipes for the modern age – looking for different and unique vehicles to deliver typical zingy Indian/Desi flavours. They made  lot of friends with a menu that included the famous ‘Freakie Tikkie’ Lamb Burger. Serious.

A special treat on the Sunday was a guest appearance from Jez, The Bowler, in The Lawn Ranger — a van covered in grass. It used to sell ice cream, and the chimes still work, which is hilarious and annoying in equal measure. Jez’s cookbook is still selling brilliantly, and it was easy to see why. His beautifully seasoned balls of chicken, beef, pork and fish could be ordered individually, although we did find that two of Jez’s balls fitted perfectly into our mouths. Sorry.

Voting ran from 5pm on Friday to 4pm on Sunday. And, by the end, the ballot boxes were heaving. When the votes on the British Street Food app were added in, the results went as follows:

1. Patagonia — 502

2. Purple Poppadom — 364

3. Wild Fig — 290

4. Chucks — 204

5. Dirty Bird — 203

6. Cafe Mor — 185

7. Cheeky Indian — 162

8= Slow Pig, The Cauldron, Nelly’s Barn, Chai Guy, Pizza Bike, The Bowler

Patagonia and Matt Tebbutt’s choice, the Wild Fig, now head to London to join the winner of the Central and East Heat Happy Maki in the final of the 2015 British Street Food Awards. Next stop, Scotland and the North!