17 | Jun | 17

Richard Johnson

Digbeth State Of Mind

Finalists in the Central heat of the 2017 British Street Food Awards at Digbeth Dining Club had to deal with temperatures in the high 80s — and a broken generator. So, there was no electricity to run cooling fans in the hot metal trucks. And no way to impress the judges by finishing their black pudding on electric griddles. But traders made the best of things. Course they did — this is street food. The judges (Sacha Brooks from Capital FM, Hugh Thomas from British Street Food and Kara Maskara from Kara’s Kitchen) deliberated long and hard, and singled out five traders for special commendation.

Baked in Brick, with their barbecued lamb, mint and Jersey Royals in rendered beef dripping; Andy Low N Slow with his beef short rib; The Bournville Waffle Company’s Bannoffee Pie waffle, with bananas, whipped cream and creme patisserie; Homeboys and their beef shin croquettes; and Flying Cows with their classic bacon cheese burger. After much deliberation, they went with Andy Low N Slow. And Homeboys. First tie in the history of the Awards. The People’s Vote was close. but the eventual winners were The English Indian. All now go on to compete in the finals of the British Street Food Awards in Manchester. And they will be joined by a wild card or two — this food was too darned good to keep it to ourselves. Check this little lot out…

The Calabash Tree
Where is the best street food in the world? Some would say Bangkok; some would say India. But Ryan from the Calabash Tree says Trinidad. “With roti, doubles, curried chicken, goat” he says. “There’s a reason those arches of gold aren’t too popular over there.” They are the dishes Ryan grew up with, and experienced first-hand as a child on holidays to Trinidad. Now he’s recreating them at The Calabash tree. He is working with recipes from his Gran and his Aunt. “I often call to ask the required number of pinches to make the perfect roti …. measurements aren’t a ‘thing’ — it’s all about the pinch!”

Cake Doctor
The Cake Doctor is a maker of fantastic vegan cheesecakes who lives in a 1970s ambulance. Yes, he sells coffee and tea too, but it’s really all about his cheesecakes. If ‘cheesecakes’ can be entirely plant-based and gluten free. Everything is made fresh on-site to ensure the best possible culinary adventure. The doctor cares for his patients. The things that James (the Doctor) loves most about street food? ‘I never thought I would form such a fond attachment to blue roll [to wipe away dust and soak up water.]’ he says. ‘It’s wonderful stuff. And duct tape is the universal fix-all tool for the industry. I love street food. You could not find any other industry where if you go to an event and have a problem a community of people will come together to help you sort it out. You never feel alone.’

The Big Greek Bus
All aboard! The lovely team from the The Big Greek Bus have planned a slight detour from their usual parking spot on Folkestone Harbour. The double decker has a fully-equipped kitchen downstairs, with a stylish dining area upstairs, and negotiating the narrow streets round the Digbeth Dining Club might prove a bit tricky. But the team feel sure of winning over voters with their signature chicken gyros served in pitta with home-made tzatziki and tomato, cucumber and parsley salad. “We are absolutely overwhelmed by the support from all our customers and their well wishes for our travels to Birmingham. We can’t wait!”

The English Indian
Being accepted as a trader into Digbeth Dining Club is no easy feat. The organisers are inundated with traders wanting a pitch and Anna and James were concerned that their application would get lost. Emails, tweets and FB messages were getting them nowhere. “All we wanted was for them to taste our food” says James. “Finally, Jack said he was in attendance the following Friday and we should go and meet him. We went armed with camping stove, pans and ingredients, spoke to a lovely trader who allowed us to perch behind her gazebo, and we cooked up our Kati rolls. We presented these to Jack and his colleagues, which they all devoured, and the rest, they say is ‘history’.”

Fish & Chips English Indian Style
Fresh Pakora Battered Cod, Chat Masala Seasoned Chips, Madras Chip Shop Curry Sauce, Fresh Mint & Chilli Garden Mushy Peas, dressed with Lime, Coriander & Red Onion

Halloumi & Chips English Indian Style
Spiced Pakora Battered Halloumi, Chat Masala Seasoned Chips, Madras Chip Shop Curry Sauce, Fresh Mint & Chilli Garden Mushy Peas, dressed with Sweet Chilli Jam, Coriander & Red Onion

Chicken & Chips in a basket – English Indian Style
Spicy Fried Chicken 65, Chat Masala Seasoned Chips, Jaipur Coleslaw, Curried baked beans, dressed with Lemon & Coriander

Old Granary Pierogi
Old Granary Pierogi is the passion project of a Polish family who have settled in rural Herefordshire. They are – to date – perhaps the UK’s ONLY makers of baked pierogi, hand-crafted in yeast dough cases, hand-rolled and then stuffed with a variety of fillings. Fillings like bacon, spinach, potato and smoked cheese; roasted butternut squash, herbs and feta; and roasted duck with braised red cabbage, cranberries and sour cherries. Emilia and the team use her great-grandmother’s recipe for the enriched dough and cook all the fillings from scratch. ‘Polish pasties’ these are not.

Libertine Burger
Burger is life for Charles, a trained chef from Leamington Spa. So much so that he flew to New York almost entirely just to sample April Bloomfield’s Salvation Burger. If you were wondering, he says yes, it was worth it. Thankfully for hungry punters, all this quest for knowledge in what’s good translates to Liberty’s menu. Take your everyday burger, but crank the volume up to 10 – 21-day dry aged beef patties from grass fed cows, with crisp smoked bacon, frickles (deep fried pickles, that is), and their signature hot sauce.

Mac Daddies
Jack and Emma needed wheels. In 2014, the couple stumbled across an old converted LDV pilot diesel and, along with Emma’s Dad, set about turning this stereotypical burger van into the vehicle it is today. With a new cab, and a fancy paint job, Digby (in homage to its previous owners) they set off around the north of England, dishing up comfort food to hungry punters — everything from classic flavour combinations to ‘Bury the Hatch-It’ – Bury Black Pudding Mac and Cheese with a Homemade Scotch Egg.

The journey has not been without its hiccups. “Although Digby has been a faithful servant to the Mac Daddies mission” says Jack, “one fateful journey along Snake Pass will forever remain in our memories. If getting lost in the depths of the peak district wasn’t enough, a dropped exhaust and a broken wing mirror compounded our misery! The less said about what our power cable was dragged through later on that day the better… It wouldn’t be as fun without a few hurdles on the way though eh?”

The Middle Feast
The Middle Feast love kebabs, mezzé and halloumi fries. But rigidly sticking to recipes isn’t a Middle Feast thing – flavour is. And they want it in layers — all surprises and pops of texture and heat. Kid goat belly cooked in Guinness and urfa chillis, applewood smoked yoghurt, burnt lemon salsa, spiced and salted pistachio and saffron brittle are not your average Middle Eastern fare but they just feel right. With fresh to death salads (spiced fennel & carrot ‘slaw, salad shirazi for example) and hearty veggie options (such as burnt aubergine & goats cheese kibbeh), these guys could be a contender.

The Bourneville Waffle Company
Presentation at the Bournville Waffle – from the beautiful vintage Mustang caravan to the good-looking team and their colour-coordinated aprons – is what rates this outfit as a cut above the rest. The precision cream delivery? Like professional pastry chefs. The flaked chocolate topping? Placed – just so. And the fruit jus? Drizzled with the accuracy of a surgeon. Jenny and Des are behind the operation, but locals might also know them as the two behind Birmingham’s Seasonal Markets events. A budding food entrepreneur yourself? Watch and learn – this is how you do catering, kids.

The Flying Cows
Farmer and chef Dan set up The Flying Cows as an outlet for his family’s grass-fed Dexter beef, and he’s now a regular at the Digbeth Dining Club. Then he came to us with his pitch. It had real passion. And it showed just HOW MUCH people these days really want to get involved in the street food scene. “Hi”, the email started. “I am itching to do the British Street Food Awards. I cook Dexter steak burgers from our family farm. I am a Michelin-star trained chef by trade, and I have been in the kitchen for 16 years. I have moved out of the boring gazebo set up to this Airstream. I was a punter at the British Street Food Awards last year and thoroughly enjoyed it – I just wished I had been cooking there. Please give me the chance.” How could we say no?

Taste Of Persia
It’s not what you would call a classical training — 25 years in financial services. But Kamran Khanverdi
wanted a career change. “I decided to cook food just like my Mum use to make. We use very little spice. We use a lot herbs, fruit and vegetables, and as such our dishes are very mild. Many say healthy too. Our reputation for charcoal grilled kebabs is second to none in South Wales and our famous signature pomegranate chicken and walnut brings people from far and wide.”

Pete Hewitt from Nottingham was a Masterchef finalist in 2015. And yet his real passion is for more informal dining – what he calls ‘the bread and butter, the everyday eatin’.’ So he imported himself a 1978 Grumman Olson Stepvan from the US and set up Homeboys, specialising in Japanese soul food. Expect a strong veggie menu (braised aubergine donburi with soy cured yolk, pickels and tempura sauce) and meaty classics such as karaage and pickles – Japanese fried chicken. It’s been on the up in recent times, but is 2017 the year of Japanese street food?

When Matteo, Cuepoint’s resident DJ, met Josh at Smokestak, the pair were meant to make music. So they came up with Cuepoint, a mobile smokehouse with its own decks — and a business that’s all about BBQ and BEATS. Nice. They are, in all truth, a pair of #smokersandjokers. Expect 18-hour, low and slow smoked beef brisket on a brioche bun with chef’s OG BBQ sauce with kohlrabi, jalapeno and white cabbage vinagrette based slaw. And a 12-Hour low and slow smoked, chopped pork shoulder – tossed in Chef’s Honey and Mustard sauce. Boom etc.

Suffice to say, Britain’s in mid cheese boom. We’ve already had two top notch purveyors of grilled cheese sandwiches at the BSF Awards this year, but we weren’t about to stop there. Not until the public gasp ‘please, no more!’ with their last breath before plunging under a pool of molten Camembert. So. Let us introduce Roulsties. You know the drill – grated cheese, heavily buttered sourdough, then slapped on the heat. With something so simple, it can only be as good as its ingredients. Which is why Roulsties have got their hands on creamy sweet nutty Smith’s Lane Cheddar, and rendered it down to a thick cheesy goo with cider-roasted sausage and red onion relish. The toastie to end all toasties?

Crafty Pies
Think ‘pie’ and the usual comes to mind. Chicken and ham. Beef and stilton. All a bit samey. This is where Crafty Pies come in. Looking at their menu is like a quick jaunt around the world. Heck, there’s the Philly Cheese Steak in a pie (sirloin, onions, peppers and American cheese), and look at this – there’s the Jamacan jerk in a pie (sweet potato, roasted pepper, black beans and cheese). Then you realise THAT’s what they meant by ‘elevating the pie to compete with the amazing street food England consistently delivers.’ But does Crafty Pie deliver? Bronze and Silver at the British Pie Awards this year says that yes – yes, Crafty Pie does deliver.

Baked in Brick
Lee and co. are back to defend their 2017 title. In the same arena that they won it. Poetic, no? Their prize last year was a month-long pitch at DDC (which is going swimmingly) and a spot at one of Europe’s leading street food destinations – Street Feast’s Hawker House (which is just getting underway as we speak). Food blenders aside, we don’t like to skimp on prizes. Last year’s final was all about BIB’s thin-crust pizza, cooked on a wood-fired oven in a classic mini, and ever so succulent chicken skewers barbecued under the bonnet. This year? Lee’s added to the food truck fleet, and he’s working on perfecting his menu, so we’ll have to wait and see…

Low ‘N’ Slow
Andy Low N Slow wowed the judges with his beef short rib and a heritage tomato salad – but he blew them away with his bavette of White Park. Go to the meat counter at Selfridges. There’s one meat that costs 50% more than any other – the White Park beef. If it’s not available, people are prepared to put their names on a waiting list, just for the privilege of tasting it. It’s the best beef you’ll ever eat. The term “sirloin” was derived from a joke King James made, in 1617, when praising a cut of White Park beef, knighting it “Sir Loin”. But White Park is also the rarest of rare breeds. The oldest breed in Britain, cows resembling White Park were referred to in literature almost 2,000 years ago. And, at the onset of World War II, Winston Churchill arranged for a number of White Park to be transported to North America and maintained on the King Ranch in Texas in order to “preserve part of the national heritage”. For Andy to use it shows how much of a beef ambassador he really is. Andy is a true Doctor of meat. He knows all there is to know about the science of deliciousness. He imports his ribs from Dexter farms in America, and understands about the need for fat. It’s what carries the flavour. The queue for meat like this was ridiculous, but – trust us – the perfection was worth waiting for.