23 | Jul | 18

Richard Johnson

Middle Earth

Derby – the site of the Central heats for 2018 – is one city we’ve always dreamt about joining the street food party. Not one of those showy, mouthy boulevarding cities that gets all the press attention. But an honest-to-goodness, hardworking city, which has – all too often – been forgotten about by publicans and restaurateurs with any imagination. That’s finally starting to change. Thanks to Bustler.

Everyone knows about the brilliant trailblazing work of Street Feast and Kerb in London, Digbeth Dining Club in Birmingham and Grub in Manchester. They’ve probably read about the brilliant Peddler in Sheffield. The Pitt in Edinburgh. And Street Food Warehouse in Cardiff. But there are smaller, newer setups doing great things all over — like Canteen in Leicester. And Bustler in Derby.

The collective was started by Liv. who runs the city’s Hide Burger Bar, Ben, a master knife maker with the amazing Blok knives, and street food loving locals Tom and Stu, and it’s already grown into a traders’ favourite. Lee from Baked In Brick, the current European Street Food champions, did good business there, and loved the Bustler team. “They don’t scrimp” he says, “and they are all about the traders doing well.”

When push came to shove it was a case of winner winner chicken katsu dinner! So impressed was Michelin-starred chef Rupert Rowley by the pillowy chicken and pork baos from Wallace and Sons that he put them through to the British Street Food Awards final in London. ‘The presentation was stunning’ said Rupert from Fischer’s Baslow Hall. ‘A really clever dish’.

As witnessed by the event’s Facebook page, the people of Derby made their voices heard too. As the winner of the People’s Choice, the inimitable Buddha Belly and their very buddha pork belly will accompany Wallace and Sons to the final. ‘They were good when they won the People’s Choice 2 years ago,’ said BSFA founder Richard Johnson. ‘But this was a whole new level of good.’

Let’s not pretend it wasn’t a close fight. Urban Cheesecake were neck and neck with BB all afternoon. The Gravy Train Poutine weren’t far off either, with their next level chips and gravy winning some honourable praise from Rupert. ‘I know a lot of chefs who’d love this,’ he said.
The Patty Freaks’ ‘Mac on steroids’ impressed too, while Dick’s Smokehouse, Chef Shack, and Street Souvlaki went down very well with Derby’s punters. So much so that on another day any one of them could have won it.

Sonora Taco Truck tacos were vibrant; a breath of fresh air, with some great ideas. Love Is Churros too, with their lemon meringue churro worthy of a place in a Michelin-star restaurant, apparently. ‘I’d put that on as a dessert,’ said Rupert.

It was a good outing for the sweet-of-tooth in general, with four dessert traders in the Bustler Street Food Market house (the most we’ve had). What with Ooh la la Crepes’ creamy ambitions. Waffle maestros The Bournville Waffle Company looking to follow up on their near-immaculate BSFA showing at Digbeth Dining Club and GRUB last year, but other puds made competition as stiff as a recyclable fork.

We should also put our hands together for Mangiamo. If anyone deserved their own shiny pizza restaurant, it’d be them. And Kerb Bears Street Food for daring to go where no others have gone before, and Press De Cuba for putting as much love and care into their veggie option as their meat. Everyone’s a winner? Well, not far off….


Patty Freaks
The Patty Freaks are pimping their patties for the Central heats at Bustler in Derby. “From pickled cabbage and gingersnap gravy to caramel waffles and maple syrup there really is no limits to what we will experiment with to create the best burgers people have ever tried.”

Chef Shack
Like all the best street food traders, Richard Clarke from Chef Shack made his fair share of mistakes in the beginning. Like buying all the wrong equipment and relying on a silent generator which turned out not to be so silent. But then he was picked up by the Digbeth Dining Club.
“Now I can change menus to suit events’ says Richard. “I don’t like to keep doing the same thing over and over. But I have learnt that I can’t leave my pulled chilli bbq beef nachos off the menu. People have traveled for two hours from South Wales for those. They’ll definitely be on the menu for the BSFA heats!”

Introducing the best Neapolitan wood-fired pizza outside of Naples, baked to perfection in a one-of-a-kind 1959 Fiat 500. The team also serve up some fantastic gelato from under the little Fiat’s front bonnet, sourced from Jack’s Gelato of Cambridge. Maybe it’s time we DID believe the hype?

Urban Cheesecake
When did cheesecake get so edgy? These urbanists offer up hand-crafted cheesecake and let the punters (of which there are many) decide how to top it using sublime hand-made sauces and fixings. Concept? Simple. Result? Fantastic!!

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.

Wallace and Sons
John Wallace was a high-end restaurant chef for 10 years, working 80 hours a week. Since he’s taken his bao and gyoza to the streets, life has changed. “I get to meet people who aren’t chefs, and I can watch my kid grow up. Don’t get me wrong — I still work hard. But it’s on my own terms. It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made.” John’s secret ingredient? Kimchi juice — the juice left at the bottom of the bag of dumplings. “Priceless” says John. “Bright red, garlic and ginger flavoured. Salty, sweet and I put it on everything. It’s a massive perk of making large amounts of kimchi!”

Sonora Tacos
Sonora Taco Truck offer up pork al pastor and confit chicken carnitas to Digbeth Dining Club-goers on the regular. As we’ve seen in previous heats, if it’s good enough for Digbeth, it’s good enough for the rest of the UK. Then again, as we saw last year, if it’s good enough for Digbeth, it’s good enough for Europe…

Buddha Belly
Buddha Belly owner Sai Deethwa is the third generation in her family to be a street food trader. After competing in Masterchef 2012, Sai decided to set up Buddha Belly to sell her own food in and around Birmingham and has been a leading light in the British Street Food Awards ever since. She won the People’s Choice in 2016, but this year she’s back for the ultimate — the Best of the Best. And, as a result, the chance to represent Britain in the European Street Food Awards.

Press de Cuba
Press de Cuba are one of a small band of street food traders in the UK specialising in Cubanos, the grilled Cuban sandwiches that are a staple in the southern US state of Florida. With some success. “We had one customer from the US” say Greg and Hannah, “who was so happy about his Cubano (and a little drunk) that he decided to start promoting us to passersby and some people queing for a bus. You’ve got to hand it to the Americans — they can sell! People actually sacked their bus off to buy a Cubano instead! Should have offered him a job.”

Street Souvlaki
The Andrews family have been in the catering business since the 60’s — and their traditional Greek BBQ has built up a fearsome reputation. “We cook the best souvlaki over charcoal and homemade sauces/dips in the West Midlands and beyond” says Michael Andrew. But, when it comes time to vote, will you agree?

Dick’s Smokehouse
Richard clearly isn’t a very BBQ kinda name. Which is why Richard Wainman, BBQ obsessive, only answers to ‘Dick’. He left fine dining to cook over coals — simple as that. “Our pork and beef are smoked over cherry and oak wood,” he says “and are left to cook for 12+ hours. I was adamant that to stand out everything needed to be home-made. The rubs, the sauces and the pickles we all produce ourselves. The only thing we don’t make is the bread, which we have made by a local baker.” Convinced?

Ooh La La Crepes
Kim Dearing is a street food devotee. Falafels from a little hut in Jerusalem, pad thai in Thailand (“the best ever from the side of the road”) guinea pig in Peru and pigeon tagine in Morocco. “I love trying new food and yes I think food of the beaten track is by far the best” she says. But it was crepes that inspired her to start her own street food business. “I started off with one crepe griddle and a 3x2m gazebo in the back of my Peugeot 206. Other traders were amazed I fitted so much inside my little car. Some called it a tardis. But it’s gone from strength to strength from there.” She’s now got an HY van and a coffee machine. And a dream that she never gave up on….

Love Is
Churros are all about the flour. Ask Ruth Halton. British flour is no good — because of the climate we can’t grow wheat with enough gluten. The only places that can are Spain, and Canada funnily enough. Ruth favours Spain. When you mix the special flour with the hot water it forms a strong dough. Once the dough is made, it’s fed into a churrera – or syringe – and extruded into a bowl of boiling hot oil. When they are fried, the churros are then drained and served. They’re not chewy. They’re only chewy if the dough is old. They are crisp and light – like old-fashioned waffles. And there’s only a pinch of sugar in the mix, so they’re not sweet. Until, that is, you dip the churros into the pot of thick warm chocolate that Ruth serves on the side. Love, indeed, is churros and chocolate.

Kerb Bears
Kerb Bears Street Food began as a childhood dream which became a reality. In 2016. Taz imported his van from France, and developed his menu along lines that are best described as a fusion of Chinese and Indian flavours. “Our highly requested quickly-turned-signature-dish is ‘Chicken 65’” says Taz. “Pakora deep fried chicken with a sweet and spicy Indian sauce, fresh mint salad, warmed chapati and red sugar syrup. We also like to trial new dishes, the latest being braised Korean short ribs, pan-fried with lettuce and soy.” Enough to win over the judges? And you?

Gravy Train Poutine
Poutine is a French-Canadian dish consisting of crispy French fries, ‘squeaky’ cheese curds and killer gravy. But at Gravy Train it’s all about the toppings – Deep-Fried Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Dressing, Mapled Bacon and Beer-poached BBQ Chicken, Hearty Cassoulet with Rosemary Croutons or Chilli sans Carne and Guacamole for the vegans. Enough to make you come over all Canadian?