01 | Jul | 19

Hugh Thomas

Something In The Water

Leeds, this weekend, was under siege. Not by the sporadic cannon fire from the historical reenactments at the Royal Armouries. Or by the sweltering 30-degree heat. But by the mightiest food fight Leeds Dock had ever seen. Battered cauliflower flying one way, mushroom arancini t’other. Tough conditions for the northern heats of the British Street Food Awards supported by Hellmann’s – but the good people of Leeds prevailed.

The judges prevailed too. James Mackenzie, a local hero from the Michelin-starred inn Pipe and Glass; Larry Budd from the BBC’s Larry and Paul; Ranie Sirah from ESFA-winning Jah Jyot; and BSF’s own Richard Johnson. The law was laid down quickly – James was looking for the right approach to provenance among the traders. As well as flavour and texture, of course. Lots was at stake, namely a couple of slots at London’s Hawker House for the 2019 British Street Food Awards Final. And, possibly, the chance to represent Britain in the European finals in Sweden.

And what did they find? First up was modest-as-ever Ifty from Ruby’s Street Kitchen. ‘Oh’, said Ranie, pointing admiringly at Ruby’s take on pizza. ‘The flavour he manages to get into his food is extraordinary.’ A strong start, then. Could The Mexican Pilgrim follow suit? Larry tipped his hat to their choice of bread, saying the generously-portioned burrito was ‘just what you want from street food’. Then added James: ‘After a couple of beers, eating that would be… wow.’

As we’ve discovered before, traders doing their own bao buns (well done Wallace and Sons) deserve an extra brownie point or two. As was the case with Little Bao Boy. ‘These are really really good,’ said Larry. ‘The bun is absolutely spot on,’ added Ranie, only wishing there was a little more to what was in it. But as James said, this dish wasn’t far from greatness – even a squeeze of lime could have set the whole thing off.

Little Red Food Truck’s ‘Big Mark’ burger was next to slide under the judge’s noses. The double patty didn’t come with a free toy, but this was an honest-to-goodness, two-fisted mouthful. Then came Smokin’ Blues with their impossibly tender brisket. ‘That’s my winner so far,’ said Richard, only five courses in. ‘Outstanding’, offered Ranie. James loved the fat content (as we all do, right?) saying if he put on a BBQ like that at home, he’d end up devouring it all himself.

Despite England’s rich costal larder, the only fish offering came on behalf of St Monan’s Fisheries from Stoke on Trent. Larry remarked on their shareability credentials, saying the calamari, prawns, and haddock (with a pot of thick gravy and home-made tartar sauce) ‘worked great as street food, especially if you’re out with kids’. ‘Perfect for Brighton or Margate’ said Ranie. It was also pretty darned perfect for the waterfront at Leeds Dock.

ArtiSam from Manchester were busily establishing themselves as one of the public’s favourite traders if the public votes were anything to go by. James praised the ‘good idea’ of their sizeable arancini, saying he liked the sustainable approach and provenance of the local cheeses. James marked Shoot The Bull up on dedication to presentation. Ranie was only disappointed they didn’t enter their steak into contention. ‘That with some dirty sauce and a pint’ would set him up well. Dirty sauce or not, Shoot The Bull snatched the People’s Choice award at the death – by just one vote over ArtiSam.

Even Pizza Loco, a stalwart of the Leeds scene, weren’t immune to criticism. But their Jean Paul Goatier showed up in fine form. ‘That’s a great pizza’ said James. And where were Doh’Hut to end up? Progressing as they did last year to the European finals in Berlin? A ‘bowlful of delight’ said Ranie. Larry applauded their lightness, despite not being much a fan of fried dough. James, however, was. ‘I’ll have a box,’ he said.

No one was going to take it away from MorMor, though. ‘Unreal’ was how Ranie described their shawarma, collecting enough yesses among the panel to earn Judge’s Choice and their place in the final. ‘Well,’ said Larry on first bite. ‘That makes things awkward. I thought the brisket would walk it.’ Leeds, it turns out, is full of surprises.