19 | Aug | 23

Richard Johnson

Our Finalists

Ladies and gentlemen, meet your finalists. After FIVE gruelling national heats, up and down the country, these are the SIXTEEN traders competing to win your vote at Hackney Bridge this weekend. Get planning…..tickets in advance and on the door.

EL CABRON TACOS (Rhondda Cynon Taff, Wales)
El Cabron Tacos is a proper family venture. But it wasn’t like that to begin with. Simon Callow still remembers the day he first went home to tell his wife that he’d bought an old burger van and was going to do it up as a taco truck. Her reaction wasn’t printable. “But thankfully it’s working out now. And so too therefore is our marriage.”

Signature dish for the for the finals is Quesa Birria Tacos and consomé. A slow-cooked beef brisket and short rib sandwiched between three cheesy corn tortillas, toasted with coriander garnish, and served with a pot of rich warm consomé (the Spanish consommé) for dipping – or drinking. “That’s what people say to us” says Simon. “OMG you should sell that consomé by the pint!”

Cafe 77 (Hertfordshire, England)
They don’t monkey around with the classic burger at Cafe 77. Even lettuce is considered an affectation. But they know what they’re doing. James Greatorex, who cooked at the Fat Duck before graduating to Head Chef at L’Ortolan, declared the proper, two-fisted burger “the best I have ever eaten”. Cafe 77 are committed to using producers within 25 miles of their hometown. Beef from Hertfordshire. Bacon from Bedfordshire. Milk bun from Cambrideshire. With no silly ingredients “just for the gram”. So you won’t find a doughnut in your bun. “We’d guess that this is the most sustainable burger you’ll ever eat” says Hannah from Cafe 77. “Super simple and bloody good. This is nostalgic fast food at its best.” Will it win your vote?

BIA (Midlothian, Scotland)
Jordan is Scottish. Amanda is Irish. And they both love warming, comforting food. So they created Bia as a modern, innovative take on the traditional Celtic flavours they grew up with. Their signature dish, for instance, is cock-a-leekie arancini. “Based on the traditional Scottish soup” says Amanda, “we have reimagined it as chicken and leek risotto balls with a Scottish cheddar centre and a lemon and pepper mayonnaise for dipping. Customers have praised the crunchy texture – and the gooey, cheesy middle.”

Saving Nemo (Yorkshire, England)
The final frontier – vegan fish and chips. ‘Tofish’, to be specific. Doused in vinegar and served up from a van. And Saving Nemo reckon it’s so good it deserves a British Street Food Award. “Our tofu is organic and is marinated in our blend of herbs and spices for a minimum of 24 hours before being deep fried. We use seaweed from Scotland to give it the fishy taste. This is then battered and deep fried, paired with our chips which are locally sourced from a farm nearby and topped with either mushy peas, curry sauce or homemade tartar sauce and of course lashings of salt and vinegar!” They’re already finalists in our Sustainability Award, judged by the Sustainable Restaurant Association. But could they go one step further?

IT’S ALL GRAVY (London, England)
Word to the wise. The Dip Sandwich ? is a thing of beauty. And THIS iteration, from It’s All Gravy, is a great example. “This dish is a nod to my childhood” says IAG’s James Moody, “and for me is pure nostalgia. Growing up, after our roast dinner on a Sunday, we would keep the leftover meat and gravy. On Mondays I would have it very simply in sandwiches for school and for me this was heaven. My friends would be like ‘Mate! Gravy? In a sandwich?’ And, trust me, they were the ones missing out. This dish reminds me of my Mondays at school! For some crazy reason, the Dip Sandwich (sometimes referred to as the French Dip) hasn’t really taken off in the UK, and more often than not, nobody knows what it is. I find this crazy as its so delicious. The dish has more notoriety in the US, with one restaurant in LA specialising in it (Philipes). At Philipes, you can have your sandwich three ways – Dry, Dipped or Double Dipped.
Dry- gravy on the side
Dipped- top bun dipped
Double Dipped- the whole sandwich is briefly submerged in the jus which creates…
I want to bring this dish to the British Street Food awards and put it on the map.”

LJ HUGS (Somerset, England)
Still the best street food team working in the UK. Singing, dancing and just hanging out – all while they’re cooking up a storm for the MASSIVE queues of people waiting to try their finger licking’ Cajun chicken and salad bowls. Winners of the People’s Choice award at the BSFA finals in 2022 – can they do it again? In 2023? At Hackney Bridge?

“LJ Hugs was birthed from a family idea to combine cultures, family and food together” says Lewis. “We didn’t know much about the food business, but a basic knowledge of cooking food was enough to take the leap of faith and leave the 9 to 5 routine and pursue the adventure of a lifetime. Nine years on, three units in and 22 staff down we are now making our mark.”

While Cosmo’s Mexicana are thrilled to be flying the flag for plant-based street food, that’s not what defines them. “Our aim, first and foremost” say Darryl and Michelle, “is simply to produce great street food!” Check out their signature ‘Burrito Favorito’. Cayenne-Roasted Sweet Potato, Chipotle Crema, Charred Peppers & Onions, Lemon Rice, Smoked Cheese, Mixed Chilli Bean, Pico de Gallo, Soft Flour Tortilla.

The couple got into street food in 2021, following the covid enforced closure of our Brecon Beacons gastrocafe. “After scouring the country for a unique vehicle we came across an ad for Doris, a ‘one of a kind’ 1953 Fisher Holivan living life as a spare bedroom at an Airstream glamping site on the Isle of White. We instantly fell in love, booked a ferry and within 24 hours she was home on our drive, ready to start her next chapter as our little taco truck. We did every bit of the conversion ourselves, so she’s very special to us and, as far as we know, the only of her kind in the world!”

AMANI KITCHEN (Hertfordshire, England)
Cooking has been Amani’s passion for as long as she can remember. “As a child my happy place was the big table in my grandparents’ house in Iraq – full of delicious, hearty and aromatic food made by my grandmother.” Hunt out her Kuba, a thin outer layer of potatoes or rice that is stuffed with minced meat. But also get to know her plant-based menu – whether it’s her authentic Arabic falafel, spinach fatayer with pomegranate seeds or biscuits filled with dates.

CHOOLA (Fife, Scotland)
Choola bring their Nepalese menu to the streets of Scotland. Kirkaldy, to be specific. A choola is a wood-fired outdoor kitchen – most homes in Nepal will have one. The husband and wife team are famous for their momos – Nepalese dumplings. “Our pork momos our packed with delicious pork mince, cabbage, onion and fresh coriander” says Ameer. “We’ve kept the ingredients and spicing to a minimum to really heighten the flavour of our locally sourced pork meat. The homemade dough is rolled out, cut into circles with the filling piled in, and then the casings are delicately wrapped. The momos are then steamed and served with our signature homemade achaar (sauce) – tomatoes, ginger and garlic are cooked with our secret blend of spices along with a good helping of freshly ground sesame, and blended together to create a delicious, rich, zesty and moreish sauce, perfect for dipping. Voila!”

FRED’S BACKYARD BARBECUE (Midlothian, Scotland)
Confidence isn’t a problem here. Oh no. When we asked Hamish from Fred’s Backyard Barbecue why he was entering the Scottish Street Food Awards he answered, simply, “I don’t believe anyone in Scotland is going to the lengths we do at Fred’s Backyard Barbecue to produce authentic, Texan-inspired barbecue.” So we believed him. And he went and won the thing.

Coming out of lockdown, he didn’t have the £5k+ needed to buy a legitimate 1/4inch thick steel offset smoker that’s so popular in Texas-style barbecue. So he built his own. “After weeks and weeks of searching for a steel tank that fell within my budget, I managed to get my hands on a 270-litre used air compressor tank and set to work learning how to weld. Fast forward a couple of months, endless hours (days and week really) of self taught YouTube metalwork, and I had my first offset smoker.”

He still uses the smoker for all the meat at Fred’s. But it’s an early start. “We’ll start a smoke at 7am, be chopping logs and tending to the live fire every 20 minutes for the next 18 hours, and pull the meat off the following morning at 1am. There isn’t a single corner cut in what we do, and that’s why I have so much confidence in our offering and believe we deserve a space to showcase our food at the 2023 British Street Food Awards finals.”

DAY’S BAKES (West Glamorgan, Wales)
Hot Welsh cakes – fresh off the griddle – made with free range eggs and slathered in Welsh salted butter. It’s a tempting proposition from Day’s Bakes. “My Italian Piaggio Ape was originally driven around the streets of Rome delivering fruit and veg” says Sian Day. “Now it charges people up with caffeine and sweet treats!” Sian has been on two cooking shows representing Wales – Food Glorious Food on ITV with Loyd Grossman and Tom Parker Bowles plus My Kitchen Rules on Channel 4 with Rachel Allen and Glynn Purnell. This year she made it three with her appearance as a BSFA finalist on Sunday Brunch. Is three the magic number?

WANDERERS KNEADED (Midlothian, Scotland)
Wanderer’s Kneaded – an independent pizzeria on wheels running Edinburgh’s streets – were first voted Champions at the 2019 Scottish Street Food Awards. So they competed at the British Street Food Awards finals when they were hosted by Street Feast in Hawker House. This year they took the People’s Choice in Scotland. So they’re back.

“When we announced our Scottish win” says Mark from WK, “our challenge began to get us to the finals in Hackney Bridge. A true pizza legend, Marco Fuso, extended a generous offer. He is providing us with a kitchen space in London to help make our dough and prep work. Amazing.”

The team are entering two dishes. The “Kale-tastrophe” featuring a tomato base topped with kale, spinach, salami, mozzarella, and a heavenly aioli drizzle. Plus, in the Dessert category, “Kinder Baws.” Imagine delectable Kinder Bueno pieces nestled within our dough, accompanied by an indulgent Nutella dip.

SMOKING LOBSTER (Isle of Wight, England)
These kings of the sub are all about flavour combinations. And bringing restaurant techniques to the street. “Our business started with a restaurant called Smoking Lobster, in Ventnor, serving the best local seafood balanced with pan-Asian flavours and ingredients. There are now three restaurants on the island and we get loads of demand for outside catering including weddings, epic parties, private dining and even on boat dining!”

Which his why they started experimenting with street food. “We are so humbled by the amazing response we have every time we serve new customers on the street that we get more and more excited to try new things! Along with the luxury of being part of British Street Food Awards in Portsmouth our year has been packed with events as Camp Bestival, some awesome weddings and so much more.

The weather has not been ideal for our biggest year in our little gazebo. Just a few weeks ago we had to hold on to our gazebo though 30mph plus winds at Lymington Seafood Festival because, well, if the customers were hardy enough to want to party and eat we want to be there to cook! Our crew has been amazing! We can’t wait to be part of British Street Food Awards final. See you soon!”

SYIOK LAH (Nottinghamshire, England)
Kent Hau from Syiok-Lah has built his reputation on Nasi Lemak – a classic Malaysian comfort food that’s served up for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. But Kent (who cooks up a storm on the streets of Nottingham as well as at the magnificent Cutlery Works in Sheffield) is raising the dish to an art form. “My version is served with my signature fried chicken” says Kent. “A skin-on but boneless chicken thigh, marinated with a mixture of spices, lemongrass, ginger and onion, and deep fried twice to make it crisp and juicy. And it’s served with coconut rice, cooked with coconut milk, pandan leaves, lemongrass, ginger and shallots, and served on banana leaves with acar pickled veg, anchovies, peanuts, egg, and sambal chilli sauce.

HASH HUT (London, England)
The original loaded hash brown spot. Serving up nuggets of potato goodness loaded with the maddest and baddest of flavours! And boy do we mean LOADED. “We’ve come a long way since making oven trays of Browns in our kitchen in Nottingham, peeling countless spuds till the early hours, with the promise of an empire laid on the foundations of the Humble Hash Brown.” After driving the van’s milometer round the clock, frying hundreds of thousands of Browns – and only shedding a few tears along the way – the Hash Hut empire is starting to look like a reality….

OI DUMPLINGS (Yorkshire, England)
Oi Dumplings – great name. ‘Oi’ should actually be ‘ơi’ but Instagram wouldn’t allow it. The couple behind the venture lived in Hanoi for four years and fell in love with the flavours of Vietnam – as well as the language. “The word ơi is used as a gentle beckon, something between ‘excuse me’ and ‘hey’” says Mollie. “It’s quite funny to have someone shout ‘chị ơi!’ at you across the street at first, but it soon starts to feel like a term of endearment.”

The best selling Oi Dumpling is the classic pork and ginger. “It draws inspiration from the original Xiaolongbao, a juicy bomb of flavour” says Maisie. “It’s the dumpling that took us the longest to master, with countless remakes and a masterclass with a top chef in Shanghai. We infuse the skin of our dumplings with different flavours and colourings, all natural of course. A lot of love and care has gone into this dumpling.” And you can tell.