Photographs by Darcey James
We all know the British Street Food Awards is the toughest street food competition in the world. Five regional heats – culiminating in a live, national cook-off, judged by the general public and Michelin-starred chefs. But in 2017 it got a whole lot tougher. The British winners were going to be heading off to Berlin to represent their country against the very best of Europe. Now that’s what we call pressure.
For serving up chicken wings topped with homemade pickles, toasted sesame, coriander and lime that stopped the judges dead in their tracks – even though they had already eaten 24 plates of food – the prize for 2017’s Best of the Best went to Wingmans. A close call, just nudging Baked In Brick and Tikk’s Thai into second and third. And the People’s Choice, voted for by everyone who came through the doors at GRUB, was Dim Sum Su.
Manchester was the perfect city to host the finals of this year’s British Street Food Awards. What a place. “An illustrious future built on an industrial past” as one poet put it — and the rough concrete landscape of Mayfield Depot (check this out) lent proceedings a real excitement. We buddied up with GRUB to deliver the best final yet. And winners from the five regional heats, the UK’s 17 best street food traders, cooked up a real storm for votes.
The judges (that’s Great British Menu’s Andi Oliver, Michelin-starred chef Brad Carter and the BSFA founder Richard Johnson) tried everything. Be rude not to. And, this year, we wanted the public to do the same. So we introduced our “mad minute” — heralded by a blast on the official BSF air horn — to allow 60 seconds of tiny tastings at each of the traders. There were complaints (apologies to the lady from Altrincham for that temporary deafness). But noone said democracy was easy.
Talk in the Depot was of the taste and texture that really set Andy’s Low ’N’ Slow barbecue apart; the genius of The Buffalo Truck – and Mac Daddies – in recreating culinary classics; the heartfelt make-you-cry passion of Ranie from Jah Jyot to share his food and culture; and the championing of British seafood by Shrimpwreck. Have a look at these pictures; the traders get better every year.
The winners took home one heck of a trophy from EC Awards plus a month of trading with the prestigious Street Feast in London. But, best of all, they get to captain the British team going to the first ever European Street Food Awards. In Berlin. At the end of the month. Now they’ve got ferries to book, refrigerated vans to organise and shopping to do. There’s a lot of wings to order in. But, with British pride at stake, they’ll do it all with grace. Once the hangovers have subsided….
BEST MAIN DISH
Mr D’s Magnificent Pie Machine: Freshly-baked individual Yorkshire raised steak pie, trio of mushed peas with mint sauce, creamed Maris Piper with peppered red wine gravy, wet Yorkshire salad
Sticky Bundits: Boom Hanoi Pork – Vietnamese Pork Patty and Pork Belly, Asian Basil Chutney, Peanuts, Sesame Rice Buns (Gluten Free, Dairy Free, No Added Sugar)
The Flying Cows: The High Flyer — Aged Dexter beef, Cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, diced red onion, club sauce, glazed smoked streaky bacon, seeded bun
Brother Thai: Jackfruit and shiitake mushroom roti.
Wingmans: The Bang Coq Wings Topped with Homemade Pickles, Toasted Sesame, Coriander and Lime
Truly Crumptious: Homemade organic crumpet with homemade raspberry jam and frangipani
BEST LOOKING MOBILER
Mr D’s Magnificent Pie Machine
Please put your hands together for the class of 2017….
The Buffalo Truck (Midlothian)
Once a marine biologist, Robin had had enough of spreadsheets and mud and sideways rain. So it was off to a fine dining kitchen with him. While harbouring dreams of owning a food truck (which he later found on eBay), of course. Now, it’s less about the white tablecloths, and more about the buttermilk chicken burgers with truffle parmesan fries. ‘It’s high-class filth, essentially,’ says Robin. ‘Although fried chicken as a whole is far from revolutionary, I have managed to develop a cult following – and I put this down to the time and effort I have put into making sure that what I do really is the best it can be, from the specific brining process I use, to the fennel seeds in the breading, all the way to the amazing toppings like black garlic mayonnaise and house made bread-and-butter pickles.’
The English Indian (West Midlands)
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’.”
Tikk’s Thai Kitchen (Yorkshire)
Born on the paradise white island of Koh Samui in Southern Thailand, the young Tikk loved nothing more than helping out in the family restaurant kitchen, preparing the food and learning traditional techniques along the way. After school, Tikk set out to work in his cousin’s beach resort, cooking (of course) and catching fish on the family boat. He has long since left the turquoise waters of Thailand behind, but he’s still obsessive about locally-sourced ingredients. After meeting his English wife Nikki (although for PR purposes they answer to Tikk and Nikk), the couple settled in Yorkshire, and since 2013 have been running “Tikk’s Thai Fridays” — a home-cooked take away experience like no other!
Dim Sum Su (Lancashire)
Sue Chiu-Fan Lee was born in Hong Kong and worked in the family food business as soon as she was old enough to reach the till. She’s now all grown up, and cooking authentic dim sum, gua bao, wontons and spring rolls for discerning customers in the North West of England – exactly the same way her family did back home. The queues for Sue’s bao were impenetrable at last year’s final. This year, she’s after silverware.
Truly Crumptious (Cornwall)
Is there anything more delicious than a crumpet? Yes. A homemade crumpet. Made with organic flour from the South West, and cooked up on a lightly-oiled griddle to give it a crisp, thick base. Serve it out of a 1967 Cheltenham Waterbuck – built in the day when caravans looked like caravans – with butter, jam or cheese, and you’ve got something just a little bit special.
Brother Thai (South Glamorgan)
Admittedly, hardcore Thai food isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. ‘Spice is a very hot topic!’ Brother Thai founder Andrew tells Olive magazine. Turning the heat down to appeal to our inferior British palates is verging on sacrilege, so Andrew will only do it if it really won’t compromise on the dish too much. With the rise of street food however, he admits people are opening up to new flavours. Flavours like his thai red curry, the pad pao: stir fried beef with green beans in a nam prik pao paste and thai papaya slaw.
Stickybundits is what happens when you take the idea behind sushi and the idea behind the burger and put one and two together. Stickybundits live and die by the creed of ‘bread is dead’ – this stuff wears the stripes of gluten free and dairy free, with a vegan option to boot. Fair to say they’re not up for leaving anyone out. Omnivores included. Slow cooked pork belly with a pork patty, Asian basil chutney and peanuts, all in a sesame rice bun is the kind of thing that gets people running for the hills of soy and sticky rice.
Baked in Brick (West Midlands)
Lee and co. are back to defend their 2017 title. Their prize last year was a month-long pitch at Digbeth Dining Club and a spot at one of Europe’s leading street food destinations – Street Feast’s Hawker House. 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…
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?
It’s one heck of a secret ingredient. It isn’t quinoa – or capsicum. Oh no. What makes Wingmans chicken so special? It’s LOVE. Lots and lots of it, apparently, if you’re trying to recreate their recipe at home. But guess what? Chicken helps too. Especially when it’s the sticky crispy fried buttermilk kind of chicken, sideckicked by truffle mac n’ cheese balls. They call themselves the UK’s first ‘authentic wingery’. Bit ambitious. But then again, it’s that kind of ambitiousness what wins British Street Food Awards…
JAH JYOT Punjabi Street Food (Sussex)
The inspiration for Jah Jyot came from the villages of Punjab. “The journey from Delhi to Punjab was along the Great Trunk Road which — back then – was a very long and tiring journey in the car” says Ranie. “Travelling through the intense heat of the midday sun without air conditioning meant stopping often at the little road side cafés (dhabas) for refreshments. These dhabas gave me the first glimpse of street food……let’s just say it whet my appetite! Large men, sitting crossed legged on plinths above big cooking pots and a charcoal fire of some description, cooking the most incredible food. The favourite dish for me was moolee (white radish) parathas and the freshest, greenest sarson di saag (spinach and mustard leaves) smothered in the creamiest makhani (butter).” The winners of the Sussex Food and Drink Awards in 2017 have got a taste for silverware. Is there space in the trophy cabinet for more?
The Bourneville Waffle Company (West Midlands)
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 (West Midlands)
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?
Mac Daddies (Lancashire)
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?”
ShrimpWreck started life as a side project. Little more than a fryer and a griddle, but ‘enough fish to feed an army,’ as Ewen says. Things began to take off after that. Quite literally. ‘Almost a year ago, me and a friend took the van to Aberdeen for a five-day market. The first two days were a complete wash out with snow coming through the gazebo. It blew half way down the street on the first night. Lesson learnt. I’ve weighed it down ever since!’ More recently, Ewen entered the Fish Finger Sandwich Awards to impress a panel of judges, including Greg Wallace, in London. A decision he made – and perhaps a decision you can only make – when he was a few pints down at the bar.
Mr D’s Magnificent Pie Machine (Yorkshire)
Mr D is looking forward to bringing his Pie Machine to Leeds Dock. And what a machine it is — think Steampunk meets Willy Wonka and Wallace & Gromit. Mr D is always keen to offer samples to the curious. But one occasion, a lady muscled in on a tasting session, grabbed the sample on offer and just shoved it straight into her mouth. “I offered the steak pie to the remaining samplers” remembers Mr D, “stating what it was. The sample bandit immediately spat it out, in a dramatic and somewhat un-lady like fashion. It transpired something was lost in her translation of Yorkshire and thought I was selling… SNAKE pie.”
Low ‘N’ Slow (West Midlands)
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.
The 2017 Heats
12-14 May – The Scottish Street Food Awards in The Pitt, Edinburgh. See event page here.
21 May – The Wales and the West heats of the British Street Food Awards in Tiverton. See event page here.
16-17 June – The Central heats of the British Street Food Awards at Digbeth Dining Club in Birmingham. See event page here.
24-25 June – The Northern heats of The British Street Food Awards on Leeds Dock. See event page here.
30 July – The London and the South heats of the British Street Food Awards on Brighton Beach. See event page here.
September 16-17 – The Finals of the British Street Food Awards. See event page here.
September 30/October 1 — The Finals of the European Street Food Awards in Berlin. See event page here.