A few years on and the street food revolution shows no sign of dismantling the barricades… In fact, each passing month recruits more comrades, eager to join the fight to prove London is not the culinary sinkhole it was once perceived to be.
Whether the many faces of Street Feast, traveling food circus Kerb, Saturday’s Maltby Street Market or classics such as Borough or Portobello Road, these modern hawkers have a taste to suit all, whatever the weather.
Without further ado and in no particular order, I present to you a handy guide to several of London’s best street food stalls:
SmokeStak- Authentic Texan BBQ
Listen up dinosaurs of the BBQ pit because these young whippersnappers have come to take your fossilized crown.
At the heart of the Smokestak way is authenticity, authenticity, authenticity, something long lacking in England’s paltry attempts at bringing Americana to its own doorstep and a mission this beast of the BBQ achieves with panache.
With pork and beef ribs as the signature dishes (both delicious… obvs), it’s the bovine end of that spectrum that really puts Smokestak head and shoulders above their competitors. Taking up to ten hours to cook them just so, these short ribs are rubbed simply with salt and pepper, sprinkled with chilli and left to speak for themselves and my, what splendid things they have to say. Like a beefy butter, they’re so tender that they just fall apart in your mouth… this is not just a BBQ, this is a carnivore’s wet dream.
STILL not sold on this meat-laden utopia yet, you crazy diamond? Well, try on a succulent pulled pork or perfectly cooked USDA beef brisket in a brioche bun for size… you’re welcome.
There’s still plenty of time to catch them at both their Model Market and Street Feast Dalston homes and their surge into 2014 shows no sign of abating with plans for Autumn on the cards already.
Horn OK Please- Vegetarian Indian Originals
Taking a look at their careers in advertising/planning and running incredibly swiftly in the other direction; the incredibly charismatic Gaurav and Sandhya were one of the early street food vendors in London, launching in 2011 and aiming to bring traditional recipes straight from generations of Indian cooks, right here to the Big Smoke.
Forget Brick Lane and its never ending parade of colonial dishes and cut price curries, Horn Ok Please know that all you need is simple ingredients, beautiful aromas, colourful chaos and authentic tastes, all served with a lot of heart (not actual heart kids, it’s a vegetarian stall after all!). Keeping the menu to a minimum, they still manage to provide a decent range of flavours from both North and South India; Belpuri from Mumbai with its Rice Krispie texture, is a low-fat and delicious snack, Samosa Chaat , packed full of veggies and spiced up with a liberal amount of homemade chutnies and then, our personal favourite, a Dosa from the South; made with lentils rather than the usual rice, it is a tasty and accurate culinary representation of the flavours of ancient Indian family recipes. This is the food of happiness and your stomach will thank you for it later.
Bloom Kitchen- Jewish Soul Food
Currently sharing their days between Lyric Square in Hammersmith and Acklam Village, just off from Portobello Road, this little slice of ‘mom and pop’ comfort food is brought to you by the inimitable Barry and Susan Bloom. Bringing Susan’s home cooking to the streets of London, come forth for chicken noodle soup (made with proper lokshen and homemade matzah balls if you please), a giant hunk of carrot cake and a lamb shawarma unlike any we had ever tasted, made with the sweetest pomegranate cous cous perfectly counterbalancing the awesome 13 spice Bloom marinade.
Special props, in our humble opinion, has to go to their salt beef sandwich; the 2 weeks cured Irish longhorn beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, crunchy pickles, mustard, all heaped in a melt-in-your-mouth mound between two slices of delicious rye bread is an exercise in meaty perfection. Sit, eat and talk as the hosts with the most bring their natural warmth and family vibes to the west of the city.
With plans to expand further, come get a bit of soul whilst they are still an underground secret because trust us, they won’t be for long.
Sambal Shiok- Malaysian Burgers
Now, close your eyes and dream of authentic Malay flavours; satay, rendang and sambal, spicy and more-ish; all served in an easy to carry foodie favourite like the brioche bun… sounds pretty good yes? Well, that dream is now a reality chums; over at Sambal Shiok, you’ll be pleased to know that Malaysian-born Mandy Yin has given up her high-flying career as a city lawyer to make sure you guys get your peanut and chili fix.
Continuing a tradition of street hawking that is ages old back in Malaysia, Mandy hopes to make the flavours of her homeland a staple of any self-respecting street food lover’s palate. With this stunning twist on the burger craze, choose from chicken satay, dripping with spicy peanut sauce and sweetened by pickled cucumber, lentil satay or a slow cooked lemongrass and coconut beef rendang (the latter being our personal favourite… what can we say? We’re suckers for beef!), there’s also gluten-free and vegan options in the form of tasting platters so… there’s no excuse not to really.
With big plans for the future such as wholesaling her much requested sambal sauce and continuing her hard work everywhere from the Tottenham Market to Street Feast in Lewisham, Mandy is creative, passionate and knows her stuff. Won’t somebody give this girl a residency already?
Colonel Toms- Gumbo and Cornbread
Gumbo, originating in 18th Century Louisiana is not exactly a dish that you could say has saturated the London street food scene; in fact, Tom Warden, better known by his trading name ‘Colonel Tom’, is the only stall serving it but hey, why copy when the original article is so damn good? After discovering a recipe for jambalaya at around the age of 15, Tom found himself intrigued by Creole and Cajun cooking and sees now as the right time to introduce London to its beauty. Keeping his menu basic and to the point and covering Po’Boys (a traditional sub), Cajun spiced fries and cornbread, it is of course, quite rightly, the gumbo that is cast in the starring role. If you asked us which we’d pick between the seafood and smoked sausage, we’d have to ask you to get back to us. The seafood gumbo is the winter warmer, with a hearty, rich, gravy-like flavour, it’s homely and satisfying. Conversely, though the smoked sausage gumbo carries on that authenticity, it is all fire and zing, a perfect dish to eat on a roadside watching the world go by with a cooling beverage.
Though usually found out at the street markets bequeathing his Creole and Cajun delights upon tourists and locals alike, you still have a week or so to catch Tom and his gumbo at their very first residency courtesy of the Market House bar in Brixton.
Hanoi Kitchen- Vietnamese Street Food
The idea for the stall was birthed after a trip to Hanoi by Nigel and his partner Katie and a dawning realization that the Vietnamese food in this city is, for the most part, not even close to being an authentic representation of the street food back there. So armed with recipes straight from the hawker’s mouths and turning their backs on their previous careers, they set about reeducating the Londoners on true Vietnamese tastes.
Now, this is a year round stall so what you’re going to be eating is all dependent on the season you visit Hanoi Kitchen in… We cannot urge you enough to make sure you get a taste of the summer dishes before time runs out. Fresh summer rolls and divine Bun bo noodle soups, these are the flavours of pure sunshine. Special mention on our side has to go, for sure, to the Bun Thit, a spectacular grilled pork and vermicelli salad absolutely loaded up with bean sprouts, lettuce and carrots, basil, mint and coriander then topped with crispy shallots, peanuts and the obligatory nuoc cham fish sauce.
Don’t have time for a holiday this year? Send your tongue on vacation instead with Hanoi Kitchen.
Lickalix- Gourmet Ice Lollies
Despite a difficult year in their lives, newly-weds-to-be Karis and Dominic took a stand and decided the only was up. Throwing off their workaday shackles, they took to the streets to turn a hobby of Karis’ into what it is today; a thriving business chock full of boozy, gourmet ice lollies and our pick for the sweeter end of the street food scene.
Made every morning with fresh fruit procured from the New Covent Garden markets, these frosty devils are lactose-free, dairy-free and gluten-free; all of the gourmet with none of the guilt. In fact, not one of their icy treats tops the 70 calories mark with the alcohol-laced poptails being even less. Winning? We think so.
On our last visit, we got well and truly stuck into the Gin and Grapefruit sling, a tart little mistress with a proper Beefeatery taste; it’s all present and correct without taking over the flavour, letting the grapefruit have its moment to shine.
Other poptails of note include the summery Pina Colada and the Pimms o’ Clock. Abstaining from the booze? Not a problem, their non-alcoholic lollies including Grapealicious and Caribbean Twist will sort you right out.