Streets ahead on flavour

PUBLISHED: 13:07 10 June 2014

Cult Cafe in the James Hehir Building on Ipswich Waterfront.

Cult Cafe in the James Hehir Building on Ipswich Waterfront.

Festivals and thriving markets are helping the development of a lively local street food scene. Charlotte Smith-Jarvis meets three chefs who share a mutual passion for street food

'Walk with a Fork' event at Helmingham Hall in aid of the Ormiston Children and Families Trust; Chef Nick Attfield providing the fish and chips.'Walk with a Fork' event at Helmingham Hall in aid of the Ormiston Children and Families Trust; Chef Nick Attfield providing the fish and chips.

There’s been an upsurge in the number of street food vendors in Britain over the past couple of years, spawning groups such as Street Feast and Kerb Food.

The movement has taken place mostly in London where foodies can linger with plastic cups of beer, moving from van to van, feasting for just a few pounds. But the trend is slowly spreading from the capital and we in the east have our own innovators in the street food world.

Street food isn’t new. of course. Around the world there are thousands of different types, from crisp suppli in Rome, to banh mi baguettes in Singapore, and dosa in India. Here’s a Suffolk selection a bit closer to home.

Vernon Blackmore, owner of The Table and The AnchorVernon Blackmore, owner of The Table and The Anchor

Nick Attfield: The Fish Hut

Nick runs the Harbour Inn in Southwold and The Bell at Walberswick and was one of the first street food vendors in the UK with The Fish Hut.

“I got into street food sort of by accident,” he said. “The Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival coincided with me taking over The Golden Key [Snape]. I saw Rick Stein a couple of weeks beforehand cooking on Aldeburgh beach and thought, I can do that.

“So I went and cooked. Jenny Lloyd from the festival came along and asked me to do something with them. That’s how I came up with the mobile unit. >>

Mike Keen of Cult Cafe in the James Hehir Building on Ipswich WaterfrontMike Keen of Cult Cafe in the James Hehir Building on Ipswich Waterfront

>> “I chose fish because it’s a major part of my business and no one else was doing it.”

Nick found himself a mobile doughnut van and transformed it into a Southwold beach hut with the help of artist Thea Cutting who comes up with a new whacky design every year.

“And I have a slightly eccentric kitchen builder who helps me with all sorts of ideas. He’s putting speakers in at the moment so we can play the sounds of the sea.”

Nick takes The Fish Hut to parties and corporate gigs and has won the British Street Food awards twice for his fresh approach to a British classic.

“I only use fresh fish. Ninety nine times out of 100 it’s line-caught out of Lowestoft. I try to support the day boats and I use cod because it’s delicious. I ask them to get me the biggest, fattest cod so you get these very thick steak portions that are cut up into goujons. And I make the tartare sauce myself and serve them with minted and mushed garden peas.”

Nick enjoys the whole street food scene. “Because my pubs are so big I do shrink into the background managing and overseeing things so it’s really nice for me to get face-to-face with customers. Also, there are some ambitious young chefs out there who can’t afford their own premises and this is a great way for them to show what they are capable of in a fun way.

“It’s just captured everyone’s imagination. I’m always in awe of the quirky things I see, like people smoking foods in telephone boxes and horse box vans.” And his favourite street food?

“Ginger’s Comfort Emporium from Manchester. They do marmalade on toast ice cream and camel milk ice cream.”

Vernon Blackmore: The Table and The Anchor, Woodbridge

Vernon’s Asian heritage means he has street food running through his veins and last year he created a series of food events at The Table, based on the concept.

This June, his Sunday Street Food days are back on one Sunday a month in The Table courtyard, with themes ranging from Indian and South American to Mexican and Malaysian.

“We have one big stall cooking in front of everyone and do about four or five different things,” says Vernon. “For the Caribbean one we’ll have things like Jamaican patties and we’ll have curry, jerk pork. Someone can have something for £3 or £7 to £8. Last year people would have something then come back around again.”

There are also plans for a street food event on Southwold Pier this summer. He operates The Duck Truck too, which takes Chinese-style crispy duck to the streets.

“What I love about street food is how exciting the diversity of cuisine is that’s on offer. You have Korean, Mexican, Armenian, Italian, Chinese and all the other Oriental ones. And it’s the quality as well. I love the camaraderie and the fact you can marry food up with a festival atmosphere – and how exciting it’s become too, influencing menus in restaurants. It’s very interesting and motivating for chefs and you get a very enthusiastic mixture of people trying out ideas, which we try to put into our Street Food Sundays.”

Vernon’s favourite street food is chicken satay.

“I was six years old when I first had it in Malaysia and street food was just the norm there. It all happened so quickly – the satay stall would be spotted and I’d be asked ‘Are you hungry cousin?’. Within five minutes we were seated and looking at 20 skewers of perfectly marinated, freshly chargrilled chicken and beef satay with peanut sauce.”

Mike Keen: The Brewery Tap and Cult, Ipswich

Having once worked for a cruise line Mike has travelled the world and spent his precious few hours on dry land following his eyes, ears and nose to the most exciting street foods.

There’s not a lot the chef hasn’t tried – the worst being sea cucumber, served raw and still wriggling on the plate. This particular delicacy hasn’t made its way on to his menus, but Mike tries to infuse global flavours, influenced by streetside finds, into his menu at Cult on Ipswich waterfront.

“The Mexican stuff always goes well, like burritos and tacos and we make our own hotdogs. We use Blythburgh pork and get all the raw ingredients and mince them up here. That’s my favourite. Bread, hotdog and caramelised onions.

“Sushi’s another favourite. It tastes fantastic, but has a bad reputation because people get it in the supermarket and it’s been in a chiller for a day or two and it’s hard. You’ve got to make it right, not cut corners and serve it fresh on the day. A lot of my sushi has smoked eel in it with hoi sin dressing and it’s going pretty well.”

From this month, Mike will take the Cult experience out in front of the building on Ipswich Waterfront, cooking a range of barbecued treats and whipping up homemade ice cream.

He’s really motivated by the food scene in the UK at the moment and sees the appeal for chefs to mobilise themselves.

“Running a restaurant or pub is so risky. Ninety per cent get sold in the first 12 months so it makes sense to have something mobile that goes around. It’s a lesser risk than bricks and mortar. It’s a lot easier to keep tabs on the business and there are more options for the customer.

“At the moment I like the Korean taco type things which are huge in the States right now.

“It’s tacos with an Asian twist using pulled pork. Everything’s slow-cooked so it’s melt-in-the-mouth and there are different types of barbecue sauce, refried beans and salads in a tortilla – and it’s only three or four dollars.”

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