Have you tried working in EC2? I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it; from my limited personal background, you’re liable to end up being based next to a discreet brothel in the same building as a company with the temerity to describe its service as “experiential marketing”. And as if that isn’t bad enough, there’s nowhere to get your lunch but a parade of middle class sandwich shops full of dismal men searching for the one baguette which doesn’t come with mayonnaise.
Fortunately, things are changing. The recent invasion of street food outlets which is even now spreading across London has made it to the edges of the City, and the intrepid suit can now find a variety of lunch options which don’t involve chiller cabinets or the opportunity to buy an apple for eighty pence. Whitecross Place is regularly filled with a farmers’-market-to-go selling everything from pie to paella, while the matchless Big Apple Hot Dogs cart can be found most days on Old Street. However, the most unexpectedly delicious treats on offer are served from a gleaming Airstream trailer parked in Broadgate Circus and surrounded by crates, queues and practically sliceable gusts of fragrant smoke. Welcome to Street Kitchen.
The brainchild of Jun Tanaka (Pearl) and Mark Jankel, formerly of La Petite Maison and the Notting Hill Brasserie, Street Kitchen is a new initiative which aims to bring restaurant-style fast food to London’s workforce for scarcely more money than you might pay for a fridge-cold plastic sandwich. Drawing on the simplicity of Jun’s menus at Pearl (which I experienced early this summer at one of his Seafood Barbecue Masterclasses) and on Mark’s background in environmental science, Street Kitchen offers food which is fresh, seasonal, local, and probably some other relevant buzzwords as well. A main course and dessert won’t set you back more than £10, and the staff really do have very natty T-shirts. What’s not to love?
When my ever-present lunching companion Jackie and I visited the Street Kitchen trailer (it was Jackie’s first time, although you can find me there at least once a week), we both plumped for braised pork with crushed potatoes in a rich basil vinaigrette, served with coleslaw and salad leaves. There’s typically a choice of three dishes, including a salad – regular visitors will get to know the roasted salmon (tender, perfectly pink and pathetically eager to flake apart as soon as you give it a hard look) and the crisp and slightly smoky mackerel, both of which are a pleasure. Although I’ve not yet tried it, I often see other diners demolishing the crispy chicken salad with Caesar dressing made with Old Winchester cheese from Lyburn Farmhouse.
Our pork, which, like all Street Kitchen’s meat and fish, is carefully prepped and cooked at the Street Kitchen prep kitchen in Battersea before being seared to order, was moist and tender, yielding easily to our flimsy plastic knives. For such a tiny menu, it’s obviously been thought through – the crisp finish common to all the meat and fish served is beautifully offset by the ubiquitous potatoes, which are so rich I initially thought they’d been buttered. They also make a nicely even base on which to layer the other elements of the dish; Jackie’s coleslaw disappeared with almost unseemly haste, although I have a particular soft spot for Street Kitchen’s sweetly intense beetroot and managed to barter my own portion of coleslaw away in return for some. A generous flourish of creamy horseradish dressing finished off the pork, served as always in a polystyrene carton so full that a saucy imprint is invariably left on the inside of the lid.
Whilst we shared a portion of Eton Mess made with tangy plum compote and deliciously tacky (if unwieldy) individual meringues, Jackie and I had a chat with co-founder Mark. Given Jun’s commitments at Pearl, Mark (who was responsible for pop-up restaurant/theatre/prison experience Civil Unrest earlier this year) is the chap you’re more likely to see in the Street Kitchen trailer on a day to day basis. He’s also been responsible for much of the legwork involved in finding Street Kitchen’s suppliers; the last two years have been spent touring farm after farm after farm as he searched for producers who could help him realise his dream of making the venture totally sustainable. Street Kitchen’s supplies rarely appear in Battersea more than a day or two before they’re being served up, so the menu changes every day.
Mark told us that the current menus are in their last weeks; as the seasons turn, Street Kitchen will respond, serving up root vegetable dishes and heartier fare to combat the weather. “I’d like to branch out from just serving French-style dishes,” he said, as we perched on the boldly branded crates scattered around for customers, “but as it is everyone seems very happy with what we’re serving. You can eat at Street Kitchen every day, and the difference in price only means having one less cocktail on Friday night.” While I can’t imagine why on earth anyone would do that, Street Kitchen is obviously here to stay.