Epicurean at St Katharine Docks: London street food from around the world
Now that street food is, er, trendy, and has been for a while, the volume of emails or tweets I get from people saying ‘I’ve quit my job and started a street food van – do you have any idea of where I can trade?’ has increased a lot. And, call me cynical, but with anything trendy, what you get alongside all the brilliant new trading talent is some utter crap; made by people who’ve just jumped on to ride the wave.
Now I’m all for risk taking but it always surprises me that someone would bother to spend a serious amount of time and energy – and that’s before you think about the financial risks involved – to go and set up a business without first having worked out if there’s an actual market for it. In this case, I don’t mean an audience of people willing to pay money for the thing you’re offering to cook, I mean a physical food market that has space for you to trade your wares at. Because without that, you’ve got nothing. Sure, you can run a successful London street food business doing private events and all that jazz, but without some element of a public face – not to mention the the opportunity to see if you’re cut out for the hardcore existence that is running a weekly or monthly stall – you don’t get the loyal followers who seek you out on social media, the same coverage opportunities, and the same face time with your customers.
What I’m saying is that if you’re planning to quit your job as a sous chef in a grotty basement kitchen, your 9-5er, or your life in the City to go and sell 50 of your version of bacon sarnies on a daily basis, do – but please also take a moment to think past the concept to actually selling the thing. Or if you want serious advice on this, consider talking to an expert, say, someone at a food business incubator, who would be a great sounding board. A lot of people do all of this and more and go on to create fantastic street food businesses – but gawwwd there are so many that don’t…
To the new St Kats street food market…
Anyway I was thinking about all of this in the context of a newish London street food market, billed as a ‘global street food market’, in St Katharine Docks, next to Tower Bridge. Wondering whether it might be just another band of traders doing the same old thing, I accepted an invitation from a press release (a rare thing on this blog) and on one rainy Friday afternoon headed off via the overground, the DLR etc and found my way through throngs of tourists to the little enclave that is St Katharine Docks.
It turns out that this trading space was once run by Shepherds Markets – the people also in charge of a number of other London street food markets – but it has now been taken over by Epicurean Events, a team of people who are really passionate about quality food, and who also do some good things in Devonshire Square, St Giles, and East India Docks. It runs every Friday lunchtime, and then on Saturdays until September there’s something called St Katharine Docks’ Riverside Taste which includes more artisan produce and some hot food.
All of which is fine by me, because I think what they’ve done here is really good.
Crossing the docks, as soon as you’ve spotted a little line of orange and red gazebos you know you’re in the right place. From there it’s like a parade of food from all over the world, where you walk down the middle and simply pick what you want to try. Will it be the Mexican burritos from Santana Grill (an old LSF fave), something from Peru Finest, Allihopa, or Claude’s Boulangerie & Patisserie, or a box from Nha Trang Kitchen, Filipino bites from BBQ Dreamz (reviewed here by LSF) or burgers from Cheeky Burger?
Led by the smell, and also the need to fill up on warming grub on a rainy day, we settled on Makatcha, a stall that specialises in amazing South East Asian grub. And it is startlingly good.
Our treasure was a box of beef (and chicken) rendang, served with rice, and the stew had those deep, complex flavours and spice that make a rendang so good: good quality meat, slow cooked in all sorts from garlic, to cinnamon, galangal, star anise and so on, upgraded further with an ace peanut sauce. Apart from a good one in Chinatown, I’ve only eaten these in Malaysia and I just love their richness.
Over the way was my second find – a halloumi wrap from The Athenian stall, run that day by three lovely smiling guys. Everyone seems to shove halloumi in a wrap these days, don’t they? But these were better than everyone else’s. The stall is attached to a delicatessen in which they make their own sauces. There are three of these – a cooling tzatziki of cucumber, yoghurt and garlic; their original Souvlaki sauce which they won’t reveal the ingredients for; and the incredible tyrokafteri, a spicy feta and red pepper. It’s a soft floppy pitta, with a halloumi-like cheese that isn’t actually halloumi but Talagani sheep’s cheese from a small producer in southern Greece, which you can chargrill in the same way, served with fresh veg and herbs. It’s very good.
We ate ours sitting on a bench outside The Dickens Inn – buy a drink and they’ll have you for as long as you like.
And that’s all there is to it. Great concept, great market, great food, nice view. Boom.
Find the World Food Market at St Katharine Docks’ every Friday, 11am-3pm, on Marble Quay; skdocks.co.uk