Street food is where it’s at. It’s a craze that just seems to be growing and growing, with no sign of anyone getting bored. Digbeth Dining Club is a must-do event in Birmingham and even ventures over my way sometimes, taking up residence in Coventry Cathedral. But it’s not the only event on the scene in the Midlands.
I remember visiting one of the first ‘Canteen’s’ at LCB Depot in Leicester and thinking it was going to be a good’un. Months on and when Mr M and I returned for the October event, we were happy to see it was rammed. If you haven’t been to a street food event like this, it’s a simple concept. Bring together some great food traders, put them all in one place, add a bar, music and loads of people and you have a great big outdoor food-filled party.
The October event had already promised to be a winner, with various royalty of the street food world attending including Baked in Brick, newly-crowned winners of the European Street Food Awards, as well as two British Street Food Award 2017 Finalists. What’s not to like.
LCB is a great little space right in the heart of Leicester, with both an indoor area and a courtyard that’s just right for a load of vans packed with food. Our first port of call was the Sailor Jerry Bar and its cocktails – including my fave ‘Dark and Stormy’. Guaranteed if one of us hadn’t been driving we’d have opted for one of their Jerry Can pitchers and partied the night away.
I find the hardest thing about events like this is deciding where to start – and the constant worry that you won’t have enough room to try everything. But once we spotted veteran Birmingham BBQ champ Andy’s Low N Slow it was an easy win. Andy and Donna have been going for several years, they’ve won awards, they’ve appeared at Meatopia and we had the pleasure of meeting them at Grillstock a few years ago. An easy choice for number one stop.
That was until we looked at the menu. How do you choose between smoked brisket, smoked pig cheek tostada, bone in pork belly rib or 20-hour oak pork shoulder? Mr M’s suggestion was that we had them all but, conscious we might end up trying nothing else, we compromised with two.
The wild cherry smoked pig cheek tostada were succulent little piles of shredded, moist meat, stacked up with sour cream, a salsa roja with a sweet, piquant little kick, and a scattering of sesame and coriander. A lip-smacking start to our evening that was the equivalent of barging into your sleeping tastebuds bedroom, tapping them on the shoulder and surprising them into a wide-awake state ready for more.
Our second choice was the smoked brisket chilli cheese, a toasted bun filled with the kind of slow-cooked brisket you dream of, with grated cheese and some of Andy’s own homemade charcoal mayo. Now I’m no barbecue expert, but I’m pretty sure connoisseurs would have been impressed by both of these dishes.
Weren’t we full after both of those (which we shared by the way), you ask? Well yes, of course. But when has that stopped us. I got the next choice and was keen to try Becky’s Bhajis. Becky escaped from a job in the NHS to start her own street food business and now she and husband Frank make the biggest bhajis I’ve ever seen.
When we ordered the ‘Arji Bhaji’ – three bhajis with two dips – we weren’t quite aware of how big these badboys are. They were light and crispy, though quite muted after the punch packed by the barbecue meat we’d just tried. We also tried a ‘Mirchi’ – a whole battered chilli – which was more up my street. Sweet and succulent inside the same crispy batter.
Since we were slightly flagging, I have to confess to having not tried every single one of the traders. I’m not actually sure it would have been physically possible! I did however manage to execute full weirdo mode and take a few pictures of other people’s food (I know, how strange. I did ask permission first, promise!).
Blue Caribou Canteen’s ‘Poutine’ was tempting, as I’ve never actually had it before, but I just couldn’t commit to so much potato. These guys were 2017 British Street Food Award Finalists and use locally-sourced Maris Piper potatoes and cheese curds from the Forest of Bowland, with gravy made to an authentic, Québec-style recipe. Next time Blue Caribou, next time!
The same was the case with pan-Asian Canteen regulars Canoodle and, I’m sad to say, European Street Food Award Winners 2017 Baked in Brick. Lee DeSanges studied catering at University College Birmingham, then went on to work at Le Cote D’or as well as Le Manoir. He moved into street food and has since been serving up amazing 24-hour marinated chicken tikka cooked over choarcoal under the bonnet of a converted 1964 Mini Cooper.
It looked good, I promise, and writing this I’m now a bit gutted that we didn’t just power through and try it. We also couldn’t manage anything sweet from Victoria Creperie, though I’ve tried these before and can vouch for how good not only their pancakes are, but their cheesecakes too.
What we did manage to squeeze into our stretched little tummies were some Bao (steamed buns to simpletons like me) from Wallace and Sons. These guys are from Manchester and make their own buns, filling them with a whole range of tempting fillings. Not able to decide which one we wanted, we tried the selection of three: pork shoulder with hoi sin, sriracha and crispy pork skin; salt cod in a black bun with pickled fennel and sriracha mayo; and the Katsu Bun, packed with fried chicken, pickled shiitake and wasabi mayo. All were great but I think the classic flavours of the pork shoulder took it for me. Plus, I’m a glutton for a bit of sriracha, as you may know.
Yes, we ate too much. Yes, we had to roll home early. And yes, I very much wished I lived in Leicester so I could have stayed, drank more cocktails, danced to the DJ and maybe made a bit more room to get some of Baked in Brick’s chicken. Canteen is a great night and proves that Birmingham isn’t the only place in the Midlands doing great stuff with food. It’s a great atmosphere, they get a fab range of traders from local heroes to the big boys in the world of street food and you’re guaranteed a good night. It takes place on the last Friday of every month at LCB Depot on Rutland Street from 5-10pm so I strongly suggest you get it in your diary!
In fact, I loved it so much I felt inspired to make a little video of our night. So here we go:-
Canteen takes place on the last Friday of every month at LCB Depot on Rutland Street, Leicester. LE1
1RE. From 5pm to 10pm. I was invited as the October blogger of the month so some of my food was complimentary but we happily paid for the rest.