If both of the people who read my blog were paying special attention last month, they would have noticed that I neglected to review Belgrave’s March Street Feast. This wasn’t because I forgot about it, or due to a lack of dedication to the cause – rather I had become a victim of its success.
When I got there at 4pm, it was the busiest I’ve ever seen the venue; a 20-foot blockade of people queueing up for the last morsels from Papa Ganoush gave the game away as soon as I arrived, so after penetrating their forcefield and realising that all of the visitors had sold out of everything, I got a few tinnies from the bar; a burger from Patty Smiths (which in the month since first trying them had come on leaps and bounds, and is now probably the best burger you can get in town), and watched Matilda with some kids.
As enjoyable as it was, I can’t run a moderately successful food blog by drinking lager and trying to contact OFSTED to perform an emergency inspection on Miss Trunchbull, so this time I made sure I’d have something to write about.
Initial research had suggested that Arepa!Arepa!Arepa! were my priority – Jules and Bailey run one of my favourite food blogs Good Gobble as well as this Arepa stall, and I respect that they get their hands dirty and create something as well – it adds a kind of legitimacy and credibility to their criticism that you just don’t get at other blogs such as this one.
I went for a Sobrebarriga (£4), which is a Steak and Beer Arepa, which is actually what I chickened out and asked for. And I’m pretty sure I even pronounced that wrong. I was given a big handful of beery, spicy, tender, stringy beef and vegetables inside a fresh grilled maize Arepa – essentially a portable stew inside a dumpling – and it was awesome.
I stood around for a few minutes waiting for a friend before I started eating it, and by the time I’d finished extracting all the beef with my fork (I wasn’t going to risk gravy-beard by eating it with my hands and face) the arepa underneath was saturated with beery gravy, so I was able to relive the former glory again. The parts of the dough which hadn’t been imbued with juice were surprisingly light and had a satisfying crust where it had just been fried.
Also from A!A!A! was the Plantano Y Queso (£3) which was a dish of fried plantain with cheese, and a choice of Guava jam or a savoury option – which escapes my memory at the minute – on top. I went for the Guava jam, which was almost unbearably sweet, but balanced against the sharpness of the cheddar worked perfectly. I have to commend the choice of cheddar – it would have been easy to try and truss the dish up with some kind of posh cheese, but keeping it simple really benefits the dish. I remember by Mum telling me that my uncle used to eat cheese and jam sandwiches when he was a kid and I would grimace – in the days before chicken and waffles and donut burgers, I thought this mixture of sweet and savoury was an abomination – but having eaten pretty much that, slathered on plantain, I now see that I was a narrow-minded idiot, and he was somewhat of a visionary. So well done Uncle Clive.
Top marks to Arepa!Arepa!Arepa! as well, can’t wait to try them again.
Regulars Fish& were upstairs in the snug with their ever-adapting menu this time offering Beach Burgers (£5) – pan-seared cod, caper and parsley patties, then cooked in a spicy tomato sauce. This had a lot of flavour for something with such a simple list of ingredients. I usually find cod kind of bland, but in this case it complimented the rest of the flavours, as well as contributing its own distinct – almost smoked – fishy hint (I’m pretty sure I’ve seen “Fishy Hint” on a gig listing).
I’m a self-confessed seafood novice – when I look at a menu in a restaurant, I pay such little notice to the fish options that they might as well have been blacked out by the Ministry of Truth – but I find myself going back to Fish& again and again whenever I see them at an event, excited to see what they’ve managed to come up with each time.
Next door to Fish& was Taco Wall, the first installment of Belgrave’s Street Food Lab, pressing fresh corn tortillas, and serving them up as Fish Tacos (£3.5). I thought it could do with a little tweaking – I thought there was a too much batter on the fish, considering the size of the taco – but everything else about it; the presentation; the pineapple salsa; the scotch bonnet and grapefruit sauce, proves that they know what they’re doing. This was only the first time serving to the public, I’m confident they’ll have nailed it by the time I try it again.
The Street Food Lab itself seems like a brilliant idea, I’m a little unclear on the specifics of how it’ll work, but if it means more in-house vendors are going to join Dough Boys, Patty Smiths, Fu-Schnickens and now Taco Wall, then I’m massively in favour of it.
A few weeks ago I went to the Briggate World Food Fair and intended to eat loads and write a round-up of the day. I didn’t manage to get an article out of it though, as after I tried Street Fodder‘s Thai Food, it started raining so I just grabbed a bag full of cakes from Madeleine Express and went home. Both traders were at the Street Feast on Saturday (Madeleine Express going by the alias Noisette Bakehouse), and while I didn’t get anything from them then, I’ll quickly mention that Street Fodder’s Summer Rolls and Chicken Satay are some of the best I’ve had in Leeds, and the fact anything as wildly imaginative as Noisette’s creations taste as amazing as Noisette’s creations is a miracle – and there’s not a lame cupcake or lazy buttercream in sight.
The day after Street Feast 4, Belgrave hosted a Game of Thrones quiz, which I took part in – not because I wanted to win, because I didn’t even want to win, I’m glad I didn’t win and I’m not even bitter so shut up – so I had a reason to try the Game of Thrones-themed food tie-ins. Dough Boys Slice and Fire (£1.4 before 7pm, THAT OFFER IS STILL CRAZY TO ME) featured black pudding and pork belly with chilli apple jam and fresh sage leaves, and tasted like a £22.95 Gastropub meal wrapped inside dough.
Patty Smiths avenged Bobby Baratheon by topping their Valar Morghulis burger with Wild Boar sausage, then dialling-up the exuberance by piling on braised oxtail, bearnaise sauce, and a big pile of crispy shredded leeks. I hope you’re sitting down for this, because it’s a big statement: It was the best speciality burger I’ve ever had. Ok joint-best with Patty & Bun‘s pork-belly and teriyaki smothered Mr Miyagi, but that’s still super-high praise, especially as they’ve only been in the game for two months.