It’s a common pop-cultural phenomenon for near-identical movies to come out at around the same time – I don’t just mean copycats which wear their plagiarism on their sleeve, but actual massive coincidences like Deep Impact and Armageddon, The Prestige and The Illusionist, Mean Girls and NOTHING, because Mean Girls is one of a damn kind. But what about Sharks Tale and Antz coming out so close to Finding Nemo and Bugs Life?
It’s not just films – the current UK Top 40 contains no less than 39 songs that are about bums; or have videos with a tracking shot of somebody’s bum for 4 minutes; or come on a bum-shaped picture-disc which looks like the artists’ bum, and has an anus in the middle where you put the spindle. Admittedly those 39 songs are more tasteful than the other charting record though, which has the misfortune of carrying Ed Sheeran’s face on the cover.
In October 2013 this phenomenon spread to food, and it was a good month for Leeds city centre. Before you had chance to wipe the Dough Boys sauce off your face at the newly-opened Belgrave, Trinity Kitchen was opening just down the road – a new kind of food court which snubbed the typical “Fast Food-Fast Food-Harry Ramsdens-Spud U Like-Fast Food” roulette, ingrained in the DNA of shopping centres across the country.
Headed by Richard Johnson from British Street Food, TK hosts a changing line-up of street food vendors from around the country, lifting their Ambulances and Citroes vans in through the ceiling with a great big crane, and putting a roof over their head for a month at a time. There are a few permanent residents as well, including Chicago Rib Shack, Burrito, Chip & Fish which give a bit of consistency to the place, and provide more familiar food to bring in big groups of people and make sure nobody goes hungry, regardless of how fussy an eater they are.
It isn’t completely without fault – there’s often a lot of overlap with several similar vendors on the same or consecutive months; line-ups can sometimes seem regimented and formulaic, I’ve worked out it’s usually 1 Meat, 1 Pan-Asian, 2 Spicy and a token Dessert; and I’m yet to meet the person who wants to be interrupted by a loud DJ set when they’re eating dinner, but the good far outweighs the bad. Vendors are queuing up months in advance to reserve a pitch, the quietest I’ve ever seen it is “Contently buzzing”, and it’s given local businesses a lot of valuable exposure while bringing in new things that a local audience wouldn’t have discovered on their own – it’s a credit to the City, and Leeds is lucky we didn’t have to settle for a Subway and a sit-down Greggs.
Here are my highlights from the first 12 months, in no particular order:
Confession: For the first 3ish months of Trinity Kitchen, I didn’t bother any of the vans with my custom, and that’s because Pho was (and is) so good. The freshest Vietnamese dishes of noodles, soups and salads served quicker than you’d imagine possible for around £20 for 2 people, including sides like fried squid and summer rolls.
Cafe Moor has been toiling away in Leeds for years, serving authentic and cheap Middle Eastern and North African food without any gimmicks or pretence from its 10am-5pm plot in Kirkgate Market. It was wildly popular among a new audience in Trinity Kitchen and benefitted hugely form the exposure – they’re now in plans to expand on their market stall and open a restaurant in the City Centre.
3. Original Fry Up Material
So universally well received that they’ve found a second-home in Leeds, seemingly popping up at every other event, so keep an eye out for them. Some nice dudes with a funny name, serving consistently good food – including the best version of a Blue Cheese burger I’ve eaten – and many would say the best burger there’s ever been at Trinity Kitchen, which might upset…
One of the best things about Trinity Kitchen is discovering new businesses that you wouldn’t have usually crossed paths with. Meatwagon’s arrival was a whole other game, everybody’s heard of them and the rumours that TK had got such a huge name created a lot of hype and genuine excitement. As PR goes they didn’t get off to the best of starts (see the review), but it was handled well, and the visit turned out to be a successful preview of the new, very welcome MEATliquor restaurant just downstairs.
Meatwagon was good, but it wasn’t the main event in March, that title belongs to Dorshi – probably the best thing there’s ever been at Trinity. They might be all-conquering award winners now, but I was gushing over their West Country, Southside UK take on Sushi before they were cool. A certain fondness will always be reserved for them, for introducing me to Kewpie mayo.
If Ice Cube was at Trinity Kitchen on the first day that May’s traders opened up, he’d say “Fuck the Goodyear blimp, this is a good day”. Pembermans might have looked like any other pulled-meat van, but their breakfast and lunch Bento boxes were something special. There’s no round-up, or even any pictures from May because I was just too busy eating for the whole month.
7. Cheese Truck
This is what it’s all about. Looking at all the previous Kitchen lineups I don’t think anybody would have anticipated something as original as a gourmet cheese toastie van, but anybody who heard about it, saw it, or ate anything from there lost their minds. I’d love to see more risky choices like this in the future.
8. MeiMei’s Street Cart
The final pick from TK’s finest month, MeiMei’s brought Chinese street food like you’ve only heard about in blogs from places like London. Comfort-dishes like sticky ribs and wings (the sauce from which relegated several top-tier t-shirts to the “stained loungewear” drawer), and their amazing signature Jian Bing; a savoury crepe filled with umami sauces, fresh salad, Pork, Duck and crispy wonton.
Another heartwarming success story: Turning up in April and selling naan wraps filled with flame-grilled meat or vegetarian curries, Rolawala became one of the most popular visitors ever. Fast forward to this week, and they’re preparing to open a permanent spot where Notes Cafe used to be.
10. Madeleine Express
Considering the insistence on having a token cake van every month, I had to include one sweet highlight. Madeleine Express is far from a token choice though; also known as Noisette Bakehouse, Leeds’ local Sarah consistently comes up with incredible recipes combining non-conventional flavours and classic formats, as well as the very best versions of traditional favourites like Salted Caramel Brownies and (naturally) Cinnamon Madeleines. All without a glob of buttercream icing or a twee sprinkle of edible-glitter in sight.