A convoy of high-end food trucks is touring the nation. From gourmet bagels and classy mac ’n’ cheese to scallop buns and pizza, Mark Sansom eats his way around the UK.
Sure, Ikea’s meatballs make a visit to the Swedish labyrinth almost bearable, but give them to a true Scandi and they’ll quite rightly scoff. The balls from The Bowler, however, are up there with northern Europe’s finest. Jez Felwick gave up his job in the music industry to take gourmet meatballs to the masses at festivals and outdoor events. After spending time in Los Angeles witnessing the food truck explosion in the early Noughties, he came back inspired to find a product that could be prepared in advance and where the flavour would actually improve with time. Thus his gourmet meatballs were born. The Bowler’s top-seller is a blend of pork shoulder and beef chuck steak in a spiced tomato sauce with cumin and sour cream that comes with homemade slaw. It has been so successful, Jez has even released a meatball cookbook of his best spherical suppers, encompassing veggie and fish options, as well as the traditional meat. thebowleruk.tumblr.com
STANDOUT DISH Great Balls of Fire, £6
FIND THEM Street Feast, Swingers, The Horse and Groom pub (east London), Kerb. Various festivals all-year round.
Brothers Charlie and Rory Nelson gave up jobs running a restaurant at an eco-lodge in Mozambique and teaching bushcraft and outdoor survival skills respectively, to form the perfect team for their mobile wood-fired pizza business. Since building their first oven from scratch in 2012, it has gone from strength to strength, and they now design bespoke ovens for restaurants and food-loving homes where a traditional brick barbecue just won’t do. This year for the first time, they built an oven in the back of a truck: quite the feat of engineering, the 400kg machine was fitted into a Renault LoLoader. Their standout dough is made each morning, with all toppings imported from Italian artisan producers. It’s hard to pick a favourite pizza, but the boys’ Affumicata is a true taste of Naples. It’s served simply with smoked mozzarella, pancetta, fresh basil and Strianese tomato sauce. fundipizza.com
STANDOUT DISH Affumicata, £8
FIND THEM Dinerama and Kerb food markets, and UK-wide festivals throughout the year.
THE HIP HOP CHIP SHOP
Certainly one of the more outre trucks on the road, The Hip Hop Chip Shop was born out of the owners’ twinned love of urban music and quality battered fish. Don’t be put off by the puns either, because none of these dishes will disappoint – the Shell L Cool J and Feastie Boys Box in particular are both excellent. Cooking oil is changed daily (you can’t have hot chip fat sloshing around in the back of a van) and the fish is traceable from trawler to tray. The main catch on sale is coley, an abundant North Sea fish that is far more sustainable than cod, with a slightly darker colour. It has an almost nutty flavour that works well with the myriad sides on sale: chilli onion bites, battered gherkins and triple- cooked Maris Piper chips. Ask for a helping of minty mushy peas or thick-as-treacle gravy. thehiphopchipshop.com
STANDOUT DISH Meat Junkie, £7. Gloucester Old Spot sausage fried in a chilli batter, wrapped in lean bacon and served up with a side portion of triple-cooked chips and curry sauce.
FIND THEM Manchester city centre; music festivals in the North.
When you’re serving lobster on a paper plate, it needs to come from a vendor that looks the part. The glossy, converted 1957 VW Camper from which the team punt their wares is just that. Lobster rolls are the archetypal champagne socialist street food: pricey, decadent lobster meat stuffed into a hotdog bun. Starting life in Maine, where the abundance and lower price of lobsters sees them served in all manner of guises, they’re traditionally dipped in melted butter and mixed with mayonnaise. Brits have been slow to catch on. The fancy sandwich only reached the UK a year or two ago when steakhouse Hawksmoor put them on its menu and many other restaurants followed suit. The van is the brainchild of Rob Dann who’s also managing director of Bedales Wines, meaning the food is backed up by a list better suited to starched linen tablecloths and fine china than plastic forks and paper cups. Try the Brew By Numbers pale ale or splash out on Laurent-Perrier priced at £12 a glass. The stock-in-trade dish is 115g of lobster meat tossed in a lemon-infused mayo and crammed into a six-inch brioche bun that took three months to perfect. Recently, however, they have branched out, stirring lobster meat through a dreamily cheesy mac ’n’ cheese, flying in the face of purists who insist that marrying cheese with seafood is the work of the Devil. bobslobster.com
STANDOUT DISH Lobster roll, £14
FIND THEM Dinerama and Street Feast food markets, and festivals across the UK, including Wilderness.
There’s few better settings in the UK to park a food truck than the Pembrokeshire coast. Couple that with seafood caught less than a mile away that morning and you’re onto a winner. Cafe Môr owner Jon Williams is getting used to that, picking up gong after gong for having the best food truck in the UK. His signature dish of Pembrokeshire lobster – half-warmed in Welsh sea black butter and served in a lightly toasted roll – is simply divine. Also available are a Milford Haven crab wrap, beef burger with seaweed butter, lobster rolls, and some rather delicious brownies. Cafe Môr recently released its own range of seafood seasonings and the unique Welshman’s Caviar (as featured in Food and Travel): hand-picked laver seaweed that’s air-dried and toasted to create an umami-laced seasoning ideal for stir-fries or scrambled eggs. beachfood.co.uk
STANDOUT DISH Scallop roll, £7
FIND THEM Pembrokeshire Dock; food festivals in the South West and North West.
The only truck peddling puddings to make our list is fresh of out Cardiff. Run by family-owned Wild Fig Farm, a fruit-growing holding in the Vale of Glamorgan, its owners wanted to extend the summer season by turning their wares into artisan ice cream that’s available all-year-round. After winning numerous awards, they branched into a range of desserts for sale from the mobile ‘brûlée bar’, offering a fine line in torched-to-order crème brûlées with a cornucopia of sauces. Our pick – and that of top chef Matt Tebutt – is the sticky toffee pudding version with salted caramel sauce, a delight for wallet and palate at just £4. Also available is an Eton mess with vanilla custard, and moon pie, a rather decadent mix of marshmallow, chocolate and biscuit. While the team likes to stick to smaller festivals and events, they are regulars at Street Food Cardiff, bang in the middle of the city centre. wildfigfarm.co.uk
STANDOUT DISH Sticky toffee pudding crème brûlée, £4
FIND THEM Cardiff; food festivals in Wales and the West.
The latest no-fuss dish to be given a gourmet makeover is the humble macaroni and cheese. You might think it as American as apple pie, but it’s actually a British creation from the 14th century, originally made from just macaroni and cheddar. Being ostensibly a dish of fat and carbs, it was adopted by the Americans and made their own in the early 20th century, ladling in whole wheels of grated cheese and béchamel or other sauce to fill it out. You’ve probably got your own blend of cheeses and Anna Mae’s is no different, bringing together cheddar, Monterey Jack and mozzarella to create panfuls of gooey goodness. There’s real theatre to the truck, with each portion served from a huge pan into stylish boxes and drizzled with infused olive oils. It’s great value and the names of the dishes are as cheesy as the food itself. Take your pick from Piggy Smalls, mac ’n’ cheese topped with pulled pork, homemade barbecue sauce and pickled red onion; Kanye Western, with a beef hotdog chopped on top; or our favourite Don Macaroni, with crispy bacon and a zingy basil pesto. Inspired during a trip to the World BBQ Championships in Austin, Texas, owners Anna Clark and Tony Solomon trawled the festival for the best mix of cheese, quizzed stallholders and thus Anna Mae’s was born. anna-maes.com
STANDOUT DISH Don Macaroni, £6
FIND THEM Kerb, Street Feast, Southbank, West India Quay.
THE BELL & BRISKET
If the below image doesn’t set you salivating, check your pulse. The team behind The Bell & Brisket claim that ‘a bad bagel can ruin your life’ and, while we don’t take them quite as seriously, we admire their devotion. Indeed, after trying one of their sandwiches, we’re converted. Each individual element has been painstakingly prepared to take it to the absolute hilt of its flavour profile. Take The Duke, for example. The beef brisket is cured in a brine and spice (they won’t tell us which) solution for several weeks, before being cooked overnight at a low heat. It comes with a roasted tomato and chipotle chilli relish, house pickled onions, blow- torched Monterey Jack and jalapeno sour cream. The bagels are baked daily by Brick Lane institution Beigel Bake and the black rye buns come from Carmelli in Golders Green. It’s got a longer menu than most, including The Kount von Kraut, with salt beef, garlic and dill saurkraut, English mustard and cheddar; and a tasty vegetarian option with grilled haloumi, pickled cabbage, Dijon mustard mayonnaise and gherkins. The truck is owned by the brilliantly named Bel Shapiro, who bought the converted horsebox trailer from eBay, fitted it with bordello-chic tasselled lampshades, named it the Whoresbox and rescued it from pasture. thebrisket.co.uk
STANDOUT DISH The Lord Rupert (below), £6.50
FIND THEM Paddington, UCL, Southbank, King’s Cross.
This article was published on 6th October 2015 so certain details may not be up to date.