Saturday night in East London, and a crowd of hungry pre-clubbers have gathered in a three-storey warehouse on Kingsland Road.
Passing through giggling groups of smokers into a darkly lit hallway, I pay £4 at the door and make my way up the eerie staircase towards loud music and Street Feast’s offerings of late-night food.
Spread across three levels, Street Feast’s Hawker House offers visitors a choice of street food from across the globe, with bars on each floor to wash it down. The days of drinking in cramped student flats have been swapped for pop-up food stalls and Aperol Spritz bars.
No longer is street food just a thing of sunny days and festivals, after-dark street food markets are spreading; forget the traditional wine and dine, and make room for your Saturday night club and grub.
Host to some of the most renowned markets in London, the East End has its fair share of street food stalls. Whether you’re wandering down Brick Lane, taking a stroll through Old Spitalfields Market, or paying a late night visit to Kingsland Road, you can’t escape the sweet aroma of freshly cooked food.
But these markets are neither a new phenomenon, nor one that seems to be fading, so what is behind this obsession with street eating?
In the midst of its 10-week run, Street Feast’s pop-up at Haggerston’s Hawker House entices an eager audience every weekend. And it’s not alone; street eating destinations are popping up all over East London and people can’t seem to get enough.
Tucking into a burger and fries from a stall called Bleecker St, Daisy Scott, 17, said: “These kind of events have such a vibrant atmosphere, they give you the opportunity to meet loads of different people from all over the place. And the food is always delicious, it feels so fresh because it’s cooked right in front of you.”
The infamous Bleecker St burger stall, host to a queue all night, is one of the most popular at Hawker House. Although small, the burgers are packed with a mouth-watering combination of succulent beef, melted cheese, and perfectly cooked bacon. Competing on either side of Bleecker St are a stand offering pulled pork burgers, and another boasting weirdly wonderful ice-cream buns.
Offering another street food alternative to pricey restaurants, Urban Food Fest is re-launching next weekend on Shoreditch High Street after huge success last year. Running every Saturday night from 5pm to midnight, Urban Food Fest boasts different food stalls every weekend with the added benefit of free entry.
City lawyer by day and street food extraordinaire by night, founder Jessica Tucker believes in high quality food at a low price. She explained: “We provide gourmet global street food at very cheap prices, so anyone on any budget can come along. Every Saturday night there’s a new experience, a new food to try, and amazing live music.”
Not only cheaper than restaurants, street food markets provide customers with an atmosphere you can’t seem to find anywhere else. Tucker pins it down as a festival feeling, she said: “We have live musicians and sharing tables so friends can sit down together, meet new people and try street food from places around the world that you’re never going to visit in your lifetime. It’s like a mini festival on a Saturday night; we want people to just relax and have a good time.”
And these markets don’t just give customers the chance to try something they’ve never tasted before; the expansion of street food markets provides vendors with the opportunity to get their food to the public with low operating costs.
So, for a dining experience with a festival twist, look no further than the ever-expanding street food markets in East London. With two weekends left at Hawker House, closely followed by Street Feast’s 1950s market in Lewisham, and Urban Food Fest launching on Saturday, there’s really no excuse to visit a restaurant ever again.
Visit their websites for more details:
Street Feast – http://www.streetfeastlondon.com/
Urban Food Fest – http://www.urbanfoodfest.com/