How Street Food Launched a Thousand London Restaurants

As London's street food scene reaches saturation point, some of its brightest businesses are switching their attention to permanent restaurants.

With one of the world’s fastest-paced food scenes, London offers rich pickings for the trend-obsessed and as the city’s boundaries and tastes continue to evolve, there are always new culinary horizons to explore. Although the city is well-known for its roster of established chefs and traditional favourites – think haughty hotel restaurants, high-end gastropubs and central London tourist haunts – it’s on the fringes where the most exciting innovation is taking place.

 

 

Here, it’s the ultra-competitive frenzy seen at the city’s street-food hotspots where the most interesting dishes are emerging, from Taiwanese dumplings to Hawaiian pokè. Although the city’s love of street food allegedly stems back to Roman times – via jellied eel carts and fish and chip vans – it’s really kicked on in the past five years, helped by progressive food markets across the capital that have given a platform to London’s most vibrant vendors.

Although many feel that the street food industry has reached saturation point, it’s certainly fulfilling an essential part in London’s restaurant ecosystem

The category even boasts its own awards ceremony (current holders, Birmingham’s Digbeth Dining Club) to mark out its high achievers and wave after wave of salarymen are ditching their city jobs to launch their own food truck. Meanwhile, it’s become big business for market landlords, with the likes of Kerb and Street Feast just two outfits who have fed off the boom to create their own brand of markets that draw big crowds at sites from Kings Cross and Shoreditch to Croydon and Canary Wharf throughout the week.

 

 

Although many feel that the street food industry has reached saturation point, it’s certainly fulfilling an essential part in London’s restaurant ecosystem, acting as an experimental petri dish for new trends and boundary-pushing ideas to break through. New markets are making innovative use of disused urban spaces and have given a chance for savvy traders to reach a hungry audience. And once enough buzz has been created, some have gone on to establish themselves as serious brands, with multiple market sites and in some cases a permanent restaurant.

High-end Taiwanese outfit Bao, stone-baked pizza specialists Pizza Pilgrims and Breddos Tacos have made the jump from cold mornings on market stalls to a permanent patch

This select crowd have found their street food experience a necessary stepping stone to prove their worth and attract the social followings needed to succeed in the high-stakes business of launching a bricks and mortar site.

 

 

Over the past few years, the likes of high-end Taiwanese outfit Bao, stone-baked pizza specialists Pizza Pilgrims and – riding the current wave of Mexican diners – Breddos Tacos have made the jump from festival fields and cold mornings on market stalls to a permanent patch. Earlier this year, Mathew Carver opened The Cheese Bar in Camden. Offering a range of high-end British cheeses on a menu that includes classic toasties alongside the likes of raclette, truffle-infused macaroni and poutine, it’s a niche operation that’s found favour with Londoners following three years in its previous incarnation as The Cheese Truck.

 

 

According to Carver, that had been a vital development stage. “I’ve always wanted to run a restaurant and the Cheese Truck was a starting place for us, to trial our offering, learn the mistakes and build a social presence,” he says. “We decided to grow the menu into a full cheese-based affair because it gave us more creativity and allowed us to showcase a lot more of the small cheese producers we work with.”

The benefits of a larger site have been many, with the increased kitchen space allowing them to grow in their offering.

He says he learnt plenty from the street-food days, from dealing with long days and stressful situations to food regulations. “But above all else its helped us make lots of contacts, whether that be to help us get our foot in the door with landlords or other street food friends that made the leap to bricks and mortar before us,” he says. “At so many points during the process, I’ve been able to call a fellow street-food trader and ask for some advice and that sense of community is important. “

 

 

Another recent entrant onto London’s restaurant scene is Monty’s Deli. The US-influenced Jewish diner serves the city’s most vaunted Reuben sandwich among other delicacies in a beautifully crafted new site on Hoxton Street. Founders Mark Ogus and Owen Barratt perfected their art on a regular stall at Maltby Street Market, which – according to Ogus – had its limitations. “We were only able to trade on weekends, we were sharing with two other businesses, we couldn’t get an alcohol license there… the list goes on,” he says. “We wanted to grow the business, so finding a proper premises was the only way forward.”

Keep your product simple and make sure it tastes excellent. Find good people to surround yourself with who can help you with the parts the business you don’t understand

The benefits of a larger site have been many, with the increased kitchen space allowing them to grow in their offering. “We’re now able to offer more obscure dishes such as blintzes, short-order brunch dishes with eggs and amazing pastries like our incredible rugelach,” says Ogus. However, he adds it hasn’t been without its lessons. “The challenges are endless; finding staff, building and equipment problems, supplier issues and moving from the production side to being a manager of a 65-cover restaurant.”

 

 

His advice for those starting out? “Make sure you don’t take on too much at first,” he says. “Keep your product simple and make sure it tastes excellent. Don’t adopt a silly pun name. Find good people to surround yourself with who can help you with the parts the business you don’t understand that well. And don’t fork out loads of money to trade at Brick Lane – it is a rip off.”

Street food’s role as a testing ground for new permanent restaurants will continue to put exciting new food on our plates.

As the street-food scene plateaus, it remains to be seen if the rate at which new ideas end up hitting our high streets continues, with increased risks, rents and consumer apathy making it harder than ever for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs to succeed. But with Londoners’ appetites always alert to the next big thing, street food’s role as a testing ground for new permanent restaurants will continue to put exciting new food on our plates.

Six of London’s greatest street-food graduates

BAO Soho

BAO Soho, 53 Lexington St, Carnaby, London W1F 9AS

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BAO Fitzrovia

BAO Fitzrovia, 31 Windmill St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2JN

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BAO Bar,

BAO Bar, Netil Market, 13-23 Westgate St, London E8 3RL

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Crosstown Doughnut & Coffee Bar – Soho

Crosstown Doughnut & Coffee Bar – Soho, 4 Broadwick St, Soho, London W1F 0DA

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Crosstown Doughnut & Coffee Bar – Shoreditch

Crosstown Doughnut & Coffee Bar – Shoreditch, 157 Brick Ln, Shoreditch, London E1 6SB

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Monty’s Deli, 227-229 Hoxton St, London N1 5LG

Monty's Deli, 227-229 Hoxton Street, Londres N1 5LG, Royaume-Uni

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Breddos Tacos

Breddos Tacos, 82 Goswell Rd, London EC1V 7DB

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The Cheese Truck

The Cheese Truck, Maltby St, London SE1 3PA

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Pizza Pilgrims West India Quay

Pizza Pilgrims West India Quay, 12 Hertsmere Rd, Canary Wharf, London E14 4AE

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Pizza Pilgrims Shoreditch BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze)

Pizza Pilgrims Shoreditch BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze), 136 Shoreditch High St, London E1 6JE

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Pizza Pilgrims Swingers

Pizza Pilgrims Swingers, 8 Browns Building, London EC3A 8AL

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Pizza Pilgrims Covent Garden

Pizza Pilgrims Covent Garden, 23 Garrick St, London WC2E 9BN

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Pizza Pilgrims Exmouth Market

Pizza Pilgrims Exmouth Market, 15 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QD

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Pizza Pilgrims Dean St, Soho

Pizza Pilgrims Dean St, Soho, 11 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 3RP

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Pizza Pilgrims Kingly St

Pizza Pilgrims Kingly St, 11 Kingly St, Carnaby, London W1B 5PW

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Pizza Pilgrims Garrick St

Pizza Pilgrims Garrick St, 23 Garrick St, London WC2E 9BN

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Bao

 

 

With its fluffy Taiwanese dumplings capturing London’s imagination since launching at Netil Market, Bao has now added two upmarket restaurants to its roster.

Order: the scallop and yellow bean dumpling.

BAO Soho, 53 Lexington St, Carnaby, London W1F 9AS
BAO Fitzrovia, 31 Windmill St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2JN
BAO Bar, Netil Market, 13-23 Westgate St, London E8 3RL

Crosstown Doughnuts

 

 

Now well established with several permanent spots across the city, Crosstown’s sourdough doughnuts are among London’s best.

Order: The peanut butter and berry doughnut.

Crosstown Doughnut & Coffee Bar – Soho, 4 Broadwick St, Soho, London W1F 0DA
Crosstown Doughnut & Coffee Bar – Shoreditch, 157 Brick Ln, Shoreditch, London E1 6SB
+ multiple market locations

Monty’s Deli

 

Une publication partagée par Ken (@kmxnsxn) le

 

With home-made pastrami, huge gherkins and high-grade house wines, Monty’s Deli’s menu is helping revolutionise London’s sandwich trade.

Order: The doorstep Reuben sandwich.

Monty’s Deli, 227-229 Hoxton St, London N1 5LG

Breddo’s Tacos

 

 

Riding the recent wave of Mexican food, Breddo’s Tacos are among the city’s best and worthy of a stop off for anyone close to Clerkenwell.

Order: Tuna tostadas and rib-eye steak tacos.

Breddos Tacos, 82 Goswell Rd, London EC1V 7DB

The Cheese Truck

 

 

Mathew Carver’s niche operation sells hot, melty takes on some of the UK’s best cheeses from a new permanent space in Camden Market.

Order: The crispy bacon and curd-topped poutine.

The Cheese Truck, Maltby St, London SE1 3PA

Pizza Pilgrims

 

 

One of the biggest street-food success stories, Pizza Pilgrims dish up from six sites around the city as well as from their signature green van.

Order: The Portobello and truffle white pizza.

Pizza Pilgrims West India Quay, 12 Hertsmere Rd, Canary Wharf, London E14 4AE
Pizza Pilgrims Shoreditch BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze), 136 Shoreditch High St, London E1 6JE
Pizza Pilgrims Swingers, 8 Browns Building, London EC3A 8AL
Pizza Pilgrims Covent Garden, 23 Garrick St, London WC2E 9BN
Pizza Pilgrims Exmouth Market, 15 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QD
Pizza Pilgrims Dean St, Soho, 11 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 3RP
Pizza Pilgrims Kingly St, 11 Kingly St, Carnaby, London W1B 5PW
Pizza Pilgrims Garrick St, 23 Garrick St, London WC2E 9BN

Cover Picture Courtesy of Nicklas Lundqvist (Flickr Creative Commons)

Ben Olsen is a London-based journalist who loves live music, empty beaches and lazy brunches.
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