(This review also appears on Hoxton Radio)
Street food is booming. Any bust, if suffered, won't come from a lack of demand; rather it will come from council restrictions, red tape, and intervention (see the sufferings of Kerb's Gherkin pitch) and, quite possibly, the weather.
The British weather doesn't do much to aid the success of street food. It's clear that demand exists as affluent and discerning folks, young and old, are keen to spend money on novel foods of the highest quality. However, it's unlikely they'll want to nibble chicken from the bone in minus temperatures or scoff a pulled pork roll in a force 10 gale. The best soy marinade and hot sauce be dammed. What would help vendors respond to the weather would surely be support from the local authorities. Reduced rates in winter months, temporary shelters, and the use of covered spaces, for example, rather than arbitrary cease and desist orders for what seem to be popular markets.
The weather killed my first attempt to visit Urban Food Fest. What started as a July drizzle turned to a monsoon and we dived for cover beneath Yalla Yalla's tin roof. Thankfully, this time, after another 24-hour deluge welcoming the arrival of Autumn, the rain clouds parted to reveal a beautifully clear bank of far drier clouds over East London.
Occupying a small car park, just north of Shoreditch High Street Station, next to a petrol station and opposite a strip club, Urban Food Fest is not in a scenic spot. But it is accessible and the crush of brightly coloured food trucks squeezed together in a tight laager blocks out the ugly surroundings, leaving you to gape at the bewildering choice on offer.
Closing my mouth and wiping the dribble from my chin, I opted for the vendor with the shortest queue. Clearly, Shoreditch residents live on the edge, but not close enough to try frogs legs and sweet potato fries from Geaux Cajun. It's a shame because the legs are like small tender pieces of chicken, clinging to a fragile bone, coated in a hot dry dusting of spice - simply delicious. The fries are a nice warming accompaniment, too delicate for fingers, great with a forkful of coleslaw to cool a previous mouthful of hot frog.
The second course was the goal of my quest. Once again, Twitter provides a useful marketing tool for vendors. No sooner had Busan BBQ tweeted about their double-fried chicken in sweet sticky chilli, than I had the date down in my diary. We went for a soy marinade in the end - those frogs still tingled my tongue - and the chicken arrived in a dry, almost tempura-like batter, piled in a paper tray above a small dribble of the marinade for some dipping action. An excellent choice alongside a cold beer.
Tempted next by an Argentinian empanada, I realised the limitations this would pose upon pudding and went instead for a final course of yet more batter. Lightly sugared with a chocolate dip, churros from Churros Garcia is one of those foods I could eat continuously until caught by a heart attack. They really should light their stand up though. It's red in colour, but doesn't stand out when compared to the artwork-cum-pizza-wagon that is Streetzza. As darkness descended, it resembled a vacant pitch between the empanadas, steaks, and mushrooms on either side.
With Yalla Yalla just two doors down, Urban Food Fest gives residents and visitors to Shoreditch options come rain or shine on a Saturday evening. It's a good place for a snack, three course meal, or, if you get your drinking hat on, the start of a night out. With dates listed each Saturday until October 12th, get down there soon before the weather turns uglier still.