Thursday, 10 December 2015

A beautiful rice bowl with pork - Leather Lane

Lunch, it can be a difficult meal. Often, it's the same old, same old; the same coffee shop, the same cafe, the same Turkish wrap. Of course, discovering new and exciting options requires research, energy, faith, and carries the very real risk of disappointment - so most of us don't bother.

Sure, the usual option is dull, boring, and mediocre, but at least we know just how mediocre it will be.

After discovering a mountain of Pret receipts stuffed in a desk draw and realising that there was little on their shelves that I hadn't tried, I vowed to risk disappointment more often.

First stop, Leather Lane. Around the corner from my parliamentary second home (or girlfriend's flat, as it's also known), this street is a quarter mile of stall selling complete and utter tat, out of season vegetables (asparagus, in December?!), and street food.

This is real street food. Not the hipster type, cooked by young people who selfishly jacked in their soul-destroying jobs at various blood-sucking ad agencies, to learn new skills and bring impressive cuisine to our doorsteps for under a fiver.

No, this is the other type, cooked by grizzled looking old-school cooks, who've sliced the same cut of meat ten thousand times, and whose skin has absorbed every type of weather the British climate can produce - equal parts wind and drizzle, topped up with a dash of sun.

Actually, I lie. There's plenty of both sort on Leather Lane. The young fresh-faced variety, whose energy, passion, and skill makes you sick; and the old long-in-the-tooth types, whose wisdom, experience, and tenacity also makes you sick.

As ever, a 'journalists' (ha!) narrative is far better when it strays from the truth, so I view Leather Lane firmly through the wrinkled spectacles of a hammer seeking an old grizzled chef-of-a-nail.

Today's lunch fits this narrative perfectly. A bowl of rice, on top of which sits three carefully selected wilted flowers of broccoli and a handful of the butteriest, fat-rendered, cracklin' crunchin' pork you're ever likely to find. The rice, merely a plate for this eye-wateringly delicious meat; while the vegetables, just a distraction and a token nod towards the green end of the food health wheel.

Each bowl is served at breakneck speed from four Asian vendors, who work the stand like a military-run production line. Eyes down, pork chopped, chicken turned, rice spooned, vegetables vegetabling. Five pounds fifty, a set of chopsticks, and you're gone - the smell of rendered fat still tingling your nostrils in the best possible way.

I can't tell you what the stall is called, just give a vague description (outside Pie Minister, in the street, just to the left of the entrance). These guys don't have a Twitter account, Snapchat, pork filtered Instagram pics, and a Pinterest mood-board of kittens, piglets, and their favourite office space. Well, they might, but (again) why break a perfect narrative with needless research? They do have a tarpaulin, four solid-ish looking metal beams, an oven, and a cleaver. The only tools they need to deliver near-endless pork-filled bowls of joy to us salivating dogs, queuing in the cold along Leather Lane.

Pret will have to work mighty hard to prise me away from this tinpot shed, I can tell you that much. They'll need a miracle - something akin to that inch of charred pork skin, for under a fiver - before I return.

That said, I'll probably swing by tomorrow for my usual ten o'clock coffee and gingerbread break. Two quid for both, leaving two pence for charity; there are just some habits even I can't kick.

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