For the Love of Food

The stalls looked almost as good as the food
The stalls looked almost as good as the food

For The Love of Food review: Alexander Rhodes samples the offering at For The Love of Food Festival …

As I wandered towards Millennium Square I didn’t quite know what to expect from the For The Love of Food festival. I was certainly excited for the grub, in fact I deliberately skipped breakfast to try and justify the calorie onslaught that I was planning to inflict on my body. However at the same time I was a little trepidatious, I was worried I was going to be a bit out of my depth. Visions of bearded hipsters discussing “new age tastes with vintage themes” swam uneasily through my mind. I wouldn’t really describe myself as a foodie. Foodies rejoice in the whole culinary experience, they want to know where every ingredient has come from, why it was selected, composition on the plate, how it was prepared and so on. For them the devil is in the detail but for me the proof is in the pudding. It boils down to a simple question, does it taste nice?

So armed only with this somewhat basic approach I handed over my ticket and warily edged my way into For The Love of Food. The first thing that hit me was the sheer amount of people, it was midday on a not an especially warm Saturday and the square was pretty much full. My fear that it would be populated only by hipsters turned out to be unfounded as well, all sorts were there. Couples and families, the old and the young. I even spotted the occasional bleary eyed fresher, no doubt looking for something to line their stomachs before the evening’s festivities.

Dotted around were the street food traders themselves, from funky vans to chic stalls – they certainly weren’t beaten up old burger cars. As I ventured further in the smells began to wash over me, combining and swirling in a maelstrom that was bound to get anyone’s mouth watering. The hardest part was choosing which place to go first.

Eventually I set my sights on The Little Blue Smokehouse. They specialise in beef and pork, cured, rubbed and smoked for hours. I ordered a beef brisket roll with some mild, homemade hot sauce. It was absolutely delicious. The meat melted in the mouth, with the charcoaled outer bits giving it a satisfying crunch. The hot sauce had a nice kick but didn’t overpower the smokey flavour of the beef that can only be achieved through hours of slow cooking. A cracking start to the day all things considered.

Next stop was the Cauldron, boasting “new wave farmhouse street food”, they were making pork belly wraps. The pork was rubbed with fennel, chilli and garlic and it came with salad and their special bang bang sauce. I’m sad to say it didn’t really do anything for me, the bang bang sauce was a bit strong and watery for my tastes and I felt I didn’t really get to taste the meat.

At this point I was already getting full, so I thought it’d be a good time to have a proper look around. There were plenty of things going on, break dancers and artists wowed the crowds and there was even Queue-oke. Essentially a man goes around with an amp strapped to his back and a microphone and people queuing up for food have a singalong, thankfully I managed to stay out of his way and spared everyone my horrible wailing.

However he could have got someone who could have really done it justice. Award winning, number one DJ Naughty Boy was there and I only realised it was him when he handed me a chicken wing. And you know what? If singing doesn’t work out for him he could definitely make a career selling those things, they were great. Proper sized wings with spices that left your mouth tingling. Naughty Boy was set to perform in the evening but it was a nice surprise to see him getting involved in the food side as well.

I was now working up a real thirst so I decided it was time to cash in my free beer token. There were two beer stalls, Brooklyn Beer and Erdinger Weissbeer. Both are very nice and not too heavy but I was expecting something a bit more exotic or independent to go with the food. However it was free so I can’t complain too much.

Despite my groaning belt buckle I managed to convince myself that I was now hungry again so I thought it was high time I tried out a burger. The Original Patty Men was the next port of call and judging from the massive line it was certainly a popular choice. I could have chosen the Krispy Kreme burger, which had bacon, cheese and maple syrup with doughnuts for buns but I figured I kind of wanted to make it to forty years old without having a massive heart attack so chose the standard option. It was everything you want in a burger, juicy and tender with good quality cheese you just can’t get in a McDonalds or fast food joint. Not terribly experimental but it didn’t need to be, sometimes you just fancy a burger and I urge you to seek these guys out if you’re ever in the mood.

I figured I had just enough room for one more taster but before that I thought I’d cleanse my palate, as it were, with something I had spotted earlier. The Pickleback Bar was a darkish pavilion in a corner of the square and judging by the somewhat merry people outside of it I figured it must have been doing something right. I approached the bar and ordered a classic pickleback – this turned out to be a shot of whisky followed by a shot of their homemade pickle brine. Unique was one of describing it, absolutely horrendous would be another way. I thought it’d be one of those combinations that sounds odd on paper but just works – sadly it didn’t work for me. People kept coming back for more so this clearly came down to personal taste. I’m sure it was very high quality pickle brine but it still didn’t change the fact it was still, at the end of the day, pickle brine. To be fair it did cleanse the palate but technically so would bleach.

I chose a neat little stall called Dorshi as the way to get the taste of pickle out of my mouth. They were making a variety of eastern dumplings. I chose steamed pork and black pudding and fried coley with lime and dill. They were sweet, sticky and lovely soft mouthfuls just bursting with flavour. It was an excellent light way to finish off the day. I was now absolutely stuffed to the brim and had a thoroughly entertaining day.

I posed a question at the start, does it taste nice? The answer is an emphatic yes, whilst not everything was to my personal preference I couldn’t dispute the quality and care that went into each and every dish. Everyone showed innovation and a flair for taste that even the swankiest London restaurant could learn a lesson from. You could see, smell and taste joy for food all created in a wild abandon and served to you and me on the street. They prove you don’t have to pay top dollar if you want good food, you don’t have to book a table, to you don’t have to wear a jacket and tie. Good food has spilled beyond the restaurant, now you can find it on the high street or in a train station because a group of artists (yes artists) simply decided they didn’t want to be confined anymore.

Perhaps the best summation of the day and street food in general came from the bartender at the Pickleback bar. Whilst I was spluttering and trying to keep my rather large lunch down after drinking a pickleback, I said, “I’ve got to ask, why pickle?” She simply laughed and replied, “Why not?”

Why not indeed.