By Masa Serdarevic | FT.com
Parked in Broadgate Circle in London’s financial district stands a shiny Airstream trailer serving food to a queue of hungry-looking workers from the surrounding offices. They are trying to decide whether lunch should be the “roast fillet of salmon with marinated beetroot, mustard leaves, crushed potatoes and horseradish dressing” or the “yellow courgette salad with beetroot, crushed potatoes, pickled onions, mustard leaves and Old Winchester”.
Street Kitchen was launched by Mark Jankel, former head chef at the Notting Hill Brasserie, and Jun Tanaka, head chef at Pearl, who trained at Le Gavroche. After meeting at a food festival last year, they “thought it would be cool to set up a food truck outside a posh restaurant”, says Mr Jankel. “We wanted to show you could have really tasty, restaurant-standard, sustainably-sourced food delivered at a much lower price.”
Street Kitchen is part of a new generation of gourmet food trucks that have appeared on the streets of London to serve a demanding clientele that wants good, fresh, healthy food – and fast.
Gone are the days when ordering from a food truck meant getting a burnt burger made of suspicious-looking meat and shoved into a dry, white bun.
The Street Kitchen’s main dishes cost between £5.50 and £7.50 but the real draw for customers seems to be the healthy and tasty food in a convenient location.
“You can look up the menu online, and someone can go down to get lunch for the whole team,” says a young broker waiting in the queue. “I like this because it’s something different, and it’s proper cooked food.”
Nearby in London’s Whitecross Street, Luardos sells burritos from a lime- green truck. Set up by Simon Luard in 2007, it is well known in the area for its long queues and generous portions. Nothing costs more than £5. “The street food scene here has gone mad in the past year or so. There are so many new, really interesting things going on,” says Mr Luard.
Other ventures around London include Wholefood Heaven, which serves vegetarian dishes from a restored Citroën H van around the City, and Bhangra Burger on the South Bank. Meatwagon, which is popular for its steak burger, serves from various locations, mostly in south London, while Churros Bros does a brisk trade in traditional Spanish fried doughnut sticks dipped in chocolate.
The gourmet food truck phenomenon initially began in Los Angeles and spread to the US’s east coast. Often, as is the case with Street Kitchen, the trucks are set up by young chefs with an interesting concept to try out, who want to do it without spending large amounts of capital needed to start up a restaurant.
The spread of social media has been instrumental in driving the popularity of this movement. As the vendors move around, most will update fans with their location through Twitter or Facebook. Some even ask for suggestions on what to serve next week.
While it can sometimes be difficult to obtain a permit from local authorities to pitch up on the street, some, like Street Kitchen, are on private land.
Yet, if the food truck phenomenon is to become more than just a passing fad, the ventures will need to be able to grow. Street Kitchen at present serves between 200 and 250 meals a day, four days a week, and employs seven people. It prides itself on its unique, sustainable supply chain that has taken more than a year to build. All ingredients are directly sourced from UK farms using sustainable methods. But this also increases costs. “Our margins are crap,” admits Mr Jankel, “so we need to do volume and expand.”
More Street Kitchen food trucks are on the way, as is a “hole in the wall” in its preparation facility in a south London warehouse, and a roof garden on top of the building to supply vegetables. Mr Jankel is also in the process of setting up a restaurant that relies on its sustainable supply chain.
“People love what we’re serving. I see no reason why this isn’t going to grow and expand,” he says.