It takes a certain kind of groovy culturepreneur to spot an empty Travis Perkins builders’ yard in Haggerston and turn it into Street Feast, a nocturnal food market that draws 3,000 people to scoff exotic street snacks, listen to DJs and knock back gin cocktails every Friday night and Saturday.
If you wanted to invent a name for such a person, you couldn’t do much better than calling him Dominic Cools-Lartigue. “It’s a festival experience but in the middle of London, and it happens every week,” says the 39-year-old former club manager and music promoter. “We’ve got to a point where we want to do more than just sit in a restaurant or a pub.”
When Cools-Lartigue (whom I shall call DCL, for brevity’s sake) first mounted Street Feast in a hidden-away venue in Dalston last year, he says it was “mostly early-adopters and people from the community who came. Now, everyone knows about it and people come from all over London.” With two weeks of Street Feast left before the diggers move in to build a school on the site, “there’s already a frantic desire among people to make sure they’ve been here”.
This year’s event built on the success of the original. On Fridays there are 19 or 20 food stalls arranged in a horseshoe around communal tables, plus a bar run by the Svengali of London booze culture, Jonathan Downey. Alongside urban food favourites such as Spit and Roast’s chicken and Anna Mae’s mac and cheese, DCL is enthused by new arrivals Waffle On and the Seychelles-inspired Vinn Goute. In the mezzanine building to the side of the site, Ben Spalding runs Stripped Back, a simpler, faster version of the food he cooked at the likes of Roganic and John Salt.
“He’s a closet raver — he came to all my parties — and so passionate about what he does,” says DCL. “I ate there last Friday and he did this amazing savoury trifle with Parma ham in it, and a bread and butter foam that you lick off your hand.”
On Saturdays the mezzanine is given over to themed events and cook-offs organised by Downey: this weekend it’s Ribstock (eight street-food traders competing to cook ribs) and it’s sold out. But DCL assures me there’ll be plenty else to see and eat. And that the chefs will carry on ribbing after the 6pm competition finale.
But if you can’t make it to Haggerston, don’t worry. DCL is already eyeing up sites, including one in Brick Lane, for the next Street Feast. Later this year at Wood Wharf on the Isle of Dogs, he’s planning Truckstop, an event with 25 food trucks, a soul food diner and a bar with an Americana vibe. There’s space there for 4,000-5,000 people.
He has advised entrepreneurs from Russia and Paris about mounting night food markets, and in July he’ll look into running his own in Berlin. “I don’t come from street food — nightlife culture is what I understand,” he says. It’s the alchemy, the synergy and sense of community that gets him going: “The same energy you get from clubbing.”
DCL’s grandfather was the first native governor of the French-influenced Commonwealth of Dominica. He himself grew up the only child of a single mother — a teacher, seamstress and keen cook — in Portobello Road. Expelled from sixth form college in Ealing (for being drunk, I gather) he ended up running the iconic rave venue Linford Film Studios for a friend “until some gangsters got involved”. More clubs and festivals followed, including Home in Leicester Square and a Sunday night/Monday morning event called Fuse, which had a massive summer residency in Ibiza two years ago. But by then, DCL had a two-year-old son, Remy, with his former partner, a make-up artist, and he was tiring of the underground dance scene. “People were like, ‘Why would you leave the biggest party in London?’,” he recalls. “I said, ‘I should be kicking a football with my son, rather than running around with a bunch of 21-year-olds on ketamine’.”
At a friend’s wedding in New York, he was impressed by the city’s night markets, and realised the burgeoning street food scene in London could be corralled into something similar. Father and son did intensive research trips to markets and stalls on their weekends together before he set up Street Feast: “Remy actually thinks it’s his market. He says, ‘I told you we should get the Rib Man to come, daddy, look at his queue’.”
This is all very well for the East End, I grumble, but what about us in south London? Can’t we have an explosion of foodie culture? We’ve got horrid Travis Perkins yards, too. “I don’t see it as an east London thing,” says DCL. “It’s kicking off all over London and all over the country. There’s a big thing coming in Peckham, stuff happening in Swansea and Hornchurch …”
Burrito-toting hipsters in Hornchurch? You heard it here first.
DCL’S TOP FIVE LONDON WEEKEND HAUNTS
1. Walking up Portobello Road. It’s where I grew up and I love sharing childhood memories from there with my son. I always look out to see which shops are still standing from when I was a kid.
2. I’m still blown away by what’s going on with Brixton Market. I moved to Brixton when I left Portobello in the early Nineties.
3. When we were setting up Street Feast at the Merchant Yard we pretty much planned the whole thing from HER (Haggerston Espresso Room). The girls who run it are always up for a laugh, they play great tunes.
4. I hardly get to Soho these days but when I do I always check out the Pertwee, Anderson & Gold gallery on Bateman Street. They’ve got a new show called True Love Stories opening today from New York duo Connor Brothers, which looks really interesting.
5. Really looking forward to Rumstock. It’ll be sometime in early September. Last year was a brilliant day of sun, rum and reggae.