I’m no restaurant or food critic, but I do have 22 reviews on TripAdvisor and whilst sadly this doesn’t give me any special privilege or kudos (despite my insistences), it should serve as an indicator to readers that I enjoy food. Helpfully, In addition to new bars and trampoline parks, Leicester has had a recent flurry of new eateries and, forgive me, ‘eating experiences’. The latest in these events is Canteen; a new street food event which began as a one off and proved so successful that it has now become a regular feature in the city.
The event is situated in the generous and well presented courtyard of the LCB depot. Though not visible from the street, a lack of passing trade clearly wasn’t any issue as the growing reputation and the unbelieve smells which lured me through the streets of Leicester like a cartoon character floating towards a cooling pie on a window sill.
I showed up after work on this glorious Friday afternoon hoping to eat before the dinner-going crowd, but I was wrong. Walking through the beautifully refurbished former bus depot I was first taken by just how busy the event already was. It was only 5 o’clock but there was already a good buzz and a great number of people milling around, busying themselves and not forming orderly queues. Seats were laid out as were picnic tables which were surrounded by a number of pastel coloured caravans and ‘pop-up’ kiosks.
I was made known to the organiser, a lovely man named James who talked me briefly through his vision and invited me to get a drink. Still a little unsure of what I was supposed to be doing and what I wanted to eat, I sat amongst the various strangers and took in these new surrounding. Despite more or less exclusively being staffed by people who look as though they’ve never spent a day in their life on or near the ‘street’, the “street food” fad grasped London a few years ago and has now entered the provinces with clearly no sign retiring. This, I guess is as much out of necessity as anything else and has fast become a means of aspiring restaurateurs to get started in a difficult and expensive business without a need for premises or the beurocracy of licensing.
Today’s independent offering were a number of well selected and varied stalls and caravans including ‘Kai’ who proudly sold Indian Street food and catering for both vegetarians, vegan and normals, ‘Homeboys’ Asian street food truck which I understands to be manned by MasterChef finalist Pete Hewitt, The Bourneville Waffle Co. which I had for dessert which I was supposed to share with my wife, but upon my return from the bar after drink 3 declared it so delicious she ate all of it and had decided that my disappointment was not sufficient penance to save me any. Leicester favorites
‘Greys’ presented a wonderful selection of tapas and snacks and promoted service at both the LCB depot where I visited and as of this week at The Cookie on High Street. In addition to food stalls, there was provision to drink from 3 different bars selling drafts, a bottle shop and cockatil bar.
Two drinks in I decided it was time to get food. I’m a bit of a sheep as I often just join whichever queue is longest, assuming that this will be the best. Today my blind patience was met by ‘Big Daddy’, or potentially his son. Unsurprising Big Daddy sold big ass hot dogs – like trucker size – with a variety of toppings. As hotdogs go these were good, big, but ultimately fairly standard sausages. What set them apart were the extras which range included chilli, mac and cheese and pulled pork. Again, nothing surprising however each were individually cooked to perfection and I would have happily had either on their own.
Between my friends and I, we tried most of what was on offer. I’d have kept going but by 6 o’clock the now large queues and expense prevented me. There was no cheap food really and some samples would have been a helpful gesture. Ultimately though, the concept sat well with me. I’m sure that traditionally vendors such as these would operate out of demographic specific and distinct ‘quarters’ or areas of the city, however I’m of the view that street food works better as a cluster of traders and really promotes a sense of community and polite competition.
As a consumer, awareness of where my food comes from has become increasingly important and food festivals such as this allow us to reconnect with the people who make and produce it and indeed the land from where it comes. Yes, ‘it’s all a bit Shoreditch’, as I heard someone say, and frankly it was very trendy. Craft beers, concept foods, pulled meats; I don’t think I need to go into it further than saying it looked a little like Urban Outfitters opened a restaurant. This may make people cynical, however the reality was very different from what you’d expect as men with tiny hats as beards sat next to families. There were small children, students and a polite man boasting an impressive age of 92. Canteen was welcoming to all. There was no dress code, no agenda and remarkably, no pretence.
April’s Canteen offering is set to be even bigger so ensure that you check the website and get down early.
Canteen takes place on the last Friday of every month at LCB Depot.