Not so long ago, dining out as a vegetarian meant limited options, and for vegans the choice was practically non-existent. Today, plant-based diets have taken off in a big way, with experts predicting that 13 million Brits will be vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian by the end of 2021. Even for those who can’t commit to going full veggie, a ‘flexi’ approach is also on the rise, with 14% of the population now classifying themselves as ‘flexitarian’, according to a recent YouGov survey. New Netflix documentary Seaspiracy has brought the plight of our oceans and the devastating effects of overfishing to the fore, and celebrities who extol plant-based diets – including Benedict Cumberbatch, Liam Hemsworth and Ariana Grande – have also affected public perceptions of veganism.
This spring saw the welcome return of the popular Street Food Fridays market at London City Island. The eclectic range of world cuisine offers something to satisfy all palates, including those who don’t eat meat. Terra Trattoria specialises in vegan and vegetarian ‘rustic Italian street food’, providing a meat-free twist on the traditionally carnivorous Italian diet. Artisanal dishes include roasted red onion and ricotta tortellini, beetroot gnocchi, and activated charcoal tagliatelle.
The Vegan Society has noted that interest in veganism is ‘at an all-time high’. The charity saw interest skyrocket during 2020, registering more than 50,000 products with its trademark logo, smashing all previous records. This implies that consumers are increasingly aware, not just of their own health, but how their diets are impacting the planet.
Vegan pasta from Terra Trattoria at Street Food Fridays at London City Island
“Customers are increasingly searching for ways to reconnect with the food system.”
JESSICA ABELA, SELFRIDGES PRODUCT DEVELOPER
Selfridges product developer, Jessica Abela, commented that: ‘Sustainability, biodiversity and community driven considerations were driving many consumers’ food and drink choices before the pandemic. This has accelerated and customers are increasingly searching for ways to reconnect with the food system.’
Shopping and dining local is one of the best ways to support the hard-hit hospitality industry while minimising carbon footprint. Alongside the return of Street Food Fridays to London City Island is the Sunday Farmer’s Market, where shoppers can pick up locally sourced fresh fruit and veg, seafood, meat and cheeses. All-day dining hub and deli Homestead, founded by MasterChef champ Sven-Hanson Britt, has been providing locals with everything from croissants and wine to fresh flowers and candles throughout lockdown; all the while championing premium British produce and suppliers. This philosophy extends to boutique chocolatier Cartografie, co-founded by Britt and Kae Shibata. The critically acclaimed workshop and store takes sustainability seriously by sourcing its cocoa and ingredients directly from the source, using biodegradable packaging, and having a strict zero-waste policy.
London City Island's Homestead champions premium British produce and suppliers
Identified by foodie website The Food People, ‘streeteries’ encompasses all manner of curb-side and street vendors, which will continue to pop-up all over London this summer even as restrictions ease. London is no stranger to street food markets and is a world-leader in diverse and innovative pop-ups that are informal yet premium.
Street Food Fridays at London City Island is no exception, and the variety of vendors reflects the average Londoner’s desire to sample the latest must-try dish. Whether it’s delicious churros from Churros Jo, traditional Valencian paella from Paella Shack, fresh Greek street food from Souvlaki Street and Indian bites from Bharuch to Bombay, or contemporary offerings such as Filipino-inspired Bao from Harlem 2 Manila and Japanese fusion from Myo’s Japanese Fusian, there’s truly something for everyone.
Mercato Metropolitano is planning to launch a new neighbourhood concept in Canary Wharf this summer, just minutes away from London City Island. The brand is known for its large-scale market-style venues that allow diners and shoppers to pick and choose between stalls serving delicious artisanal dishes and drinks, focusing on natural and ethical producers. Called MMy Wood Wharf, the new Canary Wharf market will stretch over 600sq ft and two floors on George Street, demonstrating the unending appetite Londoners have for innovative street-food style dining.
Paella Shack at Street Food Fridays at London City Island
“London is a world-leader in diverse and innovative food pop-ups”
With restrictions eased in April, thousands of us flocked (armed with blankets and thermals) to our favourite bars and restaurants with outdoor space. And sales of garden furniture and picnic accessories have allegedly ‘saved the high street’, with sales steadily increasing month on month.
While comfort and retro food have been cited as a trend for 2021 (think sherry and old school puddings), people are also desperate to treat themselves following months of limited socialising. The Food People describes this trend as ‘mini splurge’, with people ‘treating themselves with edible touches of little luxuries.’ Wave goodbye to the humble egg mayo sandwich and scotch egg, and say hello artisanal cheeses, Dorset oysters and single origin coffee served on Instagrammable ‘tablescaped’ picnic tables.
Sales in pizza ovens and fire pits have also increased, which ties into another alfresco trend for fire-cooked food. Homestead cooks many dishes, such as sourdough pizza, smoked cheese toasties and burgers, on grills and coals, and has just unveiled its newly refurbished outdoor terrace. And for those who love their premium meats, award-winning private members club-style eatery M Restaurant, which champions premium wagyu beef and sustainably sourced seafood cooked with ‘coal, wood, smoke and ice’, is opening its third London venue in Canary Wharf later this year.
Alfresco dining at Homestead, London City Island
Waitrose recently released its food fashion predictions for 2021, noting a renewed interest in Asian flavours. The supermarket has seen a sharp rise in sales of Chinese rice vinegar, Mirin rice wine and Japanese rice vinegar, while ‘trendy’ ingredients that have been used in Asian cuisine for centuries are increasingly common on our shores. These include banana blossom and jackfruit (used as meat substitutes), and ‘superfoods’ such as turmeric, lemongrass, yuzu lemon and kombucha.
One often overlooked culinary offering within the huge continent of Asia is Afghan cuisine. Founded in 2019 by friends Zia Ahmad Haidari and Gul Ahmad, 2Lads Kitchen is on a mission to bring the ‘essence of Afghan food to England’ through a regular spot at the Street Food Fridays market.
The signature dish at 2Lads is a hearty Afghan Wrap made of barbecued chicken thighs marinated for 24 hours and wrapped in a fresh Afghan naan. The dish is served with salad, seasoned boiled potatoes and lashings of black pepper yoghurt ‘secret green sauce’ and chilli sauce.
‘The best thing about traditional Afghan food is the depth and varying tastes that can be found in only one dish,’ said Zul. ‘It’s just amazing.’
“The best thing about traditional Afghan food is the depth of tastes that can be found in only one dish”
ZIA AHMAD HAIDARI, 2LADS KITCHEN
Pre-mixed alcoholic drinks have come a long way since cheap sugary tinnies from the local corner shop. Following multiple lockdowns and the closure of pubs and bars over the past year, it’s little wonder that many of us have become at-home mixologists, with an increase in delivery alcohol services and pre-made kits. Fortunately, the calibre of such DIY services is at an all-time high.
‘Since Covid-19 decimated the events industry, we’ve seen a huge increase in ready-to-drink cocktail bottles and a surge in restaurants delivering drinks to homes as a way to quench their thirst without stepping outside,’ says Kunal Dave, director of Bearded Man Cocktails, a father-and-son owned mobile bar service, which you can catch at Street Food Fridays. ‘This is something we’re also involved in, selling batched, ready to drink cocktail bottles.’
In other cocktail news, Japanese-style Highball cocktail bar Soda & Friends is set to open at London City Island this June. The Lockdown Beach Hut is currently serving open for alfresco prosecco and beer ahead of The Lockdown Room’s launch in July.
Although pubs and restaurants are finally starting to open again, high-quality pre-made cocktails look set to stay for 2021. ‘We’re working on loads of summer drinks with the weather brightening up,’ says Dave. ‘In the summer, our best-selling tipple is the classic Mojito, you can’t beat it. We love coming down and serving the people of London City Island. What’s really great is that we have started seeing quite a few familiar faces waiting for our drinks. It has a really nice community spirit, which is growing with the Friday street food market – it’s awesome to be a part of it.’
The Homestead full English breakfast at-home kit
Innovation has long been at the heart of London’s culinary scene, and the effects of the pandemic only strengthened this. Many restaurateurs had to close their doors, but stayed afloat by launching delivery services, meal kits and virtual cooking classes. Lockdown actually inspired many young chefs to take the plunge and launch their own businesses. Now with restrictions easing, these same ambitious chefs are keen to keep this spirit of innovation alive and show what they can really do.
This is the case for MasterChef champ Sven-Hanson Britt and his partner Kae Shibata, who uprooted everything to move to and start their businesses at London City Island last year. Both have been innovative in their approach, with Shibata hosting online chocolate tasting sessions and even a special Easter Egg hunt on the Island. Britt also stepped up when lockdown forced him to close Homestead just days after its launch, and the takeaway and delivery service is still going strong. With restrictions easing and the terrace thriving, Britt is keen to show off his vision for Homestead to full effect, introducing Sunday DJ sessions and floristry workshops, and offering themed at-home kits, such as fresh pasta and even a full English breakfast.*
Following a difficult year, we are all hungry for new experiences, and it looks like London’s best and brightest chefs will be delivering just that for the foreseeable.
In partnership with Urban Food Fest and Ace Events, London City Island will be running street food markets on the following dates: July 24 and 30, August 13 and 27, and September 3 and 10. These will be free to attend and will also feature live music performances from the likes of singer-songwriter Logan J Parker and Afrobeats superstar Vincent Bugozi. For the latest information on the next Street Food Fridays at Hopewell Square check London City Island’s Instagram for updates.
*Update March 2022: Please note that Homestead is now closed. A new venture will be opening soon.