British Street Food Awards 2016: the winners

British Street Food Awards 2016: the winners

by Hugh Thomas 27 September 2016

Hugh Thomas talks to Lee Desanges to see why his business Baked in Brick managed to clinch the top title at this year’s British Street Food Awards.

Hugh is a freelance food journalist and professional glutton. Previously, he has written for The Guardian, Time Out, Restaurant magazine, British Street Food, and inapub.

Hugh is a freelance food journalist and professional glutton. Previously, he has written for The Guardian, Time Out, Restaurant magazine, British Street Food, and inapub.

Best of the Best – that’s what the panel of judges declared Lee Desanges’ Baked in Brick at the final of the 2016 British Street Food Awards last weekend. There was something about his beef shin ragu and mushroom calzone that made judges Xanthe Clay, Richard Johnson and Michelin-starred chefs Simon Hulstone, Brad Carter and Nathan Eades go weak at the knees. Yes, pun fully intended.

As well as full bragging rights, Lee’s Baked in Brick gets a free pitch in Leeds’ Trinity Kitchen. And a complementary showcase at one of Street Feast’s famous gigs. And an invitation to come back and trade at the Digbeth Dining Club. It’s the mother of all prizes, but has it all sunk in yet? ‘Not really,’ says Lee. ‘When I walked down those stairs from the stage at the Awards it was… well, it was a bit weird.’

Two years ago, Lee was watching Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. Richard Johnson, the founder of British Street Food, was on the programme promoting the finals of the 2014 Awards in Leeds. ‘So I took myself off to see what it was all about,’ says Lee. ‘Blown away by the calibre of the traders, I wanted to catch some of the talks on setting up a business in street food. I was late for those, so I bombarded Richard with loads of questions. He told me to try and stand out from other traders if I wanted to be successful. In a nutshell, if it wasn’t for Richard’s advice I may not be where I am today.’

Back in 2014, the only experience Lee had in street food catering was hosting ‘pizza parties’ in his back garden. ‘But I was a regular at the Digbeth Dining Club in Birmingham,’ he explains. ‘When I was first introduced to [co-founder] Jack Brabant, I told him I wanted to serve pizza out of a converted Mini. Jack said he’d already got two pizza traders, and didn’t want any more. That’s when I decided to do my chicken tikka on the bonnet. That’s what created a huge impression.’

When you show a bit of thigh like Lee does, maybe it’s no surprise he went on to win. That’s his secret, after all. ‘Chicken breast will go dry really quickly, whereas thigh has lots of fat in it. Breast may be healthier, but there’s a lot more flavour on thigh meat.’

Lee started Baked in Brick just two years ago, but has now been voted the best street food trader in the UK
Street Food Awards
This year's awards were held at Digbeth Dining Club, near Birmingham, and had shacks, trucks and stalls of all kinds serving up some of the tastiest food in the country

Winning pedigree

It may sound like a simple recipe for success, but as Lee suggests: do something a bit different, do it well, and you’ve got a chance. It’s the same across the UK. Take the ingenuity of Northern Ireland’s Broughgammon Farm, who earned several fans (and the judges’ award for Best Snack) for their goat offal and chorizo taco. Or Man Meat Fire’s Best Dessert-winning chocolate Fallen Angel Cake, cooked over wood embers and served with a bourbon-soaked cherry.

Variety is what sells in street food. That’s why the 2016 Awards attracted over 5,000 people across the weekend, from Birmingham and beyond – a fact that may well have helped home favourites Buddha Belly come out on top as the People’s Choice. But that’s not to say Buddha Belly – and their marinated crispy Thai chicken – couldn’t have done it without the home support.

Burgers are a street food classic. A two-fisted classic, which will always have traders looking to leave their mark. And the Awards had everything from Pheasant Hill’s apple-grazed pork sliders to Eat The Farm’s steak patty with Kentish blue cheese and red onion chutney. The Best Burger in show, however, went to London’s Cheeky Burger and their chuck, rib, brisket and bone marrow patty with Comté cheese, confit onion and smoked applewood bacon.

In fact, almost anything that involved two slices of bread had a good rep at the Awards – the steamed bun especially. Le Bao fought off hot competition, from the industrious Dim Sum Su and her pork gau bao, with their own braised pork belly, mirin cucumbers and peanut served in a steamed bun.

Carnivores may have been spoilt for choice but vegetarians didn’t have a bad selection either, what with Cheeky Indian’s diced paneer, mixed peppers and onion sautéed in a spiced barbecue sauce. And Buddha Belly’s vegan yellow curry, held in high regard even by the most vociferous meat eaters. Still, it wasn’t quite enough for the judges, who awarded Dosa Deli’s chilli cheese dosa with the Best Vegetarian title.

Birmingham brought together traders from all over the UK, including west Wales, Northern Ireland and the furthest reaches of Devon. Yet they all had one thing in common – a clear and unerring love for good food. Win or lose. In many ways, Lee’s story shows what that passion can do for you in this industry. Building an oven in his back garden then turning it into the UK’s best street food business in under two years? That’s what it’s all about.