Remember when street food was a dirty burger from an insalubrious van on a Saturday night? Those days seem long gone now. Ever since the foodie world claimed it as its own, connotations of street food have changed beyond recognition, and you’re now more likely to pick up a gourmet pulled pork bun (brioche, of course), than soggy chips and a stomach ache.
Like it or loathe it, it’s here to stay, and I’m personally delighted that Leeds has embraced the street food craze with wide, open arms. From regular food festivals to world street food markets, our city centre streets are now dotted with a vast and exciting array of vans and vendors, their enticing aromas interfering with our shopping habits so that our quick nip into Boots will often come with a side of the best fish and chips you will ever taste (Fish&, I’m Looking at you!)
And that’s all very well in the summer, but what about when the great British winter sets in and Leeds plunges into a climate that’s decidedly unfavourable for al fresco dining?
Trinity Leeds may have just the answer. Opening this Thursday 17 October is Trinity Kitchen, touted as an indoor food market charged with ‘bringing the British Street Food Movement into the heart of Trinity Leeds’. Sweeping statements aside, what Trinity Kitchen is essentially doing is bringing the street indoors, with a huge central space above Albion Street hosting revolving pop up vendors and street food vans alongside permanent street-food style brands and restaurants. And that’s not all. We’re also promised that Trinity Kitchen will demonstrate its authentic street food credentials with live cooking demos, beer and wine tasting and live entertainment, all under one lovely, insulated roof so that you can enjoy your street food AND feel your fingers this winter.
I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first. Doesn’t bringing street food indoors defeat the object? Isn’t this just a glorified shopping centre food court? Will they make room for our independents?
My skepticisim and I attended a sneak preview yesterday ahead of the official opening, and I have to say, my doubts have been silenced. I was impressed. Inspired even. And very excited. Trinity Leeds has done a damn good job. The clinical, uninspiring ‘food court’ vibe has been triumphantly avoided, and in its place is what feels like a huge, blank canvas of possibility, awash with exposed industrial beams, leaf-adorned walls and neon-a-plenty. Its decor is striking but deliberately minimal, allowing its street food vendors to have your full attention. And how could they not? Colourful carts and chintzy garden sheds sit alongside neon-cladded open kitchens, all creating a collision of hypnotic aromas that beg to be investigated.
And investigate we did, sampling the spoils of Pho, a Vietnamese street food restaurant opening its first outlet outside London. It’s never going to be the same as the delicacies that you’d find in Vietnam, but anything that conjures the exotic tastes of Vietnam is fine with me! I adore Vietnamese summer rolls and Pho’s incarnations definitely didn’t disappoint – an intoxicating fusion of aromatic herbs and leaves, crunchy raw vegetables and noodles wrapped up tightly in soft rice paper and served with a zingy nuoc cham sauce.
To follow I attempted to conquer the Pho Chay, a collosal bowl of Vietnam’s signature noodle soup filled with an abundant mix of tofu, mushrooms, herbs and noodles. As is traditional with Pho, it was accompanied by our own ‘seasoning mix’, a collection of herbs, beansprouts, lime wedges and fresh chillies for us to add according to our own preferences. Please learn from my repeated mistakes – unless your heat tolerance is especially high, do NOT add ALL of the chillies. I never learn.
And what about our Leeds street food favourites, I hear you ask? Those beloved Leeds street food regulars that have transformed Leeds into an emerging street food destination before Trinity Kitchen was even a twinkle in Trinity Leeds’ eye? Well they’re getting involved too! There will be five pop up vendors in residence each month, with award-winning Leeds purveyor of vegetarian Punjabi street food, Manjit’s Kitchen, one of the first in residence. I am personally VERY excited by this – I still can’t get her Chana Bunny Chow out of my mind after trying it for the first time this summer, and can’t wait to gorge myself silly on more very soon.
The Trinity Kitchen preview will also be known as the night that I tasted the brownies that changed EVERYTHING. Extreme? No. Double chocolate heaven was served up on a chintzy glass platter from The Marvellous Tea Dance Company, who are operating out of a cute, dainty shed. Another Leeds independent, they’ll be there for the first month so I INSIST you try their brownies at your earliest convenience!
Trinity Kitchen opens officially on Thursday. Shelter from the cold, support our independents and chow down on some downright tasty food. It may just surprise you.