Nuno Mendes’s The Kitchens tried and tasted: High-end food stalls at Old Spitalfields MarketCultureFood & DrinksNews & features
This month, Nuno Mendes – chef of Chiltern Firehouse, Taberna do Mercado and formerly of Viajante – has launched a game-changing project at Old Spitalfields Market named The Kitchens. It’s the first phase of the market’s refurbishment project: a new line-up of traders representing small, independent and local businesses will join the community over the course of the next six months. The completed market will feature in excess of 100 market traders and a new events programme, all to be unveiled in spring 2018.
To some extent, the Portuguese chef revamped his passion for unearthing talent, like he did with the Loft Project a few years ago. The ten traders at The Kitchens have been carefully selected by his own creative organisation, Ten Ten, with the help of hospitality consultant Stephen Macintosh. Their vision is that the new market becomes a hub for creative and entrepreneurial talent, serving the local community and celebrating its East End origins. The stalls themselves are a work of art, designed by the firm of world-class architect Sir Norman Foster. They are situated in the heart of the market and they all have fully functional kitchens, allowing seven days a week trading – until 8pm, with no exception (we missed out on some Amatriciana pasta because of the time).
We went down to the market to try the food first-hand.
Once a street stall in a Hackney car park, it has now become one of London’s most famous taquerias, with two sites: Clerkenwell and Soho. After talking about their long and detailed food preparation process, we tried the juicy pork tacos they have on offer.
Rök rose to fame in Shoreditch thanks to their Nordic-inspired dishes that focus heavily on preservation. Chef Matt Young gave a street food touch to their restaurant’s classics; we tried the Crispy Herring Bagel and Nori-seasoned Crushed Deep Fried Potatoes. Both courses stood out for character, flavour and texture: hands down our favourite stall.
Rök might have been our favourite but their next-door neighbour is just as good and tasty. Clearly specialised in buns, the female cooks prepared for us three different versions: pork, chicken and tofu. A succulent pork stole the show, however, the tofu proved how the vegetarian option could be as intriguing as the meat (it’s also available in a vegan version).
East Anglian Oysters
Our tour originally began with some oyster tasting. It’s not actually one of the ten stalls but it’s right next to them and for those who love the luxury mollusc (including your writer), Bobby’s East Anglian oysters will be a pleasant surprise. When we went there were some fleshy, rich varieties from Colchester and Maldon. You might remember their little cart from Chiltern Firehouse.
Of course we didn’t have the opportunity (i.e. we were getting way to full) to try every stall but, but from the look (and smell) of the food they seemed to be all worthy of a stop. Berber and Q focuses on flavours and ingredients from the Middle East and North Africa (flatbreads, lamb Méchoui, and cauliflower Shawarma to name a few); Bar Barbarian explores the culinary diversity of Asia using local and seasonal produce; Dumpling Shack are some of the most respected dumpling-makers among street food traders (apparently the Shengjianbao ones are a must-try); Flank has a nose-to-tail approach to beef cookery, utilising open fire and some mini Green Eggs; Thousand Knives features the team from the Dalston Japanese restaurant and music venue Brilliant Corners, their offer consists of small plates (vegan friendly, too), natural wine and cocktails served to the sound of music; Sood Family is the first permanent space for the successful East London pop-up, they serve seasonal fresh pasta dishes such as Amatriciana and Gorgonzola Tortelloni.
We tried, however, Happy Endings, one of the winners at the 2017 Young British Foodie awards. Terri Mercieca has already gathered a cult following for her creative range of ice cream sandwiches and desserts (Naughty One, a salted caramel and miso parfait between fine layers of chocolate Guinness cake, is particularly popular). Of the various desserts we had, the chocolate fondant was clearly the most luscious.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Laura Denti