London E8 3DU
Dalston Junction Overground Station
In any borough councillor’s mind, the combination of dilapidated warehouse, cargo containers, charcoal barbecues, 6 foot Argentinian grills and a surfeit of alcohol reads like a fireman’s worst nightmare. To your East London hipster or City/Canary Wharf office monkey (read: yours truly), however, all this just sounds like a good party. Given the United Kingdom’s obsession with Health and Safety and a somewhat overzealous application of the rules, it really isn’t a wonder that London’s casual night dining scene has taken so long to develop. But now that it has, this city is finally ready to have some nocturnal fun.
It was on a whim on a Friday afternoon that we decided to pay a visit to Dalston Yard. Work had ended early and there was energy yet in the tank to expend. You don’t really get to make those kinds of dining decisions in London very much – On most occasions a Friday night out needs to be planned as precisely a North Korean military parade, for fear of not being able to secure bookings at the right restaurant for the right time such-as-to-dovetail-into-the-follow-on-table-booking-at-the-right-wine-bar-or-club-and-so-on-and-so-forth. You-get-the-idea.
Arriving at the Yard was easy. There are plenty of bus links that will drop you within a 5 minute walk of Hartwell Street, and the Overground (Dalston Junction) is just across the road. Dalston Yard itself is a disused and semi-demolished warehouse space that seems to have been earmarked for development. Across the road are shiny new brick-and-steel buildings that stand in stark contrast to the squat and dinghy shophouses nearby. Gentrification, it seems, has finally made its way to London E8.
The Rib Man, one of three or four vendors serving ribs that night. The man on the left offered me a chilli which he indicated that I should try. I popped the entire thing into my mouth for a half second only for him to wave frantically for me to take it out. About ten seconds later I found out why – apparently that little red devil is the hottest chilli known to man and my entire mouth stung for a good 30 minutes after.
We navigate around a couple of alleys and enter the first of 3 spaces in the Yard. Vendors line the side and a happy, bubbling throng fill the centre. Based on a quick survey we quickly decide that pork ribs should be first on the menu, and as savvy Singaporeans do, we promptly choose the longest queue and join in.
The Smoke Stak – some very well groomed butchers
The Smoke Stak, at the very back of the Yard, comes across as a fairly professional pig and cow killing operation. A massive, lorry-towed, industrial grill with a half-dozen pressure dials sputters away at the back of the stall, and a man with arms the size of crane pistons toils with his cleaver under the yellow light of an electric hand lamp.
An affectionate woman with an affable Cockney accent takes our order. Yes luv, what can I do for you? One pork and one beef? That’s twelve pounds, luv. Thaaanks luv. The meats are smoked to perfection, with plenty of fat between the bone to keep it moist. The beef separates from the bone in pink, sinewy chunks, and the marbling on the pork is marvellous. Both are slathered in a bright, sweet barbecue sauce.
Thumbs up all around!
We move on next to buttermilk deep fried chicken wings from the Rotary stand. A good choice, judging from the round of happy nodding and the emphatic thumbs ups from my companions. I’ve never had buttermilk as an ingredient outside of pancakes and waffles before, but the slight sourish aftertaste in the chicken wings certainly complemented the saltish primary flavours well.
Healthy Yummies – heckuva lot of butter so I’m not sure about the healthy part
Finally, we complete our savoury course with plump hand-dived West Bay scallops served with celeriac puree, cured Old Spot bacon and sea shore vegetables (including samphire) from the Healthy Yummies van. The name was rather ironic, considering the massive dollop of butter our server had dumped into the pan with the scallops. Not that I was watching my weight anyway. In any case, they were the best thing we had that evening, with plenty of lemon zest to balance out the butter and bacon.
The evening was complemented with a marbled cheesecake from the Sweet Tooth Factory, which I seem to have neglected taking a photo of, and on Carmen’s part a pint of a very boozy margarita, which I believe is a good thing, since the alcohol is really what you’re paying for, right? Some marshmallows magically appeared on a table next to a charcoal fire, which we took to roast, just like these happy campers pictured below.
From Taiwan’s Shih Lin market to Vietnam’s legendary street barbecues to Singapore’s ubiquitous hawker centres, the night food market is a culinary tour-de-force. In London it will most certainly fill a gaping hole in Londoners’ dining options. Whereas cheap late night dining has ever been the purview of hard-working, late-cooking Chinese restaurants at Chinatown before, night markets like Street Feast could possibly encourage people to look further afield in search for an affordable night out. The next step then is convincing the other boroughs that yes, of course the risk of a catastrophic fire disaster and outbreak of norovirus can be kept to an acceptable minimum.