Take a stroll away from the constellation of fast food chains around the station, go past the road-works and flocks of tourists emerging from the Eurostar, and you find yourself on King’s Boulevard, where street-food collective Eat St. has taken up residence with a range of food and drink stalls (see p6).
I'm here to speak to Tongue ‘n Cheek, one of the latest arrivals to London’s burgeoning street food scene. Owner Cristiano sells the classic Italian street food of cow tongue on focaccia with salsa verde and horseradish, and a dish of slow-braised beef cheek in red wine and onion sauce. Though the tongue is slow cooked over 21 hours, it remains firm and balances well with the salsa, while the cheek is fall-apart tender and packed with flavour. For the non-meat eaters, there’s slow-cooked polenta topped with seasonal vegetables or melted cheese.
The meat comes from Woodwards Farm, Cambridgeshire (see p8). Cristiano takes a robust view on local produce, and says with suppliers it’s about building a relationship of ‘mutual respect, maintaining high quality, and continuously learning’. “To complement the tongue you need bread with character,” he says, “so I found Wild Caper in Brixton, which uses a wood-fired oven for the focaccia.” He also tracks down suppliers by eating at the capital’s markets, and has started using small growing sites - like the King’s Cross Central Skip Garden (www.globalgeneration.org.uk) - for super-fresh produce.
Offal, he explains, known as ‘quinto quatro’, is much more commonly eaten in Italy. For example in Florence, he says, Lampredotto - a dish of sliced tripe on bread with lemon - is a popular delicacy. ‘Nobody pulls a face’ is his response when asked if he has had any odd reactions to his offal from Londoners. “We have some regulars. One girl from Taiwan is addicted to the cheek; she just keeps coming back bringing groups of friends.”
Cristiano considers Tongue ‘n Cheek an exercise in practical food education as well as a business. Switching between English and Japanese to talk to his wife Kirie, who is minding the stall, he says that many in London don’t understand the value of what they are eating, as they have lost contact with skilled knowledgeable people like butchers. “I don’t want to say anything against the supermarkets but it’s simply the reality that there is little knowledge at their meat counters,” he adds. He is researching British street food, and wants to do more work raising people’s awareness of just how tasty some lesser-used cuts can be, and of how to prepare offal. He took to the stage at November’s Feeding the 5000 food waste event in Trafalgar Square to speak to the masses about his food. Cristiano even takes umbridge with the term offal, saying “there is no cluster term for other cuts like there is for the liver, kidneys, heart etc. It places them in an outsider position, and that’s what I’m trying to change.”
Tongue ‘n Cheek operates on a Wednesday. Eat St. is open on Wednesdays-Fridays. http://tonguencheek.info
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