We at The Holborn are avid followers of the street food revolution on the avenues, roads and mews of London. So we were quite excited to hear last week that one of our favourite traders What The Dickens have joined our favourite food collective Kerb.
So we popped over to Kerb’s market at University College London to have a chinwag with the boys. Michael Quinn, Adam Bernstein and Dominic Rose, friends since their school days, started out What The Dickens as a hobby; ‘a bit of a laugh’ they say, they thought it would be fun to dress up as Victorian gentlemen and start serving Victorian breakfasts, kedgeree and devilled kidneys; indulging their love for both food and finery. So seeking to resurrect and revive time-honoured English recipes they started off at the then recently revived Chatsworth Road market just a stone’s throw from where they all lived. This is where this humble street food eater first happened across these fine chaps on a rain soaked London weekend last year.
With the market taking up more and more of their time, from fortnightly to weekly and with all three working office jobs the trio decided to up their game and turn it into more than a weekend laugh. Adam tells us they are resistant to say they are full time till they are all earning a living wage from the stall but they are all in this for the long run.
So why Victorian food and finery; it simply because they love the food and had been kicking around with those types of recipes when they first started out. Interested in food history as well they see the Victorian period as the most interesting period in recent history. Though the food range has expanded since those early days, Adam explains that just doing Kedgeree was starting to become a little too restrictive and their cuisine now encompasses a wider range of traditional British dishes. So for example on the menu today is ‘Devilled Pork Rolls’, a delicious slow-roasted pork belly, cooked with a sweet and spicy sauce with crackling and a apple and quince sauce. Perfect for a cold Spring day.
The boys don’t only cook traditional recipes, they prepare as much of their food in a time honoured approach. In keeping with the approach to historic recipes What the Dickens also aim to prepare as much of their own food as possible. Their bacon is salted and hung on the premises while their back garden holds bees and a densely packed crop of fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately, and a sign of London life these days, the laying hens sadly met their maker in the autumn one night after a fox entered the coop. In 2013 the boys will see the completion of their smokehouse, which will be used for bacon as well as fish and home made cheese. An expansion of the business model to include deli liked goods sold on the stall, another reason to track the boys progress over the coming months.
So they teamed up with KERB last month, and they are honoured to now be part of the collective and have already picked up lots of help and advice from some of the most experience street food sellers in London. I love the theatrical style of What the Dickens, and I have always leant towards infusing that kind of fun into markets and food; for instance a staple favourite of the Holborn are the Mussel Men traders. Though the boys are nervous about the theatrics being focused on to much and Adam says that has often been written about them, he was more keen to talk about the food. Though they admit that food has a natural theatre to it and they see their style much more as a form of showmanship than theatrics. However the whole package works and most importantly the food is fantastic.
So the future; new food, more markets with KERB, the smokehouse being completed and hopefully after their pop up restaurant last year perhaps another similar venture. Well we for one look forward to it. We’ll be keeping a greedy eye on What The Dickens and we do recommend you track them down. Also listen to our interview and the bustle of the food market here…