This weekend I fulfilled one of my food ambitions. Social media is alive with talk of street food. Pop up restaurants and street food festivals are what the cool young things are both doing and trying. For the lucky city dweller there seem to be umpteen chances to turn up in the right car park at the right time and wait for an hour to sample the ‘in’ burger sensation. It sounded great but it also sounded unachievable for someone living in a town in the countryside.
Through Twitter I heard about the UK Burger Battle taking place in Birmingham this weekend and decided to attend. I persuaded the family to come along too and so we made our way to Lower Trinity Street in Digbeth. I know the City well enough to know this is a slightly unusual venue. My immediate thought was about the safety of my car, and my family. I really think this is the thing about street food too. It’s not served in a nice chic restaurant, accompanied by a heftily marked-up price list and so many people will not even try it.
I’m glad I did.
Following the sat nav carefully I found Lower Trinity Street and found a brightly lit road with lots of cars and lots of bars. There were plenty of people about and so safety concerns were soon put behind me. In fact there is a very brightly lit open NCP car park right opposite the venue. You soon realise that this all contributes to the experience. The entrance to Spot*Light, the venue, was actually just round the corner – something that appeared to be confusing the offical photographer too.
There is a guy at a desk on the gate handing over the wristbands in return for checking you off the list and straight in front of you are the two contenders – Whats your Beef on the left and the Beefy Boys on the right. The line up of food and drink is accompanied by Sailor Jerry’s serving spiced rum cocktails in collector tumblers and a crepe service.
Its a chilly evening and so there is a large indoor area which is well heated and which contains shared tables, some sofas and a bar. The DJ is playing some Northern Soul and R&B while the burger vans are focussing more on blues.
The structure is to go and sample the burgers one at a time before 8pm (the venue is open from 4pm) and pick your winner. Nice and simple and the venue has a nice atmosphere – its a really mixed crowd which seems to consist of foodies, students and friends meeting up for a chat.
We start with the Whats Your Beef burger first. The queue is short and we go for the fully loaded burger which is prepared in front of us by the friendly team. The balls of burger meat are loaded on the griddle in batches and smashed down to create the burgers. All are cooked medium unless you want something different. The burger is served with cheese, bacon, tomato sauce and mustard with salad and pickles in a brioche. It is beautifully wrapped in a burger wrapper which keeps the juiciness in and off your clothes.
The Beefy Boys burger is pretty similar with the difference of a couple of cheeses and some chipotle mayonnaise. I love watching the preparation which ensures each burger is hot and cooked consistently with all the other ones. There is a haze of smoke under the lights and lots of hard work going on. I’ve skipped over the ingredients but the reason these guys are both here is that they’ve worked to pick and prepare the right ingredients, worked on the technique to make sure the textures are there, and defined the presentation to make it edible and disposable.
They were both great burgers. Forget your McDonalds and Burger King – forget your restaurant burgers too – these are made to be street food and nothing else is quite as good. At their usual outlets they are typically £5-£8 burgers too. The reason is that they are delicious. The meat is cooked to be pink in the middle but with a great crunch from the crust. The buns are substantial without being large and have a slight sweetness to them. The salads are crisp and flavourful. As a whole the combination of onions, sauces and well cooked burger make them juicy – you need the napkins. For me the balance in the Beefy Boys burger was better with a smokiness coming from bacon and chipotle mayonnaise which was sensational. I’d happily buy both in the street and walk away giggling though.
The whole evening was a lesson in experiencing something new and being rewarded for it. I’d happily visit the area again – perhaps one of the other bars. I’ll certainly be back for some more streetfood. The UK Burger Battle is moving on from Birmingham now sadly but Spot*Light hosts other similar events – particularly the Digbeth Dining Club.