The street food market bringing all the guys to the yard

By Laura Martin

For all those people who are still bemoaning hipsters or declaring peak burger: there is a quiet food revolution going on. Well, for those who aren’t too busy sitting at home trolling along with Will Self.

In the playground of London Fields Primary School is the weekly Schoolyard Market, which sits a few metres away from its older sibling, Broadway Market. While Broadway Market has been running for more than 10 years, Schoolyard - also held on a Saturday - has been quietly growing in size and reputation for the past four years and it has begun to find its feet as the launch pad for some of the most creative new street food in London.

One of the real success stories to come from the yard is Yum Bun - purveyors of steamed buns ’n’ fillings - who first set up shop in the Schoolyard Market back in 2010. Fast forward four years and they’re now the proud owners of a British Street Food award and Nuno Mendes even name-checked them as his favourite guilty pleasure. 

And now that the Schoolyard Market has grown this year in size to 35 stalls, it looks set to pave the way for other food vendors to be equally lucrative. 

Mr Musubi - who make flamegrilled, sesame seed-dipped Japanese rice snacks (£3) - only opened their stall in the Schoolyard in February 2014, but the team behind it landed a month-long residency in Off Broadway bar this summer, just four months after serving up their first musubi.

Co-owner, Tet Ogino, says: “We chose the Schoolyard Market above London’s other street food markets as my business partner works in the local area and I love the ethos around this market, where it’s about variety and discovery of new food. We’re aware that we are bringing something totally new here, and we felt that the audience that this market attracts would appreciate our food.”

A few stalls along, The Frenchie owner Nadia Halloway and her partner, Romain Jiminez, invented their signature duck confit-in-brioche (£6) two years ago and she sees the market as a launch pad for great things. She says: “I’ve seen Schoolyard just get better and better - it has some amazing food here now. Street food has also come a long way - you can’t just rock up and do a hotdog anymore, you’ve got to have a creative twist on it.”

General Manager of Broadway and Schoolyard Market, Alistair Maddox, agrees. And while he doesn’t want to get all Simon Cowell about it (he is the man who chooses which ideas make it to the market), he says the explosion of people wanting to get in on the street food action doesn’t always hit the mark: “It’s so rare I see an application for a stall with something I’ve never seen before. I get so many applications each day, but I definitely don’t need another cake, cupcake or burger stall.”

Yep, us either.  Although, Alistair adds: “People are being more intelligent about their ideas which is why Schoolyard is inspiring as it’s not the same old stuff. Street food is becoming a bit like the X Factor, as when KERB and other places like that started up everyone went: “I could do that, I love cooking” and we were absolutely inundated with mediocre ideas. Now, it’s the people who’ve sat back and said: “I’ve seen what everyone else can do, now I want to come up with something interesting.”

Which is what Mission Mariscos owner, Andrew Ramirez, did. He’s been serving up his fish tacos (£5) since March 2014 and says: “I’m from LA and fish tacos are a big thing there. But it’s very difficult to get good fish tacos in East London and that’s the gap I was hoping to fill in the market - I realised it’s the one thing that isn’t going on at the moment. I also do elote [corn-on-the-cob with toppings] as no-one was doing that either.”

But, being East London, trends moved fast. He adds: “I did it here one weekend and the following weekend there were two other people doing their versions of elote and the hibiscus tea, as well.”

While the footfall of the Schoolyard fluctuates from week to week, it will be certainly sharing some of Broadway Market’s estimated 25,000 visitors each Saturday - and more importantly, some of the £2 million income that the market brings in a year. A point that’s not lost on Giovanna Harrison, of Italo-Scot eatery, Bella Scotia, who have been serving up their fare at Schoolyard for just five weeks. She says: “My business partner Andrea Holloway had always fancied doing a food stall, we’ve both lived down here for about eight years so we thought “Let’s give it a whirl”. The market is definitely a good way to make it into the foodie world due to the locals and regulars who alway visit - some have said to me that they prefer it to the bigger Broadway Market.”

Cheap stall hire (£35 a day) and short-term runs of up to four weeks have also given would-be cooking enthusiasts the chance to try out their unique eats on a captive audience. Plus, the school benefits financially by renting the space out to the market and local community projects also receive a share of the profits too. Alistair says: “We have people that say: “I don’t want to work at a desk job any more” or that come straight out of university and are starting up their own businesses or quitting their jobs to do something they’re passionate about. The rates are so low at the market it’s a great place to trial a business and build it up from scratch at a low cost.”

And aside from an entrance interview that someone tells us is “a little like being on Dragon’s Den”, the market and its crowd seems to be there for the taking. And eating. Alistair adds: “I think there’s a change in the British food scene - a new movement of people doing food in a really creative way. Borough and Broadway markets have paved the way for that and now Schoolyard is picking up the baton.”

Who knows, it may even herald the end of the cupcake’s reign, too.