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Champions’ League

It was the weekend that Derby County were taking on Leeds in the playoffs. The city was on high alert. But down the road from Pride Park, at the brilliant Bustler Market, there was another top of the table clash going on. The best street traders from all across the UK were competing in the first heat of the 2019 British Street Food Awards supported by Hellmann’s. And even with a bit of rain along the way, Derby’s enthusiasm wasn’t dampened. Not even for a second.

Bustler Market hosted the Central heats last year. And Sonora Tacos, who pick up the keys to their new restaurant later this month, still had 2018’s pork al pastor fresh on the memory. Looking like they might pull a People’s Choice win out the bag after the first day, Sonora had come on ‘leaps and bounds’ in the past 12 months said judge and BSF founder Richard Johnson. Their fragrant rice was a thing of wonder.

Little Orange Co. were early front runners – their beef shin ragu arancini was one of Michelin-starred chef Rupert Rowley’s top dishes of the weekend. Homeboy’s heritage tomato salad made for even more of a talking point. Ria Amber Tesia, from the Derby Telegraph, couldn’t get over the dashi and the warm tomato sourdough, and while the duck doughnut was met with some uncertainty, the judges were unanimous in voting Homeboys their Judges’ Choice. The Nottingham crew now go to the national finals in London, and will compete for the right to represent Britain in the European finals in Sweden.

Controversy was in no short supply. Ria gave two thumbs up to Wildfire’s exemplary pizza, specifically its ‘good base with a nice chew’. Rupert, however, preferred his base ‘crispy’. Each to their own, it must be said, though everyone commended Wildfire for their enthusiastic use of wild boar and venison. If Henry VIII did pizza…

It’s a wonder how The Duck Shed went home empty handed – with Richard announcing a deep affection for their use of stuffing, Ria’s commenting on the ‘very morish’ burgers, and Rupert declaring them ‘stunning’ – the judges had only good things to say.

Then came Flying Cows, touching down in Derby with their family farm’s Dexter beef patties. Previous winners in the Best Burger category, the only people they had to out-do were themselves. Despite a teriyaki-cheese combination Rupert thought questionable, they still managed to improve on the perfection of 2017. Job well done. Actually, still beautifully pink in the middle.

KoKoDoo arrived at the judges table with a full-on Korean banquet. ‘The different textures, flavours. How it’s presented – love it’ he said, in full admiration. Ria agreed, adding, ‘it’s so beautiful you don’t want to eat it.’ And as for their KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) Rupert was stumped: ‘How they get it that crispy?’ After some deliberation, there was nothing left to do but hand them joint Judges’ Choice with Homeboys – and another ticket to the final.

Jade Rabbit delivered Derby a real taste of the Far East’s street markets. And what a taste it was. There was nothing flouncy or prissy about their Katsu in a wafer cone. But the technique was deliciously on point. Ria commented on their ‘tender’ fried chicken, and Rupert called it ‘really tasty’.

Thanks to Doner Summer’s vegan kebabs, and Flats’, um, flat doughnuts, those with a plant-based tendency were well looked after. Richard reminisced of his first taste of Doner Summer’s seitan shawarma in Sheffield. Ria was a fan too, and Flats’ doughnuts provided her requisite sugar hit. ‘Not ground-breaking,’ said Ria, ‘but I like them.’ The public, it turned out, more than ‘liked them’, voting Flats through to the final in the People’s Choice Award. Off to London they go.

And there it was. Bustler, once again, rolled out as brilliant hosts. Ria, more than familiar with the setup, called it an ‘adventurous place to be’, while Rupert, who judged during BSF’s last appearance here, was expecting big things given ‘the very good standard last year’. Of the competition, what did he reckon this time? ‘A bit more delicate, a bit more refined’ he said. Derby should be proud.

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