Leather Lane is a historic street in the centre of London, connecting the busy roads of High Holborn and Clerkenwell Road. On week days it is full of market stalls, as it has been for at least 400 years. Traditionally these would have been mostly clothes stalls, but contrary to what you might expect, that’s not how it got its name; it’s apparently from an anglicisation of the name of a merchant, Le Vrunelane. Although these days it’s predominantly street food, there’s still lots of stalls selling clothes, bags, houseware, etc. On the weekends the stalls (and indeed almost all its cafés and shops) close up, as the city centre loses its office workers.
I’ve worked about 10 minutes walk away from here for the past few years, although it took me probably a year before I was even really aware of it. These days I go several times a week for lunch.
My two favourite destinations are the previously-reviewed coffee shops Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, and Prufrock. However I decided it might be nice to write about some of its many food stalls and cafés. This will be brief to start with, but I hope to expand upon it over the next year or so.
This will likely quickly become out-of-date too, due to the peripatetic nature of market stalls. So don’t rely on it for accuracy; instead I hope it gives you a flavour of the variety of what’s available in the area. So, in no particular order:
I can’t write about Leather Lane without mentioning Daddy Donkey. This started as a small van, grew in time with popularity to a larger one, before eventually opening as its own permanent venue. It’s always busy, and continues to have a queue out the doors most lunchtimes (despite customers being able to place their orders in advance and collect from a side-window). They do the typical selection of burritos and tacos, and they’re decent portions.
Korean street food served from a great-smelling streamline caravan. I’ve tried their dak galbi (spicy chicken) and bulgogi (strips of beef). In both cases lots of nice tasty meat, which you can get served in a box with sticky rice and salad or as wraps.
Food Gangnam Style
As well as the YogiYo caravan at the top of the street, there is also a small Korean stall about half-way up, opposite Prufrock. I tried their bibimbap, a mixture of rice, salad, kimchee, fried egg and beef or spicy pork. I chose the beef, which was plenty hot enough, so I’m not sure if I’d have coped with the pork! It came in a big plastic bowl with a lid, which can be re-used as a food container, unlike the disposable boxes you typically get from food stalls. They were also sellling bulgogi sandwiches and fried dumplings.
A small stall bedecked in the red and yellow Hispanic stripes. The staff seem very friendly. They do medium and large boxes of chicken paella (£4 / £5). A medium box I thought was plenty. I declined the offer of a whole chilli, and also extra spices, which was a good decision as it seemed spicy enough already. I noticed a large cinnamon stick in the paella pan, which the chef told me was his own idea. Their loyalty card offered a free portion after 6 stamps, which is pretty generous compared to the more-typical 8+. Also their chicken wraps seem quite good.
For £5.50 you get a flatbread served in a box covered with generous quantities of couscous, lentils, salad and some meat with a tasty parsley sauce drizzled over it. For another 50p you can get some baba ganoush added, which I haven’t bothered with. I’ve tried both the chicken and beef, and both times I’d have preferred more meat.
They have a busy café at the north end of the street, but towards the end of 2013 they also opened up a market stall towards the other direction. The café often has a queue at the door, so I guess they’re just catering for demand, and covering both ends of the street! Their scotch egg was quite tasty, although would be better served hot. The Chicken of Aragon pie was hot, and yummy as always.
Black Sheep Coffee
A small coffee van that’s recently appeared about half-way along Leather Lane. They have some strong competition from two of London’s best coffee shops, Prufrock and Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, just a short distance away. But their coffee was of a comparable standard. The guy running the stall seems friendly, and I get the impression they’re good at latte art, which I always take as an encouraging sign.
Another Spanish food stall, they were doing chorizo baguettes (£4.50), chorizo tortilla (£4), tortilla with salad (£3.50). They’ve also started doing chicken + chorizo baguettes, pretty nice. Friendly staff here too, and the food authentically hispanic.
Great name, doing combinations of steak, chicken, chorizo, halloumi, sausages and pork with salad, fresh herbs and olive oil, all rolled up in a wrap. The only problem is just choosing an option from their great menu.
Japanese sandwiches! The teriyaki chicken was tasty but a real mess of sauce. The okonomiyaki (Japanese omelette) I had with pork and egg. You might be thinking that of course it had egg, being an omelette, but this was actually a fried egg placed on top. The okonomiyaki seemed to consist of shredded cabbage, pickled ginger and what might have been potato, giving it a texture more like tortilla (i.e. Spanish omelette) than a normal omelette. It was also drizzled liberally with a tasty sauce and mayonnaise.
Quiche & Roast
Doing several different vegetarian and vegan quiches, served in a box topped up to bursting point with a medley of vegetables (including potatoes, sweet potatoes, courgettes, aubergine, carrots, onions, peppers, tomatoes, green beans, lentils, cauliflowers). A huge quantity of great tasting (and smelling!) meat-free grub.
Brad’s Rockin’ Jambalaya
This is a new stall that’s recently appeared, doing jambalaya in a box or as a wrap, with chicken and andouille (smoked pork) sausage, and optional prawns or calamari. Seemed alright, bit spicy, but that’s no bad thing.
This stall’s always got a queue, and for good reason. I had a delicious ciabatta roll filled with herb-encrusted pork and apple sauce.
Specialising in vegetarian Mexican street food (but not tortillas or tacos!), they’re still tweaking the menu, so it’s something different on offer each week. Things I’ve tried so far include:
- pambazo, a chilli-soaked bun filled with some spiced potatoes and random ingredients, served with tortilla chips;
- tabbouleh , a Lebanese salad done Mexican-style;
- chilaquiles, corn tortillas with refried beans, sweet potatoes and more;
- esquites, a cup of sweetcorn salad served with lime
Everything’s tasted pretty good, somewhat spicy for me (I’ve still not braved the ‘drowned sandwich‘) and seems authentic (and not just the burritos familiar from every other ‘Mexican’ street food outlet). Keep an eye on this one for their frequent menu updates.
A small restaurant doing Asian street food, eat-in or take-away. I think they only intermittently have a market stall in the street, just doing steamed buns filled with pork belly or roast duck. £3.50 each or two for £6, which seems like a good deal. I’ve tried both the pork and duck, each served with cucumber, spring onion, hoisin sauce and chilli sauce. Pretty nice, not too spicy. The only problem is they need to sort out their logistics on this stall; the first two times I tried them I had to wait at least 5 minutes for their steamed buns to heat up sufficiently. and they had to turn customers away (but no problem third time).
This is a new stall doing Indonesian tempeh , a sort of sliced soybean cake, served in wraps with a variety of sauces and vegetarian fillings. That’s not a very good description, but it’s the first time I’ve heard of it. The guy running the stall is outgoing and friendly. So far I’ve tried the satay sauce, which seemed to be pretty popular, and spicy tahini with pomegranate molasses, which I preferred because of its more subtle blend of flavours.
Doing chicken wraps, for a relatively reasonable price of £4 regular or £5 large; regular seemed plenty for me. Pretty hot.
Sunny’s Olive Tree
This is a stall doing salads and olives, and always seems popular, judging by the length of queues it usually has. I got a decent amount of salad (including lettuce, cabbage, peppers, potatoes, houmus, sundried tomatoes, couscous, quinoa, dolmades, beetroot, chickpeas) and olives, stuffed in a box with a chunk of focaccia bread. All for £3.50!
A new stall, doing wood-fired pizza from the back of a little three-wheeler van.
- http://pizzapilgrims.co.uk/ (nice website!)
‘Italian street food’, which basically means gourmet burgers, and torta fritta (fried dough puffs) served with cold meat. The pork and blue cheese burger was very tasty, as was the beef + parmesan burger. The beef carpaccio with the torta fritta was delicious; I wasn’t quite so keen on the torta fritta with three different types of sliced pork. It was still pretty nice, but I think it paled in comparison to the carpaccio. I liked the fact that all the cold meats were sliced freshly to order on a big meat slicer. They’re updating the menu, replacing the torta fritta with something else.
A fairly new stall which seems to be very popular. I tried their jerk chicken to begin with… I got one piece of chicken wing with lots of rice + beans. They gave me a fork but no knife, so it ended up being greasy finger food (dunno if that’s normal or an oversight). I’d have preferred a more meatier ratio of chicken to rice. More recently I tried the curried goat, which had more generous proportions of meat, and was really tasty. I’ll be getting that again, and I also want to try their beef.
A little van doing baked potatoes with salad, and, er, sausages (from a choice of about five including cumberland, pork + leek, …) in a bun with onions, relish and cheese. Generous portions at a decent price; I think £3 for two sausages with all the trimming, but I’ve paid £2.50 both times when I skipped the cheese.
A stall I’ve been meaning to try for a long time, finally did it when their queue wasn’t too substantial (I hate queuing for food!). Opted for the chicken burger for my first time; some tasty chicken breast with fried onions and salad… there were lots of extras available, but, well, they were extra. I wanted to start with the basics first, then maybe try juicing it up with additional toppings. Seemed alright, will reserve judgement until I’ve tried at least the beef one too.
They’re owned by the same people as Daddy Donkey apparently, and their van seems similar to the old DD one (before they moved into their permanent premises on Leather Lane). Couldn’t find them online though.
Where it’s at
- https://leatherlanelunches.jux.com/ – This site seems promising, although it’s only got 2 reviews so far and doesn’t look like it’s been updated for a while
- 20 Splendid Street Food Vendors To Check Out In London
- Burger Anarchy’s review of Boom Burger
- Hamburger Me’s review of Boom Burger