FAST food: a phrase that’s redolent of grease and cholesterol, simply oozing with saturated fats and E numbers...
But one Sheffield couple is setting out to change all that – with fast food that’s not only quick and easy but also tasty and, above all, healthy.
Abi and Richard Golland launched Street Food Chef two years ago, serving Mexican fare from a trailer on the Continental market in Fargate.
It took off and last year became a permanent fixture when they opened a takeaway kiosk in Pinstone Street. Within months it won the best street food category in the Eat Sheffield Awards.
Now they have extended their market again with a new ‘eat in’ Mexican Canteen in Arundel Street. If things go according to plan, there could be another four outlets dotted around the city centre.
“This is just a stepping stone: the goal is five,” says Richard with a cheery determination that gives the boast a ring of truth. “The original plan was to have five trailers for special events but now we’ve decided there’s room for five units around Sheffield instead.”
The secret of their success, they believe, is the quality and consistency of their food.
While other fast food outlets serve up the all-too-common greasy burgers and tasteless buns, Richard and Abi cook locally-reared meat, mix it with fragrant herbs and hot spices and wrap it with salad in a traditional Mexican flatbread.
Not that they’re aiming for authenticity: “We call it ‘Shef Mex’ not Tex-Mex; I like to experiment,” says Richard. “And we enjoy what we’re doing.”
The couple met in Oxford when Richard ran the city’s first vegetarian restaurant. His veggie days came to an end after he won a chicken in a pub raffle and acquired a taste for meat.
Abi’s background was in teaching, but after bringing up three children, the couple decided they wanted their own business – and hit on the idea of setting up a US-style hot dog stand.
But Sheffield City Council refused to license ‘unhealthy’ food, so they looked around for an alternative and discovered Mexican street food.
Research revealed that a burrito could be the perfect healthy snack: large wheat flour tortillas with a choice of meat or vegetarian fillings plus rice, salad and salsa.
Ingredients are locally sourced if possible: pork is from Moss Valley Fine Meats, beef and chicken from Crawshaw’s and vegetables from Parkway market.
Richard has turned fast food into a slow-cooked art form, roasting huge joints of pork and beef for ten hours each night to produce moist, tender meat – which is then added to a secret mix of cider vinegar and spices to create their fillings.
He and Abi are working 14 hours a day, arriving at the crack of dawn to take the meat out of the oven, mash piles of avocados into guacamole and chop mountains of fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic and chillies for the salsas.
These come in two types: picante – a red salsa of smoky chipotles, tomatoes and sesame seeds, or verdi – made with roasted green chillies and garlic.
There are three strengths to choose from, something for every palate from cool tomato to an eye-watering blend of fiery habanero chillies.
The new Mexican Canteen is based in the Grade II-listed former Lion Works in Arundel Street, newly refurbished after a fire. You can’t miss it from outside: it’s the one with classic stained glass windows and jazzy signage, flying the Mexican flag!
The theme continues inside with an in-your-face colour scheme of acid yellow and burnt orange, softened by potted parlour palms, chilli plants and lampshades made out of sombreros. Seats are retro-style swivel chairs and focal point is the counter where food is made up to order.
We nip down during our lunch hour to check it out and squeeze through a throng of chattering office workers to grab the last table. It’s counter service, so we choose our drinks (water and ginger beer) from the cabinet and Abi talks us through the menu.
The offer varies slightly according to time of day – including breakfast burritos, with bacon and eggs, and a pan-fried evening version, topped with salsa and sour cream.
My companion goes straight for the standard burrito, a man-sized meal, while I opt for the more ladylike tacos. Both are delivered to the table, with napkins to mop up the juice and a handful of tortilla chips on the side.
My tacos sit like three upturned clam shells, each with a different filling: beef, pork and chicken molé (a spicy blend of ingredients, including cocoa, that work brilliantly together).
They’re topped with shredded iceberg lettuce, fragrant coriander and spicy jalapeño, and finished with wedges of lime and a little pot of guacamole: wonderfully sharp, fresh flavours.
The burrito is a huge, foil-skinned sausage. The idea is to start at one end, peel back the wrapping and munch your way down to the other.
Shreds of tender pork give a gutsy boost to the traditional filling of rice, black beans, lettuce and salsa – the medium version, with a good chilli kick and a lovely smoky flavour.
It’s simple fare, but it’s tasty, filling and a lot healthier than a hot dog!
For those who like to finish with something sweet, there’s a range of ice creams and sorbets from Sheffield-based Yee Kwan. The mango we can recommend.
Lunch for two, including drinks, is £14.75.
lVerdict: Great value Tex-Mex food, Sheffield style, in surroundings that are as bright as the flavours.
lOpen: 10am – 10pm, 7 days a week
lMexican Canteen, 90 Arundel Street, Sheffield (0114) 275 2390 www.streetfoodchef.co.uk