“From the humblest acorn, can a mighty oak tree grow,” so said Confucius. Or was it Don Estelle? Probably neither. It’s a hackneyed phrase that no self-aware food blogger should use. So how do we describe the inexorable rise of street food and its steady integration into conventional restaurant culture?
We’ve tried some hipster street food both in the nation’s capital and closer to home. Despite being described as both as England in Miniature and also a Wight trash ghetto, where every spring we are exhorted to set our clocks forward to 1956, even the fusty Isle of Wight has embraced this latest of food trends.
With a distinct lack of railway arches and artistic zoning, the Island’s street food purveyors have to be, well, nomadic in their approach. Which is why you’ll find Wildwood Pizza setting up camp in various picturesque locations. The Jolly Fryer bimbles around the county’s highways and byways dispensing bonhomie and fried comestibles. The Ralvins are spatulas for hire; we’ve enjoyed their Moroccan/Alpine fusion meal at a pop-up at the glorious The Mission and have also eaten an Oriental-style dinner from their tiny wagon at the Island’s Airstream site, both expertly run by Vintage Vacations.
Husband and wife team Rosie and Calvin (hence the name, see?) are influenced by the cuisine that they have enjoyed on their extensive travels. There is definitely a north African slant to their dishes – they have even created their own special mix of herbs and spices to add an aromatic infusion to their dishes. Rosie and Calvin are also veterans of the ski scene, catering for hungry skiers in Europe during the Island’s off-season.
However, like the little oak of our clichéd first line, the Ralvins have graduated to more permanent premises. They still have their mobile unit, the Ralvan (geddit!), and can also now be found in a small cabin at Bembridge Harbour’s Duver Marina. We left our car at the nearby National Trust car park and made our way across the dunes to the Ralvins as we heard there was a damned fine cup of coffee to be had.
The Ralvins unit is small but perfectly-formed. However, by its nature, it also constrained. There is no facility for deep-frying here – should that be a prerequisite of your culinary demands. We didn’t suffer for the lack of it and ordered a vegetable frittata and sausage roll. Both were home-made and both were served with a salad garnish and balsamic drizzle. We also had a cuppa to help the food on its journey. Matt was delighted to be offered redbush tea in the African style with optional milk – a combination he is fond of but rarely gets. Cat likes a coffee and most places have got the idea that a Camp squirt just won’t cut it. The Ralvins are well on board with the whole coffee jag, serving Island Roasted from a proper coffee machine to thirsty yachtsfolk looking for a pick-me-up. And to us.
Sausage roll £3.50
Cakes £2 each
Because their main customer base arrives by boat and is usually on the lookout for refreshments that they can take back aboard, the Ralvins food is served in disposable takeaway boxes, with wooden cutlery and paper cups. This may be a remnant from their street food days and is probably fine for the target audience and nature of the food. Cat would always prefer to drink out of a china cup but you get a fair amount of coffee in a paper beaker so there are advantages to the disposable options. Her Americano was rich and perky, as required.
The frittata was cheesy and spinachy and made a good snack. Matt’s flaky pastry sausage roll had a bonus filling of the Ralvins own bacon jam, a concoction designed to make his ears prick up when the roll was described to him. The home-made sausage roll was far superior to the usual workman’s lunch staple. Hot, with flaky pastry and minced pork smeared liberally with the tangy bacon jam, making a rich, well-textured filling that wasn’t anything like as rough and salty as traditional sausage meat.
We followed our savoury course with homemade cake, cooked on the premises just before our arrival. Cat scoffed down her banana loaf; rich and moist as the best ‘nana cake should be. Matt’s white chocolate and raspberry ‘blondie’ was light and sweet, dribbled with plenty of that white chocolate. All good cakery.
We sat outside to eat our light lunch; the little terrace is quite a sun-trap with a view across Bembridge Harbour to Culver Down beyond. The cafe is not straightforward to get to but worth the enjoyable step across the lovely St Helen’s Duver, with its gentle dune landscape and swathes of sea pinks in the sand.
When we visited Street Feast at London’s Hawker House we speculated on whether a street food event could be held on the Island. One could imagine such a gig in the little yard alongside the Ralvin’s cabin; there is plenty of hard-standing space and seemingly few residents to disturb with the sound of diners eating and carousing. So if Isle of Wight street food is to be a thing, if not a mighty oak then perhaps there’s room for this flexible sapling.
- Home-made food
- Local produce
- Friendly service
- Modest-sized portions
- Disposable crockery and cutlery (ok if you're having take-out)