The subject of this month’s study may not quite be on the high street exactly, and it only appears for a few weeks over the Christmas period, but it offers a fascinating glimpse into the future of food regardless. Coming across like an indie Winter Wonderland, Winterville, organised by Street Feast and the Field Day festival, opened in mid-November, running for six days a week (it closes on Mondays) until 23rd December.
It’s a little hard to put your finger on what exactly ‘Winterville’ is, so I begin my interview with Emma Howe, who is sales and events director for Street Feast, which currently runs five street food markets across London, having launched back in 2012, what its actual USP is. “It’s a pop-up Christmas town, an alternative festive playground bringing five weeks of fun to the capital,” she says. “Guests can bar-hop around the winter watering holes for hot chocolate and hot wine, dig into a delectable street food feast – going sharesies on fluffy bao buns and gooey chocolate s’mores – and also enjoy an epic line-up of entertainment.”
The latter includes live bands, DJs, comedy, musical bingo, roaming magicians, fairground rides, an ice rink, a roller disco, Plonk Golf, Backyard Cinema and the Spiegeltent tent offering cabaret and performances.
“Unlike any other location, Winterville offers a unique twist on the traditional Christmas experience, offering casual street food dining with Street Feast’s biggest trader line-up [see box],” Emma says. “Drinks are available from 15 different bars, including an American whiskey bar, a wine bar, the Craft Brew Camp, and a cosy Christmas Lodge serving hot chocolate, frozen pumpkin spiced rum, and hot buttered bourbon.”
From a corporate Christmas party perspective, meanwhile, Winterville has a capacity of over 4,000 people, making it one of the largest event spaces to hire in the capital. “The combination of world class street food, killer drinks and endless entertainment and activity provides a great experience for anyone of any age in London and wider afield,” Emma says. “The vast choice of food and drink on offer means guests are always able to find something they like.
“The beauty of Street Feast and street food and Winterville is that it’s totally inclusive. It caters for all demographics, cultures and dietary requirements, and we have an array of street food offerings from all around the world that cater across the spectrum. You’ll always find vegan, gluten-free and other options on our trader’s menus.”
Prior to joining Street Feast, Emma worked in the venue world for over 10 years, and previous to that on the event agency side, giving her a wide span of knowledge in the industry. She has been with Street Feast for over three years now, though, and she was brought onboard to specifically create, implement and deliver a sales and events division for the business. “This has translated to establishing our venues as the go-to alternative choice for corporate bookers and event agencies, as well as cultivating the company’s reputation within the industry, while also driving profitable sales growth for the business year-on-year.”
Instrumental to this has been the change of location, as Winterville started out in Victoria Park but moved south last year (when Street Feast also came onboard), bringing an early Christmas present to the people of SW4. So why the change? “Clapham is a huge catchment area with brilliant transport links, and we wanted to do it on a larger scale to hold more visitors. East London already has a lot going on, whereas Winterville brings something new to south London and the Clapham area.”
Another central part of the offer, and the area that Street Feast obviously specialises in is, of course, the food. If you go back a decade or so, the catering was pretty much an afterthought at most music festivals, with the odd van knocking out burgers and chips. Since then, though, the advent of street food markets has seen the pyramid being inverted, with the food now being the star of the show, followed by the drinks and then the entertainment. How have Street Feast led the charge on this front? “There really is no excuse for bad food at events now, especially with such a vast choice of dining options available across the capital,” Emma says. “Expectations are far higher and people won’t settle for limited choices.
“We’re also living in the age of social media, which in turn has spurned a culture of social dining. Dining out isn’t just restricted to special occasions either; people eat out whenever they feel like it and the whole casual dining concept provides a much more laid-back and sociable experience. People eat what they want when they want, and take pleasure in trying new things and sharing with friends, not just in real life but via social media too, which is why presentation is now as important as taste.”
What they do have is bound to taste pretty damn good, though, what with the contacts list Emma’s colleagues built up in the street food scene over the past few years. And the good news is that a lot of the Street Feast favourites are involved in Winterville. “We have such a great relationship with our traders, so we love getting them involved in projects like this. We also get a huge number of traders who we don’t work with contacting us wanting to be a part of Winterville, because it’s such a great platform to showcase their food. In this instance, we do our research and meet them to sample their cooking to ensure they reach our quality standards and ethos.”
One thing’s for sure: you won’t be seeing turkey curry or eggnog on the menu any time soon (unless they ironically become fashionable again – which, to be fair, is actually quite plausible). “We also have a dedicated food boss who works across all the Street Feast venues, whose job it is to go out and actively source the best street food traders from around the UK, Europe and the world,” Emma continues. “Part of this is also attending many food tastings, getting out and about and visiting food-led events, as well as heaps of research.”
The other important aspect, which Winterville obviously oozes, is the way that so many of our food occasions these days are becoming increasingly experiential and interactive. “Definitely,” Emma says, “every day there are new food and drink establishments and restaurants opening up, and a lot more that are also offering a further experience such as crazy golf, darts and ping pong. These are now becoming more the norm now, rather than a special occasion or the wild card for corporate events.”
This seems like a good time to wrap up our chat by asking Emma what the truly pioneering Street Feast’s own plans for the future are. “We have lots of exciting plans in the pipeline,” she says. “We are planning on opening more sites and bringing our much-loved street food to more and more people across the UK, and wider.
“For Winterville, it’s to constantly evolve the offering making it bigger and better than ever with the all of the activities, entertainment, food and drink. We are also looking to expand the event to have multiple locations, which would be very exciting. It’s really nice opening in new areas, especially those who do not know or are familiar with Street Feast, and then seeing this take off more and more people discover the concept.”
Looking back on what has certainly been an incredible six years of innovating and expanding, she reflects: “We’re just super-proud to have been pioneers in the London street food movement. We can’t wait to see how it evolves even further.”
Winterville’s 2018 vendors
- Babek Brothers – Middle Eastern kebabs
- Black Bear Burger – American burgers
- Born & Raised – Italian pizza
- Chin Chin American – hot drinks/desserts
- Engine Hot Dogs – American hotdogs
- Fundi – Italian pizza
- Growlers – Portuguese prego
- HENhaus – British rotisserie chicken
- INK – seafood
- KraPow – Thai
- Love Churros – Mexican churros
- Raclette Brothers – European raclette/veg
- Up In My Grill – Argentine steak
- White Men Can’t Jerk – Caribbean jerk
- Yum Bun – Asian bao
- Yumplings – Asian dumplings
- You Doughnut – American hot doughnuts