There’s nothing sadder than a dry ham sandwich on your dinner hour.
So when you’re feeling a bit unloved or you fancy a bit of a Friday treat and you see a mobile catering van, it can be tempting. But you don’t know what you’re going to get.
You can look online for a cafe or restaurant review. But butty vans? You don’t know whether you’re going to end up with a bag of the tastiest chips you’ve ever tried or the greasiest burger in the world.
If you’ve spotted a white Peugeot Boxer parked up on Agecroft Road near the mini-roundabout close to the industrial estate and wondered what the food is like, wonder no more.
Because on our way home to an empty fridge and feeling a bit peckish the other day, we decided to take the plunge and pulled over in the lay-by beside it.
It was a Friday after all and the “new” Fishfinger Butty advertised on the A-board for £4.50 felt like serendipity.
It turned out to be massive and moist and satisfied a Friday fish craving. It wasn’t just a few fishfingers on a barm. It was fishfingers on a brioche bun filled with grilled cheese and a “secret slaw” recipe. And it was good.
Owners Konstantin and Natalie Gusarov, aka Kos and Nat, started Street Bites Manchester, their mobile catering business in 2017. Originally from Latvia, they moved to this country in 2005 and ended up living in Newton Heath.
Kos has been in the hospitality industry for about 15 years. He’s worked suites and boxes at both Old Trafford and the Etihad, plus many major race tracks like Ascot, York and Chester.
He even catered at the London 2012 Olympics, so he clearly knows quite a bit about how to prepare and serve up fresh food, even during the busiest periods.
When the cheffing work dried up for him a few years ago, Kos worked in construction for a while and saved enough money to invest in a recreational vehicle which he turned into their very own “mobile catering studio”.
“Why? Because I like food ventures and this one looked the most thrilling of all,” says Kos. “The van’s interior was converted to my bespoke specifications by one of the most reputable companies in the field, all to the highest safety and hygiene standards.
“We have a silent generator, our own gas supply, refrigeration and freshwater system, so we are completely self-contained and self-sufficient.”
They equipped the kitchen on wheels with fridges, freezers, fryers, a salamander, grill, gas burner and a rice cooker and called their business Nashi Sushi. “Na-shi” means “our own” in Russian, their native tongue.
But the concept was a bit of a non-starter. Sushi businesses tend to cater to quite a niche audience. Quality ingredients are expensive and you can’t charge premium prices for street food served from a van. “The profit margin just wasn’t there,” says Kos.
So they decided to change the concept. They did away with most of the expensive sushi ingredients but kept some of the same techniques and started to serve fusion food instead, changing their name to Street Bites Manchester.
Kos combines contrasting culinary techniques into single simple dishes. Dishes like Chicken Wrap with Asian Slaw (£4 or £5.50 with chips), Chicken & Chips ((£6), Spicy Steak and Cheese Sandwich, Falafel Wrap (£3.50), Roast Ham and Cheese Melt (£4.50), and, last but not least, the monster new Fishfinger Butty (£4.50).
If you’re just feeling a bit peckish, grab some Salt & Pepper Chips (£3.00) with chopped fresh red chillies.
It wouldn’t be the go-to butty van for an industrial estate at 7am if they didn’t serve an all-day breakfast barm featuring all the usuals like sausage and bacon (from £2.50), or go mad and ride a slow afternoon with a what they call a Full Loader (£5.50) which contains sausages, bacon, hash browns and egg and is finished with grilled cheese.
Apart from some very interesting fusion food, what makes this street food vendor so unique is how they cater to allergens and intolerances.
And the business is registered with the Nationwide Caterers Association, which is the national membership body for independent caterers, who ensure the business is compliant with modern catering regulations – including the COVID-19 Certification Scheme (I know).
“We have the ability and certification to cover festivals, markets, corporate events and private occasions nationwide,” says Kos, “but we’re staying here on Agecroft Road for the foreseeable”.
Street Bites Manchester, Agecroft Road, Pendlebury, Salford is open from 7am – 4pm Monday – Friday.