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Irish staples - the chicken fillet roll and spice bag - a sellout success in London

‘I never would have expected it to be quite this popular’: Emerald Eats has brought the magical preserve of delis and takeaways in Ireland across the Irish Sea

It is pouring with rain in Farringdon, London, and yet the lunch queue for Emerald Eats is long. Not yet six months old, the food vendor sells Irish staples: chicken fillet rolls, spice bags and warming curry chips. All have proved insatiably popular.

For the most part, certainly when considering the first item on the menu, these dishes aren’t traditionally available in Britain. Rather, they are the magical preserve of the delis and takeaways of Ireland, and it has taken until now for them to cross the Irish Sea.

It was Emma Moran, who moved from Dublin 11 years ago, for whom the business was a dream. She had heard, time and again, about the lack of deli-style sandwiches in London. And so alongside musician Niall Morrissey and pub man Henry Spellman, Moran set up a weekend stall in Hackney’s busy Broadway Market in October, and a second, in Cowcross Yards not far from the City, soon after. Both have lured customers in their droves.

“We didn’t think it would be this mad,” Moran says, now winding down for the day. “It was something we spent hours talking about in the pub.

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“I think the clincher was when I was helping out at the Irish Centre in Camden. Everyone was talking about how much they missed chicken fillet rolls and spice bags. It’s that comforting food from home and you couldn’t get it anywhere here. So it was a bit of a eureka moment.

“When another restructuring was announced at my previous job (which she has since left) I just thought, ‘I’m going to go for it’. It was scary but I’m so happy I did. It’s like a dream.”

Emerald Eats started making waves after being chanced upon by eager TikTok users, as is so often the case in modern dining. It didn’t take long for the Irish diaspora to hear about its much-missed sandwiches, or the Chinese-inspired chips that are so regularly enjoyed after a pint or two.

These dishes are prepared and served in the classic style. Chicken fillet rolls (£8) come with spicy fried chicken or regular, and with lettuce, cheddar or coleslaw, in baguettes freshly baked each morning. The spice bags (£7.50) are served as boxes, but are otherwise true to Irish form. Curry chips are £6.

Moran says: “We make our own spice mix, and we do onions, red peppers and scallions. We have to do boxes because we trade at lunch and people take them back to the office rather than home to open up on to a plate after the pub. But it’s a spice bag, absolutely.”

In Farringdon, rain unrelenting, Ryan Ward is about to head back to work, spice box in hand.

“It has to be done,” the London-based Dubliner tells The Irish Times. “I’ve been here a few times and I’ll carry on coming. It was the food I missed most and I’m not alone. The rolls are good, as good as the ones in Ireland I’d say. It’s just a nice thing – a reminder of being back.

“And I think a lot of the lunch options around here (close to the city) are homogenous chains, so it’s nice to support an independent business too.”

Orla Kelly, also from Dublin, is waiting for a spicy chicken roll, having talked about Emerald Eats endlessly in her Irish WhatsApp group.

“I’ve lived here two years and chicken rolls are the thing I miss most,” she says. “Everyone I meet wonders how London survives without a deli culture. I have friends who go and get one as soon as they land, or who pick one up, take it on the plane, and eat it here.

“I like mine simple: spicy chicken, lettuce, cheddar, sauce. I’m a purist. My brother (in Ireland) has his with mash (potato) in it. I’m really excited. Our group chat – the Irish Mafia – has been going absolutely wild.”

As with all quality new food brands in London, Emerald Eats has sparked a buzz. Already Moran has been approached by would-be collaborators; others keen to tap into what is obviously a prospective and flourishing market.

For now, she says, she’s taking things steady, but there are plans afoot to grow. Not only are there almost 200,000 Irish-born Londoners, there are now thousands more with a penchant for a new Irish export. After all, the city has long been galvanised by Guinness. Are more locations coming?

“There’ll be more locations for sure,” Moran, working almost 18 hours a day, tells me. “I feel very lucky. We’ve had so much support from Broadway Market, and from Kerb+ (which runs the market in Farringdon). Irish people here have come out in force but the response from British customers has been just as warm. I suppose they didn’t know what they were missing.

“I knew it could do well but I never would have expected it to be quite this popular, or assumed the emotional reaction from people. It’s been really heart-warming.

“When we first sold out, everyone clapped. People were queuing and had to go without, but they said, ‘fair play, well done’. So yes, we’re delighted, and so happy this has been embraced by everyone, Irish or not. London can be like that – there are people from absolutely everywhere. I know it’s a bit soppy, but it’s nice to bring them a taste of home.”

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