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Street food front and centre at Streetwize

Streetwize team: pictured, from top to bottom, are Desmond Townsend, Alex Cottingham, DeMario Stewart and Yasmin Eve-Townsend (Photograph supplied)

When Desmond Townsend first moved from London to Bermuda, there was one thing he missed — fish and chips.

“I wanted a taste of home,” Mr Townsend said. “In London, chicken tikka masala is probably the most popular street food, but fish and chips is probably the most common.”

The chef vowed that one day he’d start his own little fish-and-chips shop in Bermuda.

It took him 35 years, but in April the dream finally came true when he opened Streetwize on Chancery Lane in the City of Hamilton.

The concept is street food offering everything from fish and chips and burgers to sausages and doner kebabs.

“In between me first coming here, and the idea coming to fruition, I have been back to the UK,” he said. “I have had three children. I married twice. I have lived in London and Dubai and been back to Bermuda. I just thought about it over the years and it just evolved.”

He is located in the old Dorothy’s Coffee Shop. He was first approached about taking over the location in 2014, when former occupant Dorothy Emery-Middleton started thinking of retiring.

“I said I’m not interested,” he said. “It’s too small.”

At the time he had other ideas besides a fish and chips shop.

But talk continued and finally in December 2015, a deal was struck with him and two partners.

But life prevented him from opening right away. He had to go back to England for a time, when his father became ill and needed care. Then in November 2016, he became the official chef for the British team in the 2017 America’s Cup. Suddenly he was busy making six meals a day for 25 British sailors and 75 others, until July 2017.

“The food had to be healthy, but the team needed a lot of protein,” he said.

This January he started making the café on Chancery Lane his own, changing the colour and putting up his own Streetwize signage. Right away he realised he had some big shoes to fill.

“People were asking, are you going to be offering breakfast, Dorothy’s had breakfast,” he said.

Right now, he has no plans to offer breakfast, only lunch during the week and dinner on Friday. He does plan to expand the evening schedule more once he gets settled.

Along the way, Mr Townsend inherited the Dorothy’s burger recipe.

“Dorothy won awards for her burgers 15 times,” Mr Townsend said.

He said he admired her consistency.

Mr Townsend has personalised Dorothy’s burger, just a bit, by charbroiling it instead of frying it on a flat grill, and making the shape of it a little different. Some customers approved, some didn’t, but he soon found everyone had an opinion.

“It’s all about memory,” he said. “Street food is really comfort food.”

He also added items such as vegan hamburgers and sausages, pickled onions and gherkins and cod fritters. Some of the dishes at Streetwize, such as jerk burgers, are a direct reflection of his background; his parents were Jamaican.

He came to Bermuda to work as a chef at the Hamilton Princess in 1984, after working in London at places such as Claridge’s Hotel and actor Michael Caine’s Langhan’s Brasserie.

He laughs when asked about his challenges with Streetwize, so far.

“Where do we start?” he asked. “I have been lucky enough to have good external support, but I think the challenges are space and equipment. Before we even opened we had an issue with a certain piece of equipment. When we went to use it, certain parts had gone missing. We had to change things up.”

Mr Townsend said since working at Streetwize, he has lost 17lbs.

“I think it’s the heat,” he said.

But he said Streetwize is not the place you come for healthy food. He offers salads, but most customers don’t want them.

“The other challenging thing is the sugar tax,” he said. “It has added so much more to the drinks. We are a nation of sweet lovers. I think people are very conscious of it.”

Streetwize is open Monday to Thursday from 12pm to 3pm and on Friday from 12pm to 3pm and from 5pm to 9pm. For more information, look up the café on Facebook

This article has been updated to reflect the correct opening times for Friday.