Monday, 20 June 2011

Taste of London 2011

I went to the very first Taste of London festival. Back then, the event was held in the far smaller environs of Somerset House, which lent grandeur and a lovely background, but insufficient space. Since then it has moved, and grown immensely. A large section of Regent's Park was given over to what Michel Roux Jr describes as 'food heaven'. This year 44 restaurants participated, along with many bars. Some are real heavyweights in the food world; Roux himself was represented by Le Gavroche and Roux at the Landau, also present were Gauthier, Petrus, Scott's and many more. It wasn't all about the top restaurants, though. Many smaller, up and coming and non-European restaurants participated.

My husband (aka Him Indoors) and I visited the festival on its final day. We bought our tickets on the 'premium' deal, costing £38 each with £20 in “crowns” (the currency for the festival) included. This seemed a much better deal than the £22 standard entry with seemingly no crowns at all (which went up to £26 each on the door). The online tickets we printed off in advance got us into the festival with a minimum of fuss, and we realised when we saw the queue for the on-the-door tickets, had saved us a lot of time!

Regent's Park was decidedly wet under foot on Sunday after all the rain we've been having in London. As a result, wellies really were the order of the day! Some areas of the site got a little boggy, reminding everyone that Glastonbury is on its way. We had a couple of showers during the course of the afternoon, but everyone was in the mood to make the best of it. People huddled together until the showers passed, before moving on to the next delight.
Snigdha at the Pink Fork; a true Taste landmark!
The organisers have done a great job of ensuring punters can get the most out of their day. The festival booklet included a map of the site, timetables for the cookery demonstrations, book signings and wine tastings. Most helpful of all, however, was the menu card; a full list of all the dishes on offer, with their cost in crowns. Much easier than wandering around trying to read the menu boards, particularly at some of the busier restaurant stalls.

Having recently seen the pictures of the RMT union boss Bob Crow dining at Scott's, we decided to check them out. Prohibitively expensive for a real sit down lunch for me and Him Indoors, we figured this was a great opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. After all, we thought, if it is good enough for Mr Crow, it is good enough for us! I had the octopus carpaccio, Him Indoors the shrimp and scallop burger. Both were delicious. The burger was cooked to perfection with a soft, yielding texture. The carpaccio with slow roasted tomatoes was seafood heaven on a little wooden dish.

That small treat started us off on a day of great discoveries....

ORA's take on contemporary Thai cuisine was a disappointment to me. Their Grilled tuna dish (Pla Tuna Song Kreung) was overcooked despite being served cold. If served freshly cooked from a mobile kitchen, a little overcooking could be overlooked, but was unforgivable for something pre-prepared. A terrible shame given the lovely flavours of lemongrass, tamarind and fresh herbs it was served with.

One memorable treat was Richard Corrigan's lovely traditional fish and chips. Corrigan's Mayfair did us proud with wonderful double (or was it triple?) cooked chips, fluffily battered highly fresh fish and a homemade tartare sauce which brought the dish together perfectly. Possibly even better than the fish and chips I had at Rick Stein's Padstow chippy, and with less of a journey to get there!
Delectable fish and chips by none other than Richard Corrigan
Snigdha gets to meet the man himself; Richard Corrigan

Kai Mayfair's pan-asian contemporary cuisine was good, if not brilliant. Their barbequed soy and honey marinated lamb was cooked just right, with appealing flavours. Maybe I am being a little hard on it, but I can't get over my disappointment that the 5 hour cooked belly of pork sold out!

Thanks to the Executive Chef of the Ritz, who let me try truffle for the first time. I can see now why it is used so sparingly in food. Not due to its price, but its intense nuttiness.
Guess the price of this truffle; answers on a postcard!

Indian food was well represented by Tamarind, the Cinnamon Club, Cafe Spice Namaste and of course, the wonderful Benares. Benares is perhaps the most interesting of all of them; a place where Indian food is being given the fine dining feel and elevated to an art form. No-one is doing the sub-continent's food greater justice than Atul Kochhar, so you would hardly believe my surprise when I bought my Grilled fennel infused lamb chop with mint chutney, for the man himself to come out to serve us all!
Snigdha meets the amazing Atul Kochhar

This is, to my mind, one of the real indicators of how important an event in the foodie's year that Taste of London has become. Many top chefs and 'celebrity' chefs had set up temporary restaurants at Taste, and even though their reputations would have sold the food by itself, several made the effort of visiting and meeting the public. Taste of London is a great way to familiarise yourself with the styles and food of restaurants you might not want to take the chance on for a full meal and for the restauranteurs, it is an opportunity to build a customer (and fan) base.
Snigdha meets Pearl's Jun Tanaka, promoting new project Street Kitchen

We participated in 2 wine tastings. The first was Waitrose's selection of “Barbeque Treats”; a selection picked with suitability for Summer Barbeques in mind. Fingers crossed we will get the weather to try this out for real! They were a mixed bunch, a Le Paradis 2009 Chinon and Brown Brothers Moscato Rosa 2009 which were an uninspiring mild red and syrupy 'party juice' respectively. The Waitrose Reserve Shiraz St Hallett 2009 had a strong deep taste with heavy tannins; a candidate for beef bourginon, methinks (you serve it with the wine you cooked it in). The Rabbit Row Sauvignon Blanc 2010 was an interesting discovery; made by the same producer as Vina Maria, this was a smooth and drinkable Marlborough Sauv Blanc. Definitely one for the trolley! Despite its inclusion as a BBQ wine, the Domane Wachau Gruner Veltliner “Terraces” seemed to us to be an unoaked wine which would go unusually well with spicy food. Matching wine with Indian and Thai foods is often difficult, but this off dry wine was smooth with fruity aromas. One for my next curry cook-off!

The second tasting was a specialist tasting for Italian dessert wines. It was organised by Grossi Wines, a specialist importer who only buy from small producers and insist on high standards in production such as no mechanised harvesting. Our guide to the wines was the lovely, highly knowledgeable and deeply enthusisastic Gemma.
Gemma from Grossi Wines, with Snigdha

We tried a 2005 Michi Vin Santo, a rich wine with warm raisin tones and hints of burnt sugar, a 2007 Silver Medal winning Verlit (our favourite) made by Marco Checchine, a Mazzi 2005 Le Calcarole (reciato della Valpolicella Classico) full of blackcurrants and jam and finally a Pometti, the 'wild card' of the bunch; a liquer of 20% strength made from wine blended with pomegranate juice before being fortified. I could almost feel myself transported to a hillside Italian restaurant dipping crunchy biscuits like cantucci into my glass having consumed a delicious meal beforehand! And all included in the price of the ticket!
Can you tell which was our favourite?

All of which brings me back to the issue of cost. One crown costs 50p, with the majority of exhibitors not taking any cash payment whatsoever. Generally the dishes were 8, 10 or 12 crowns, unless you were going for something particularly grand, such as Skylon's lobster at 20 crowns or Gary Rhodes' Jaffa Cake Pudding at an amazing 30 crowns! Some have complained about the overall cost of the Taste of London event. I wouldn't say it is a cheap day out. On top of our £76 ticket costs, we clocked up another £20 in crowns, making it almost a hundred pound day out. However, we had some amazing food from restaurants we can only dream of eating in (Scott's needs to be booked at least 2 months in advance). We also were able to mix and match between dishes made by some of the UK's finest chefs, which you can't do anywhere else. And given the amount we had to imbibe, we certainly got our money's worth. By all means, grumble about the cost, but a meal for 2 in London would easily cost £100. We will be back next year, for sure!

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