Saturday, 26 June 2010

Taste of London

Last weekend we attended the brilliant Taste of London Festival, held in Regent's Park.

Now in its seventh year, the event brings together some of the capital's best restaurants, each offering a limited menu of 3 or 4 sample sized signature dishes. Described as an open air "pop-up" restaurant festival, it's a great concept that showcases some of the best food that London has to offer. Brought together in one location, Taste of London provides a great opportunity to try the cuisine from some of the top restaurants in the city.

About 40 establishments took part, the full list of whom can be found on the website, but to name-drop a few: Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill (Richard Corrigan) Launceston place (Trisatn Welch), The Cinnamon Club ( Vivek Singh), Benares (Atul Kochhar), Le Gavroche (Michel Roux Jr.), Maze and York & Albany (both part of Gordon Ramsay's empire), Odette's (Bryn Williams), Rhodes Twenty Four (Gary Rhodes), the eponymous Theo Randall at the Intercontinental & Tom's Kitchen (Tom Aiken).

The festival currency is "Crowns" (£1 = 2 Crowns) and you exchange these for your chosen dishes. The portions are deliberately small to allow you to graze and try more than just a couple of dishes. The average dish was priced at 9 Crowns (£4.50). Some 'Icon' dishes were 16 Crowns and above - these were supposed to reflect a chef's most inventive cooking and finest ingredients. For example, Le Gavroche was serving Lobster cocktail with summer truffles and tomato jelly served in an engraved Le Gavroche glass (40 Crowns).

Spread over 4 days, we attended the Saturday evening session. What follows is a synopsis of the amazing food we tasted.

Having studied the menus before hand, on arrival we made a bee line for Launceston place. As we arrived a suckling pig on a spit was being paraded around the stand, to much shouting and chanting. Head Chef Tristan Welch and his sous chef Steve Groves (winner of the BBC’s Masterchef: The Professionals 2009) were clearly in high spirits and very obliging in posing for a picture with said piglet.

First we wanted to try the Goose Egg and Chips (as seen on the Great British Menu); deliciously thin and crispy hot chips smothered in a light as air goose egg sauce. The flavour of the sauce was quite subtle but it was interesting and an enjoyable combination.

We followed that with the Spit Roast Old Spot Suckling Pig and Black Summer Truffles which was amazing. Encased in a brioche bun, the juicy suckling pig was topped with snaps of crackling and wafer thin slices of truffle; a mean pork sandwich!

Next we visited the Salt Yard for Char-grilled Beef Bavette with Salsa Verde and Escalivada. Bavette is popular in France but much underused here. It's basically a well-trimmed skirt or flank steak and considered one of the cheaper cuts of meat. It really was full of flavour, well cooked and more tender than I expected. The escalivada (grilled vegetables seasoned with olive oil and salt, and sometimes with garlic as well) was slightly bland and we both thought a little disappointing.

On to Odette's where we sampled Braised Welsh Pork Cheek with Spiced Pineapple. The Asian flavours in the sweet pineapple sauce complemented the soft pork cheek and this was another winner.

Paul Merret was cooking in the Action against Hunger pop-up. We spotted his Homemade Scotch egg on a salad of pea shoots, green beans and roasted beetroot with grain mustard dressing and had to try it.

The scotch egg was about as good as they get; the coating was really crisp but the yolk inside still managed to retain a slight gooeyness. At only 6 Crowns it was a delightful dish, one of my favourites, and all the better as the proceeds went to charity.

The Cinnamon Club's spice crusted bream, masala mash and tomato lemon sauce was a revelation and we agreed it was probably the dish of the evening. The fish was expertly cooked - crisp skin on the outside and yet still tender within and the perfectly balanced use of spices in the mash truly showed the dish off. One of the few Indian restaurants to hold a Michelin star, it is easy to see why.We felt it was time for a drink so headed to the Young's Brewery stand where we enjoyed a pint of draught ale in the bar.

From there we moved on to Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill where we couldn't resist the smell of Traditional fish and chips. We weren't disappointed; served in a cardboard cone the fish was perfectly cooked in a crisp better along with some golden chips and mushy peas.

Next was Busaba Eathai (a chain of quality Thai restaurants) for the Char grilled duck in tamarind sauce with Chinese Broccoli; the sour tamarind sauce and fresh greens complimenting the rich duck perfectly.

A second beer stop then we moved on to another favorite from Trishna; coastal guinea fowl curry with a pao bread roll had great depth of flavour and was really quite spicy.

Michel Roux Jr. was in-situ at the two Michelin starred Le Gavroche and we had the Daube de beouf a la Nicoise (braised beef with olives and soft polenta). I didn't think this dish was "pretty as a picture" but it certainly tasted great and the meat was melt in the mouth tender.

It was time for desert so we headed to Asia de Cuba where Dave ordered the Mexican Doughnuts with Butterscotch sauce. They were apparently so moreish that I wasn't allowed to share any!

Instead I had the Alphonso mango rice pudding with pistachio's and sweet chilli from Trishna. The deliciously sweet mango flavored rice was elevated above the norm with an after kick of hot chilli.

There were also talks and live demonstrations in the Taste Theatre, this year featuring Heston Blumenthal and Giorgio Locatelli. Add to that a busy line up of exhibitors - the best suppliers & producers with top-notch ingredients & quality food and drink from Britain and around the world - and this event is pretty much foodie heaven.

Premium tickets to the event cost £37 each, this included entry to the event and £20 worth of Crowns. We quickly spent these and ended up buying another £40 worth, so all in all we managed to polish off £80 of food between us. Not a cheap night, but we left having had a great time, sampled some exceptional food, spotted some famous faces and with a long list of restaurants we'd like to explore further.

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