Wednesday, 23 June 2010

A Visit to Taste of London

Just before I left home to go to Taste of London on Friday night, it started to sprinkle with rain.  By the time I got there, it was pouring.  You would have thought that might ruin an evening at a food and drink festival held primarily outdoors, but Taste of London was so good, it really didn't.  Admittedly I did have tickets that allowed me entrance to the VIP tent, and the fact that I'm a frequent flyer meant I could get into the British Airways Executive Club VIP tent too, but I spent less time under cover than you would have expected and I had an amazing evening.

There's a couple pointers about attending Taste Festivals I'd like to give you before I tell you anything more.  The first is not to be put off by a little rain, and the second is don't wear something you really love, even though they are very fashionable festivals and you never know who you might see.  I wore one of my favourite Ralph Lauren summer sweaters which is now no more after a collision with a gentleman eating one of the delicious curry dishes from the Colony Club - a collision during which I feel justified to report that I was actually standing still.  Said gentleman then fled after a hastily mumbled apology.  Luckily I was wearing a blazer which I was able to do up to hide the damage and I was not forced to wander round looking as if I had been attacked by something very large and very orange.

The thing I love most about the Taste Festivals is that they allow you to taste small portions of dishes from the host city's most acclaimed restaurants and chefs - so that in a single afternoon or evening you can experience the best food that city has to offer - without ruining your budget or your waistline.  Dishes are not cheap, but you spend a great deal less than if you actually went to all of the restaurants for a meal, and it allows you to find the places you would really like to go.  Let's face it, there is nothing more disappointing than going to a top restaurant venue only to find that actually their dishes are not exactly your cup of tea.  Spending a great deal of money on food you love is a wonderful indulgence, spending it on food you only like, well, the only word for it is disappointing.  This is one of the reasons why the Taste Festivals are not only great fun, but also great sources of information.

For example, I'm not that into food that has a curry vibe.  I like it, but I don't love it. So Colony was not top of my list of restaurants to visit.  However the dishes they offered moved it right to the top of my list of places I want to eat - soon.  Their Spicy Garden Vegetables and Potato Crush Sauteed with Ginger, Garlic and Masala was amazing.  Served on a bun, it had the most incredible balance of flavours.  And the bite I had of my husband's portion of Colonial Style Chicken Curry with Rice was the most delicious curry I have ever tasted.

This raises an important point.  It's tempting to head towards the restaurants you know you will like - for example I was thinking of making a bee line towards anything French, traditional British or Italian - but stepping out of your comfort zone is a great thing to do here.  And you can do it safe in the knowledge that when you do go to the venues you know you will like, you will definitely be delighted.

At the Almeida Restaurant and Bar, my husband and I enjoyed a Salad of Cornish Crab and Secrett's Farm Asparagus with Marinated Cucumber.  The freshness of the ingredients and flavour combinations really showcased this restaurant's menu of traditional French cooking with a modern twist.  Theo Randall at the Intercontinental offered uncomplicated, unfussy food that was absolutely exquisite. I struggled to share my Pasta with Violet Aubergines and Plum tomato, it was that delicious.  The chef himself was actually on site, which did lend an aura of glamour to their stand, but the food spoke for itself. Le Pont de la Tour had great French food, including an amazing Steak Frites made with one of the most beautiful pieces of beef I have ever tasted.  At Club Gascon I had a Prune and Armagnac Bonbon - a cracker shaped puff pastry extravaganza - which was just delicious.  No wonder they are Michelin starred.  My son had a Baked Custard Tart with Raisin Syrup from Rhodes 24 which he very nearly lost when he let me taste it.  This restaurant offers great traditional British food with a fresh, modern twist.

There were over thirty restaurants represented at Taste of London, alongside small producers and well-known names offering their wares at special Taste prices.  We bought our favourite macarons from Ladurée, wonderful baklava from Persis and found out about Ancre Hill Estates, a young vineyard based in Wales.  We tasted some of their award winning wines and were really impressed by their delicious drinkability.  British wines were represented too - the sparkling 2005 Classic Cuvée we had a glass of at the Nyetimber Pavilion was very refreshing, and almost as good as the champagne on offer in the VIP tents.

Throughout the evening, various demonstrations by London's top culinary talents were offered and you could attend as many of these as you wanted to.  Some of the chefs were very well known and as well as Theo Randall I spotted Giorgio Locatelli at his restaurant's stand.  There is certainly no shortage of things to do, and although the evening slot lasted four hours, I was surprised how quickly the time flew by.

There are thirteen Taste Festivals held worldwide every year at venues from Birmingham to Cape Town to Sydney, including Taste of Christmas.  Taste of Amsterdam opens tomorrow at the Amstelpark in Amsterdam and Taste of Birmingham is due to be held from 16th to 18 July at Birmingham's Cannon Hill Park.  If you find yourself in any of the great locations Taste visits, I highly recommend going along for a few hours of the best food and wine many of the world's top cities have to offer.

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